Letter: Trauma of removing children from war

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The Independent Online
Your article on the Bosnian children ('Plucked from war and mother love', 4 October) was for me a deja vu. I was one of a small group of refugees taken from the Iberian peninsula to the United States in 1943. Although my mother, a Polish Jewess, had carried her babe-in-arms and my elder sister over the Pyrenees into Spain, she was not allowed to accompany us.

In the US my sister and I were separated and when, nearly five years later, the Red Cross finally located all members of our family, I had completely forgotten my past and assimilated into the present. When I was returned to my impoverished, broken parents, it was against my wishes. It was a nightmare: we had nothing in common - not even language - except a past which was foreign to me. I spent my adolescence being torn between my two families, crushed by the pull between two cultures and two very distinct sets of values. Although we were physically reunited as a family, we never regained the emotional bonds that had been strong enough to ensure our survival when so many others perished. The traumas of those years have never left me.

About five years ago I tried to trace the other children who were on the boat with me. Most had ended up unwanted and labelled as delinquent in institutions. Even where relatives survived the war, happy-ever-after endings were difficult to find.

I don't know the answer to the child casualties of war. But moving traumatised children to another culture can cause more problems than they already have. The psychological scars that this well-meaning action can cause can be as debilitating as any others these children have suffered.

Joan Salter

London N10

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