Recently the ESRA Cinema Club in Raanana presented the documentary film, Children Without Shadows.  This very personal and compelling film of the Holocaust tells the story of Charles David Hilsberg, aged four, who spent his childhood years in Belgium hiding from German soldiers.  They would have had him killed, for he was their enemy.

Charles became a “hidden child”, was taken from his family home in Brussels, given a new, fictitious name and placed with strangers.  He was instructed to forget his past and he learned to forget.  When this “home” became unsafe, there was a move to another “new home” and another unknown family. When danger necessitated a further move, it was to a convent.  Charles’s ordeal in Belgium ended in 1949, when, at age 12, he was sent to Israel and changed his name to Shaul Harel.

Life in Israel was, once again, a new beginning with new challenges and new painful episodes.  Although the film recounts the continuing friendships and warm bonds of affection with those who cared for him and with friends who shared his youth, there was also the disdain of 'Sabra' contemporaries for the “weak refugee” and their horrific taunts of “sabon” (soap).  These abuses forced Shaul to learn resilience and to prove to himself and to others that he was strong and worthy.

A question that is raised in Children Without Shadows is why now, after 60 years, does a successful man with a loving family and friends, go back to explore a past filled with such unbearable trauma?  The answer involves the inability of a hidden child to relate the terrible memories of sadness and suffering to those closest to him. Thus, their questions about his past life remain unanswered and they, in turn, instinctively learn not to ask about the past.

Another burden carried by the hidden children emanates from the haunting photos and memories of those who have been lost forever.  Shaul’s parents were among these victims.  It took tremendous emotional strength and courage to search for the information regarding the fate of his family members and to revisit the places of his childhood, but this process of recreating a shadow, of rebuilding his past, was critical for his release from the terrible frozen trauma of the past and for his ability to speak about his past.

Professor Shaul Harel is a remarkable man.   An internationally recognized pediatric neurologist, he was instrumental in founding and directing the first Child Development and Pediatric Neurology Center in Israel.  His Curriculum Vitae is long and impressive; it records his achievements in medicine, the chairmanships of national and international organizations, his numerous publications and the many awards that he has received.

The film, with its warmth and humor, elicits a range of emotions in the viewer: admiration for the courage of those who overcame the terrible circumstances of their childhood and forged new and successful lives; gratitude for the extreme bravery of those, Jews and Christians alike, who risked everything to rescue Jewish children; and acclaim for those skilled professionals who produced this touching film in which courage and humanity ultimately triumph. 


Debby Lieberman is a developmental psychologist who worked for many years with Shaul Harel in the Tel Aviv Child Developmental and Pediatric Neurology Center.


The video can be purchesed from the following site



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Joyce Hilsberg Katz
AMAZING! I am deeply interested and have invested time and passion learning about my family history. My father is Norbert V. Hilsberg who left Vienna in 1938 upon Hitler's notorious entrance to the city. His parents, Leon and Henriette Hilsberg safely entered New York Harbor a few years later after their son Norbert did. The brave stories of all the Holocaust survivors touches my heart over and over again. Children Without Shadows has again quietly, and passionately touched my emotions, I am in awe of all that I have learned since my fathers death in May of 2011 at the age of 96. He, like other Hilsbergs led an extraordinary life in spite of the surrounding circumstances that tested their spirits, beliefs, and tenacity to continue their lives. Respectfully yours, Joyce Hilsberg Katz
Lillian Boraks Nemetz
I am also a child survivor and I read this article with great interest. However I don't think a Holocaust child ever overcomes their Holocaust past. He or she may learn how to live with it. There are no neat packages in which to wrap up the Holocaust. I would love to see your film. Good Luck, Lillian Boraks Nemetz

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About the author

Deborah (Debby) Lieberman

Deborah Lieberman is a psychologist, educated in the United States, who graduated with honors from Bryn Mawr College and Rutgers University. She and her family came to live in Israel from New Jerse...

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