Les Enfants Sans Ombre (Children Without a Shadow) (2009, Belgium)

As a member of the Jewish Film Festival, organized by the Jewish Community Center, Sonoma County, I preview movies to help decide which ones to play at the Festival. I watched the following movie as part of this volunteer effort.

Scene from Children Without a Shadow“Children Without a Shadow”, or as its original title in French says “Les Enfants Sans Ombre,” is a documentary about a person and his story is an example to understand an external and an internal series of events. The person is a Shaul Harel a pediatrist , who was born in Belgium, as a Jewish child was hidden by righteous gentiles during World War II and later emigrated to Israel, where he is living ever since. The external events I referred to were, what happened to him and other hidden children during the war, how they survived and how their lives later evolved in Israel. This is told trough photos, interviews and a revisiting of the places where he lived or stayed in the old country.

A main focus of the film is the psychology of how the above effected him and others in his situation. It explores what happens when you are told as a child that right now and from now on you have to hide who you were and where you came from. This on-demand request has affects that lasted almost a whole life. They ended up hiding so successfully that they hid their own past from themselves too and later from their children and children’s children.

My own grandparents were not children during the war, but they also hid their personal experiences from their descendants for most of their lives. They had different reasons and circumstances than the people in this film, but the results were similar: “second and third generation Holocaust syndrome.” To some extent I have this too, that’s why I found this movie so fascinating.

At one point in the movie a psychologist talks about having a hidden path being like lacking one’s own shadow and the necessity of rebuilding it. Towards the end fo the movie this line of thinking is summed up with these words:

“The paradox for hidden children is that their story is told to them. Sixty years later, they find photos, archives, testimonies. They are told about the childhood that they themselves have denied or rejected, because it was unbearable. It is belated resilience.”

The description at the distributor’s site reads:

The story of Prof. Shaul Harel is the tale of resilience of all the hidden Jews in Belgium. This gentle film allows a peek at a very personal story which embodies the courage and perseverance of those who survived the Holocaust. The story of the Jewish community in Belgium has not been previously explored and in this touching film we meet adults who survived the war and went on to become successful –and even happy adults. A remarkable story told through the experiences of a remarkable man.

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