On October 15th, 1946, a slim young girl stepped onto a London train heading for Dover. Her dream had come true; she was on her way to Germany to work in a D.P. camp.
While the train rushed towards its destination, she relaxed and planned for the future. How strange it was that she, Tova, was driven by such a strong desire to go and serve a people whose background and language were not her own, people she had never met. She felt strongly that it was not a coincidence that she, herself, had escaped being one of the inmates of the camp. And she felt obligated to serve. Why? There were so many other girls she knew and had grown up with in London, nice girls, who were perfectly content to stay in London, pursue their careers, get married and settle down. Tova could not think of marriage, that is, not yet. First she owed a debt to society. There would be time for marriage, children - many of them, please G-d, she thought smilingly as the train rushed towards its destination.
There were occasional doubts: would the people like and trust her? Was she capable of handling their problems? Was she emotionally mature enough for such a position? Here the train stopped and Tova sailed across the English Channel on a misty October morning, still dreaming.
Two days later, she reached her destination. Dornstadt looked dismal and not very inviting at this time of the year. The camp accommodated 400 children. They looked cold and forlorn as they huddled in shabby and ill fitted little coats.
Tova was introduced to the staff members. She smiled, eager to be accepted as one of the team. Her main job was to interview all the children and get as much information as possible, which was to be used for tracing relatives who might have survived. Armed with a typewriter and plenty of paper, she eagerly started her interviews, only to find that the children were not too cooperative in giving information. To them, it was just another official interview, just another reminder of the Gestapo who had constantly asked questions, made lists and then packed the children off to another camp.
The children were beginning to feel secure in Dornstadt, where people were kind to them. The two staff members from Palestine were loved and respected. They had promised to take them to Palestine soon, so why answer more painful questions? Tova was discouraged. This was her first real job in the field. She realized how important this information was and searched her mind for a new way to approach these children. She had to prove to them that even though she wore a uniform, she was not a Gestapo agent.
The following morning Tova closed her typewriter, put away the papers and walked to the children's dormitory where she was received with open arms. The children were eager for attention. Language was no barrier: a smile and a hug were all that were needed. Tova sat on their beds, played games with them, drew pictures and sang songs. The children were delighted with this new girl who smiled so readily and loved everyone; the uniform didn't matter any more.
Gradually, they began to talk, in their own surroundings, where they felt secure, to a friend who had come all the way from London to play with them. Tova had to listen carefully, absorb all the information which she wrote down later in the privacy of her office. The nurses and teachers were very helpful in supplying dates and places of birth, and within two months, Tova was able to send information about all the children to the head office. She had succeeded in her mission and felt good about it.
As the cold winter wore on, conditions deteriorated in the camp. There was never enough fuel to heat all the dormitories and one morning, Tova was shocked to find the children in bed. Since an epidemic was always feared in camp, she rushed in to find, to her relief, that the children were just too cold to get up. She told them about the beautiful white snow and how much fun it would be to play with snow balls and build snowmen. Her teeth chattering, she instructed all the children to put on all their warm clothing and as many pairs of socks as they possessed. She went from dormitory to dormitory, urging, encouraging, instructing and helping the younger ones of the group, and within a short time, the camp yard was alive with red-cheeked children and snowballs flying in all directions amid shrieks and laughter. When it was time for lunch, a group of happy youngsters marched into the dining hall for a very welcome bowl of hot soup. And somehow, the dormitories did not seem quite so cold during the afternoon, and normal activities were resumed.
Slowly, the ice melted. Green grass replaced the snow covered camp and everyone felt reborn. They made preparations for Pesach. The children looked forward to receiving new spring outfits. Every season, large trucks drove into the camp and the children were supplied with new shoes and other necessities. No attention was ever paid to color or style, and as a result, no one looked well dressed.
This year, Tova decided to do something about it. She asked the supply officer if she could bring the children to the warehouse to select their own clothing. He looked shocked and raised all kinds of objections: they would wreck the place, wreak havoc upon the order, make shambles... Tova put on her most persuasive smile and begged him to let her try one group of 25 children. She would take full responsibility. He reluctantly agreed.
The scheme worked like magic. The children came in quietly in small groups, selected their outfits and were delighted at the freedom of choice. Tova went even further; on their way home, they were all given candy and ice cream. It was a day they would never forget, because for many, it was the first time in their lives that they actually selected their own clothing.
In May 1947, the children were finally sent to Paris, the first lap in a long awaited journey to the Holy Land. Tova was asked to accompany them and was delighted to go along with `her' children.
They arrived safely. Tova went back to London, married, moved to the U.S., and made aliya in 1962. She will never forget `her' children, and they, too, never forgot her.