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Review by Simeon Smith

The Hide and Seek Children

Review by Simeon Smith

“The Hide and Seek Children” is a publication that is as unforgettable as any of the many I’ve read about the Holocaust.   At times the book reads like pure fairytale!  It relates the story of a hundred Jewish orphans who by guile and luck, determination and courage manage to escape death at the hands of the Nazis.   When the fighting ceases many remain suffering terrible physical scars and all are thoroughly damaged by emotional traumas.  Yet in the chaos and cruelty of those post war times little pity is shown them. Local populations generally resent them and often resources are too precious to be ‘squandered’ on Jewish orphans.

Then, reading like an almost unimaginable fairytale, this amazing book documents how these 100 kids are plucked from their pitiless Eastern European environs and transported to a honest-to-goodness castle in Ireland! There they are granted a precious year to recover their health, to learn a new language and to rediscover their worth.   It’s a period that as you can imagine, alters each young life forever.

Barbara Barnett documents this amazing and until now untold story with the eye of both a careful historian and the soul of an incredible storyteller.  She weaves together facts so they are imminently digestible while ensuring we remain thoroughly engaged with both the children’s heroic saviors and the plucky band of kids themselves.

In 2109 I personally wrote and produced an hour long documentary about one of those 100 orphans – Murray Lynn of Atlanta, Georgia.  Oh, how I wish that Barbara Barnett’s 2012 book had been available to me then.  What a treasure trove it would have been!

As you’ll read in the book, Mr. Lynn was a young teen not yet 15 when he was sent to Auschwitz.  His entire family was gassed upon arrival. But Murray, then known as Alfred Leicht, was spared after he acted on whispered advice to exaggerate his age to his Nazi captors.   He survived the death camp for nearly a year as a slave laborer carrying bags of cement. During that time nearly all in his barracks perished from starvation, exhaustion or murder.  Defying all statistical expectations he was still alive when with the Russian army nearing the camp’s gates the Germans ‘evacuated’ the remaining inmates in January of 1945. More than half became corpses on that brutal winter march. But when the Allies liberated Buchenwald in late April 1945 they nonetheless found the young Hungarian lad still alive -- though barely.

That is where recorded history often runs out of documentation for survivors.   But in “The Hide and Seek Children” Ms. Barnett continues Alfred’s story and that of another 99 orphans.  She relates how a courageous London rabbi named Solomon Schonfeld dons a uniform of his own design and with little authority beyond his own swagger manages to get 100 orphans out from under from the fast descending iron curtain. That he ultimately finds them refuge in an Irish castle surrounded by a populus quite uncertain what to make of the old estate’s foreign residents is a true tale that inexplicably was until now pretty much forgotten.

As I was personally amassing information about Murray Lynn’s life prior to, during and after the Holocaust his year at Cronyn Castle was the missing chapter.  Now, this beautiful book fills in the details of the fascinating year that shaped forever Mr. Lynn’s life and those of his fellow orphans.  And if we need further reward we learn the degree to which many of the boys and girls eventually went on to contribute to communities in a myriad of other countries.

If you want a book that reads like heroic fiction but is supported by facts gathered presumably with obsession-like effort then I could not more highly recommend “The Hide and Seek Children.”  It further restored a good portion of my lost faith in humanity while fully disarming my heart with the children’s individual stories. We are indebted to Barbara Barnett who gave us this wonderful gift at the age of 88.  What a joy that she continues to write today.

(Simeon Smith is a writer and video producer who lives in Atlanta Georgia and has been incredibly blessed to have as friends the Murray Lynn family of that same city.)