By Sharon Cohen
There are girls with ribbons in their hair, boys in short pants or wool jackets (one even wears a discarded Hitler Youth uniform). There are teens and toddlers. There are kids who look happy, sad, scared, tense and relieved — greatly relieved.
There are few hints in the photos, aside from some weary eyes or bony arms, of the hardships they endured to get to this moment: hiding in strangers' homes, stealing scraps of bread to survive, gasping for air in cramped cattle cars.
These are children who'd come through the fire, survivors of the Holocaust photographed by social service agencies across Europe soon after World War II. There are more than 1,100 pictures, long stashed away and forgotten in the mists of history.
More than 65 years later, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum is reaching out around the world to find the people in these extraordinary photos. It has posted the pictures online and spread the word that the search is on.
The plan is to preserve their stories, fill in some gaps of history — and then have them step before the camera once again.
Theodore Meicler recognized his 8-year-old self immediately: the thatch of dark brown hair, the unsmiling eyes, the distant look that concealed his sorrow. He had never seen the post-war photo — but one glance resurrected the pain.
"It brought me back to a time where I didn't know what was happening to me. I didn't know where I was going or who was going to feed me tomorrow," he says. "It definitely made me very sad for the loss ... and very angry for the damage that was done to me."
Meicler was just 4 years old when his father was arrested. He still remembers the coats the Gestapo agents wore when they took his dad away, and the dark bread his mother packed for him before saying goodbye.
For half the war, the young Theo hid in his native Belgium, shuttling from place to place: A farm. A mansion. A Jesuit school. The home of a family friend.
His mother and younger brother had taken refuge separately in other homes. They reunited when the war ended. By then, his father had died in Auschwitz.
In the decades that followed, Meicler built a life, first in Israel, then in America. He married twice, had three children, bought an upholstery company in Texas and is now retired.
He was surprised to receive an email from the Holocaust museum this spring, asking two questions: Was he the boy in the attached photo? If so, would he share his story?
Yes, he would. Meicler, now 73 and mostly bald, even joked about his photo in a Facebook posting: "This is me indeed with more hair and less wrinkles."
Beneath the humor, though, there are emotional scars. Meicler says he was a moody, rebellious young man, angry even until his 50s when he confronted his mother, accusing her of abandoning him and his brother during the war.
"She said, 'I was 26 years old with two small children. I didn't know where to turn. I did the best I could in order to protect the both of you.' That," he recalls, "was a turning point for me."
He understood her ordeal. But haunting memories remain, along with his photo.
"There are not very many pictures where I look happy ...," he says. "I haven't been happy for most of my life."
More than 1 million children died in the Holocaust. Tens of thousands of others were uprooted, temporarily or permanently. Some watched as their parents were taken away, never to be seen again.
Read more at Associated Press.