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In Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry, Trying To Find Hope

A Jewish man whose parents fled the Nazis and then left him at the notoriously brutal Smyllum Park Orphanage gave his testimony to the ongoing investigation into the history of the abuse of orphaned children in Scotland this week

Jesse Bernstein
January 11, 2018
(Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
The former Smyllum Park Orphanage, in Lanark, Scotland.(Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
The former Smyllum Park Orphanage, in Lanark, Scotland.(Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Between 1864 and 1981, over 11,000 children from poor and working-class families came to call Smyllum Park Orphanage home. The orphanage still sits in Lanark, Scotland, once a major medieval trading post, situated about halfway between Glasgow and Edinburgh. With its high stone turrets and impressive wooden door at the entrance, it looks a bit like a castle. But castles, we know, weren’t just made to keep things out, but to keep things in, too.

Since September, the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry has been gathering evidence and hearing witness testimonies about the brutal abuse of the Smyllum Park orphans by the members of the Roman Catholic clergy who ran the home, the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent DePaul. The bodies of 400 children, most under the age of five, were confirmed to have been buried in a mass grave in a nearby cemetery, substantiating the suspicions of former residents who doubted the number that was acknowledged by the Catholic order.

The Inquiry, established in 2015 to investigate the history of institutional child abuse in Scotland, heard on Tuesday from a witness who described the anti-Semitic abuse he suffered at the home.

His parents had come to the U.K. to escape the Nazis sometime in the ’40s. Once they arrived, they were unable to look after him, and left him at the orphanage. Though he did not know he was Jewish, the nuns certainly seemed to; “The nuns would say ‘we will beat the Jewishness out of you,’” he told the court.

The man also described the routine physical punishment that he and the other children endured, including regular beatings, being made to stand outside for long periods during the winter, and sexual abuse at the hands of priests.

He didn’t find out he had parents, he said, until the day his mother showed up at Smyllum Park to take him home years later.

“People still talk about the Holocaust, but why are we still talking about it?” he said. “It’s because it’s part of the world’s history and hope that things like this don’t happen again.”

“I’m not looking for retribution in any way,” he told the inquiry. “I just want the world to know what happened at this place and that children in homes today don’t have to go through what we went through.”

Jesse Bernstein is a former Intern at Tablet.