One of the goals of this blog is to promote learning and education about Anabaptism and Judaism. I want to pique people’s curiosity and hopefully generate informed dialogue and build relationships. Another thing I aim to do is provide resources for people who want to learn more about these topics, and one of the ways I hope to accomplish this is through the promotion of literature I come across. I hope to periodically dedicate posts to reviewing books, movies, and music. Today I want to give a short review of a book I recently read.
Tell No One Who You Are: The Hidden Childhood of Regine Miller, by Walter Buchignani.
This is the true story of a young Jewish girl living in Belgium during World War II. She was forced to leave her family and take on a non-Jewish identity to escape the clutches of the Nazi regime. This book was written by a young reporter who compiled his interviews with Regine Miller into a historical narrative of her tragic and inspiring story. It was selected for the New York Public Library’s Books for the Teen Age List and Publishers Weekly says that
“Buchignani sets Regine’s tale into context with brief end notes about the fate of Jews in Belgium and organized resistance in aid of Jewish children; he conveys both a human drama and a chilling moment in history.”
Regine was only 10 years old the last time she saw her father, mother, and brother. Her father took her to the house of a lady whom she had never met, left her there, and promised to return the next week. For three weeks he kept his promise to return each week, but after those three weeks someone else came in his place. From this point on in the story Regine is moved to different locations by various people and is given very little information about the fate of her family. Basically, she is told to keep her head down, do what she is told, and tell no one of her true identity.
Throughout the book we see glimpses into her thoughts and feelings as she tries to protect her secret. As a young Jewish girl we see her struggle with the concept of God as she is placed with a Catholic family who are puzzled by her lack of knowledge about Catholic practices. One of the things reinforced to me in this narrative is the extreme disconnect between the Institution of the Church and the Jewish people. Regine feels uncomfortable in the Catholic setting and everything about it was strange and unfamiliar. I find this so tragic because it should not have been this way! The Jesus of Christianity was a Jewish rabbi and the very roots of Christianity—and my personal Anabaptist beliefs–come from the Jewish people! So much of what Catholicism and the Institution of the Church has done has been to take Jesus and attempt to strip Him of His Jewishness. This disconnect is so sad and my heart aches for the little girl who is shown an austere religion instead of the vibrant beauty and love of a Jewish Messiah.
The strength of this book is not in the writing style itself, but in the authenticity of the content. This is not a fictional account from an author’s imagination, but the reality of a specific individual. At the same time, Regine’s story is also the story of thousands of other young children who were taken from their homes and hidden away with new identities. Some never saw their real families again, and were left to pick up the pieces of fragmented lives and identities without knowing who they really were.
The book is also a monument to the Belgian people in their protection and assistance to the Jewish population during the war. More than 4,000 Jewish children were hidden by the Belgians, and the book says that “Of the more than 60,000 Jews living there at the outbreak of World War II, more than half survived because of the assistance given by the Belgian people and their institutions in assisting escapes or, more often, in providing hiding places.”
These are the stories that deserve to be told!
You can buy the book on Amazon.