Robert Rusinek describes being hidden in Catholic orphanages during the Holocaust and its effect on his identity.
Robert Rusinek was born in Brussels, Belgium in 1933. His Romanian-born mother was a seamstress and his Polish-born father was a tailor. Robert also had a sister named Suzanne. When Robert was six years old, war broke out, and his family decided to go to the south of France through an organization that helped relocate Jews to safer areas.
Although they encountered trouble entering at the French border, they succeeded and settled near Toulouse with other Jewish families. Upon hearing rumours that occupied Belgium was tolerable to live in once again, they returned home after just six months in France. The rumours turned out to be false.
In Belgium, Robert and his family were forced to wear yellow stars, were subject to curfews, and were persecuted by the German occupiers. Seeing that it was unsafe to continue to live life normally and fearing “work” in the labour camps, the family managed to acquire false identification papers with the help of the underground resistance. After hiding in abandoned castles and stables, Robert’s mother and sister went into hiding at a convent and his father pretended to be a teacher elsewhere. Robert, however, assumed his identity fully and hid in two Catholic orphanages.
Throughout the war, Robert remained well-hidden as a Catholic boy in the orphanages. At times, with the help of the underground resistance, he was able to travel to the convent to see his mother and sister. During an unexpected German raid, Robert dressed like a convent school girl and skipped rope to avoid persecution.
Before the end of the war, Robert’s father was shot and killed when he was ousted for his false identification and attempted to run from the Gestapo. At the end of the war, Robert was reunited with his mother and sister and continued to live in Brussels. Fearing another war, Robert’s mother decided that it was time to leave the Europe permanently. In 1949, Robert, Suzanne, and their mother immigrated to Canada and settled in Montreal.
Robert Rusinek moved to Toronto in 1967, and his full testimony is part of the Canadian Collection of Holocaust survivor testimonies. It is preserved in the USC Shoah Foundation’s Visual History Archive and accessible through the Ekstein Library.
You go through the war, and every time you feel they take something away from you… the yellow star…the curfew… your name…
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