//All of them became her children

All of them became her children

Film: Lena: My 100 Children (1987)

Director: Edwin Sherin

This docudrama is adapted from the memoir of Lena Kuchler-Silberman (1910- 1987), the underground Jewish resistance volunteer during the Nazi Holocaust. Her efforts helped to save the lives of hundreds of children victimised by the Nazis in Poland and elsewhere.

Silberman who was born and brought up in Wieliczka, Poland, after her studies in philosophy, psychology and pedagogy, became an educator, psychologist and teacher trainer. She lost her infant daughter and her husband. Later during the Nazi occupation of Poland she narrowly escaped being sent to the extermination camp at Belzec.

Lena dedicated her life to smuggling Jewish children from the infamous Warsaw ghetto, while living underground incognito as a Polish Catholic. When her identity was discovered by the Gestapo, the Nazi secret police, she escaped to eastern Poland and lived there till the end of the war. Her sister became one of the victims of the Nazis while the war was ending. In the spring of 1945 after the end of the war she went looking for her lost family at a refugee center in Krakow.

There she came across a number of Jewish children with no one to take care of. In them she finds her surrogate family. These children bore the trauma of the Holocaust. They belonged to different age groups – from toddlers to teenagers, living in hunger and horrible conditions with behavioral disorders, distrustful and delinquent. The situation was aggravated by the fact that the anti-Semitic prejudices still prevailed even after the war. Lena bravely undertook this challenge. With little resources for support except the good will of a few friends she assumed the role of a mother, gathering these together and offering protection, comfort and education.

Her skills as a teacher and psychologist are employed to great advantage in the mission. She is unable to get help from the elderly refugees who too are in a similar condition. From among them a woman named Bella assists her, supervising the children’s comforts. Gaining the confidence of the children she struggles with the official confusions, hostilities of an anti Semitic social environment in post -war Poland under Soviet control. She finds a home to settle the children. The children are bullied and abused by the locals, but the Soviet authorities do not help. She moves the children to Zakopane, where again they are not safe. When the home is attacked, the young refugees are provided with weapons for self defense against attackers besieging the orphanage. Seeking safety, Lena takes her wards on a long trek through the border forests, bribes the guards with money and vodka and takes her children on board a train to Czechoslovakia, and from there to France.

She finally arrives in their ‘Promised Land’ – the new nation of Israel in 1948. Lena’s children grew up to become normal citizens of Israel, serving the country in various capacities. Lena’s story is the tale of a woman’s heroism and enduring, unconditional love that saved hundreds of tender lives and made her a heroine of Israel.