VHM Artifact Highlight: Hiding in Plain Sight

August 24th, 2017–

As the ghettoization/deportation phase began across Europe, some Jews attempted to escape. However, it was often not possible to get out of Nazi controlled territories, forcing some to go into hiding. A well-known example of someone who hid during the Holocaust is that of Anne Frank, the young German Jew who hid in an attic with her family in Amsterdam. Anne’s famous diary recounts her time in hiding, and is often used to introduce middle school students to the Holocaust.

A less discussed method of hiding is known as “hiding in plain sight.” Those who hid in plain sight took on false Christian identities, and hid openly in Nazi society, requiring the help of others. Taking on a false identity often involved securing forged identity papers on the black market or through a resistance organization. Other times, it involved knowing a Christian family who was willing to give birth certificates to those needing papers.

The Drexler sisters -- Helen and Halina -- survived and hid in plain sight through the latter method. After the German’s invaded Poland, the Drexler family was forced to move from their home in Lodz to the smaller town of Zarnow. They survived for a time by selling and trading handmade soap, a trade their father, Solomon, knew from having owned a soap factory prior to moving.

In 1942, with deportations happening across Poland, Solomon began searching for ways to save his family. He finally found a woman who was willing to give him the birth certificates of her two daughters. This allowed Helen and Halina to obtain Polish identification papers as Christians under the names Niusia and Wanda Kazusek. With these papers, the sisters were able to live and work in German-occupied Poland.

There are no definitive numbers on how many Jews survived the Holocaust hiding in plain sight. However, those who did go into hiding often found it necessary to use a combination of methods in order to escape deportation and extermination.

The first photograph features a young Helen and Halina Drexler. At the time the photograph was taken, both sisters were in hiding in Poland. They were able to stay in touch throughout the war, and even helped each other to maintain their false identities. The two sisters eventually married the Zimm brothers (Sol and Alan) and settled in Richmond.

You can find out more about the Zimms family history by checking out their family finding aid!