Holocaust Memorial day, or as it is called in Israel and worldwide as “Yom Hashoah”, is combination of the most depressing sadness as we of memorialize the 6,000,000 murdered victims of Nazi Germany and their European collaborators, and paradoxically, a celebration of those individuals who somehow survived the horrors of mass murder and ethnic cleansing. The realization that 1.5 million infants and children were singled out for elimination by the Nazi so as to prevent the chances of a historical continuity of the European Jewish community is somehow counterbalanced by the miraculous stories of infants surviving, especially in the most unlikely circumstances and conditions.
This past Yom Hashoah I had the opportunity to view a documentary entitled “Geboren in KZ” (“Born in a Concentration Camp”, a film by Eva Gruberova and Martina Gawaz for GDR Television ) which recounts the unbelievable story of 7 infants who were born in 1945 in the Dachau, Germany concentration camp. The fact that the mothers of these infants were able to conceal their pregnancies and reach term without being detected in of itself defies comprehension, for as we know the policy of the Nazis was to send any women diagnosed as pregnant directly to the crematorium. Some of the women even escaped detection and “selection” for death by the infamous Dr. Mengele in Auschwitz before being transferred to Dachau No less miraculous so was their ability to maintain a minimal degree of nutrition to sustain their pregnancy till term or near term.
Months later when Dachau was liberated by the US Army, the GI’s to their astonishment discovered among the 30,000 survivors of the camp seven mothers and their seven infants ranging in age 1-6 months (3 boys and 4 girls). To their wonderment they found that the infants were relatively thriving with little if any discernible medical problems. The film documents visually the US Army’s surprise and the images of the healthy infants. Almost in passing when asked how the babies survived the unbearable conditions in the concentration camp the answer they received was simply that the infants were breastfed with two of the mothers acting as wet nurses to supplement those mothers who milk supply was marginal. Not only did all the infants survive, after liberation they grew normally, ultimately married and raised their own families, truly a testimony to their fortune of defying their presumed proscribed fate and the Nazis nefarious plan for a final solution of the Jewish problem.
Natural disasters are inevitable and part of the realities and vagaries of living on earth. Our role as caretakers is to prepare for them and not compound their consequences by disrupting the natural order of infant feeding e.g. breastfeeding and the use of human milk. Hopefully, we will not need another round of evidence from man-made disasters such as the Holocaust of World war II to convince us that survival even in the most deprived circumstances is dependent in maintaining that maternal-infant dyadic breastfeeding nurturing relationship. Those infants who were born into the horrors of the Nazi camps and survived proved it and that should be enough to convince the doubters. The lessons of the Holocaust are many and we are charge to remember those who went through that hell and their message of hope for future generations.
Dr. Arthur I Eidelman, FABM, FAAP, is a Professor of Pediatrics at Shaare Zedek Medical Center, Jerusalem, Israel. He is the Editor-in-Chief of Breastfeeding Medicine, past president of ABM, and a Fellow of the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine.
Posts on this blog reflect the opinions of individual ABM members, not the organization as a whole.
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