A Lawrence woman who attended the First International Reunion of Children Hidden During World War II said the 1,600 people who attended the conference were like family.
Eva Edmands, who was hidden from 1942-1945 by a Catholic priest in a mountain-top parish in a small village in France, said the conference allowed many people to finally confront their feelings about the Holocaust.
Edmands, who will speak about the reunion at 10 am. Sept. 15 at the Unitarian Fellowship of Lawrence, said that because the conference was a success, organizers hope to have a second conference in two years.
Originally, 500 people were expected to attend the May conference in New York City. But 1,600 people showed up, including some people who hid children during the war, Edmands said.
"THE CONFERENCE helped participants sort out their feelings that perhaps they hadn't been able to sort out before," Edmands said.
Edmands was in her early teens when she was hidden by the Rev. L'abbe Longeray, who, like many other rescuers, risked his own life to shelter Jews during World War II. He provided sanctuary to Edmands' family in the rectory of St. Martin.
At the conference, Edmands said many people expressed a "tremendous sense of loss." Some, she said, had been abandoned by their parents left on the doorsteps of a church, convent or family so that they would have a chance of surviving. Some never again saw their families.
Edmands said one of the most touching scenes at the conference was a room whose walls had been covered in corkboard. People looking for lost relatives and friends left messages on the board. By the time the conference ended, the room was covered with messages, Edmands said.
"People came with so much hope," she said.
CONFERENCE participants had a chance to share their feelings during workshops. Members of the media were not allowed to attend the workshops, Edmands said, adding that the workshops were designed to help people come to terms with their experiences during World War II.
Other workshops, Edmands said, focused on the rescuers and "what motivated them to risk their lives to save Jewish children."
Edmands said she came away from the conference learning that "courage is not the absence of fear but the control of fear."
The priest who hid Edmands died in 1959. The Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, which is the official Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Authority in Jerusalem, accorded him its highest honor, the title of "Just Among Nations." The Yad Vashem so far has recognized 92,000 "righteous gentiles people who disregarded their personal safety to help someone in need," Edmands said.
EDMANDS SAID people like Longeray shared three common traits: "a profound sense of morality, independence of mind and spirit and compassion and empathy."
Edmands said conference participants, both hidden children and rescuers, came away from the two-day gathering feeling like brothers and sisters.
"After a few hours, it was like a big family," she said. "We all had a common bond, and that's what made it beautiful."