On the Holocaust, Hedgehogs, and Helping in Romania

This article is not about the Holocaust.  And so I should be very careful, for those who decry comparisons to the Holocaust have a point.  It should never be a trite or passing reference.

I think pro-lifers have a very good case to make for comparing abortion to the Holocaust.  The reasons were enumerated here just recently.  To begin with, there is the sheer number of deaths.  We rehearse the statistics until we are numb, because once we get beyond the number of people your eye can take in at, say, a baseball stadium, or the population of your hometown, can your mind even process the numbers anymore?  More pertinent though is the way the deaths go on — not like deaths in war, with public mayhem and blood-curdling screams, surrounded with dust and chaos — but with clinical dispatch, behind, of course, clinic walls.  Then there is the way the fact of the deaths has woven itself into the very fabric of our society, shrugged off by many, maybe most, as "just the way it is."

But this is not an article about abortion, either. And so if I am going to dare to compare what I am writing about to the Holocaust — or to abortion — I'd better make a good case.  I will, and I will begin with this: if you never knew that the Holocaust happened or that such a thing as abortion went on, and it was my task to tell you in writing, I would consider it only fair to warn you that what I was about to share with you was horrifying in the extreme.  If you are very sensitive, especially if you are still in the throes of post-partum mood swings, or if you have lost a child, or if you suffer from depression, this may not be an article you should read.

 It is not about abortion or the Holocaust, and it is not about hedgehogs either, but I need to start with hedgehogs — baby ones.  Baby hedgehogs are very cute in the way of so many small mammals — fuzzy, pudgy, cuddly miniatures of their parents.  The story of four orphan baby hedgehogs who found a substitute mother in a bristly cleaning brush was just so cute that my daughter forwarded it to me by email.  These little orphans are being tenderly cared for in a wild animal rescue shelter in England, where they have taken to snuggling up to the cleaning brush that the employees use to sweep the yard.  As the article explained:

Manager John Crooks, 41, said: "They are a bit like human babies — they need activities to keep them busy. Because they have very poor eyesight, you have to appeal to their sense of smell and touch by giving them different scents and textures. They like natural scents and have enjoyed playing with our cleaning brushes, soil, leaves, flower pots and the like. They particularly seem to enjoy rubbing against the brush. It may sound odd but I imagine the bristles feel a bit like their mum."

I'll be coming back to that point about how baby hedgehogs are like human babies and baby humans are like baby hedgehogs.  Because, even though this is not about the Holocaust or abortion or hedgehogs, it is about human babies.  It is about the Romanian orphans.

 You might remember the Romanian orphans as one of the many horror stories from behind the Iron Curtain, infants warehoused in rows of cribs, so deprived of stimulation and human contact that they became unable to attach.  That was years ago — a nightmare from another time and, surely by now, surely now that Romania has joined the European Union (as of January of this year), the plight of the Romanian orphans can be relegated to the dismal, distant past.

I thought so too, until a few days ago, when I found out that this just is not so.  The horrors being visited upon the Romanian orphans are a current, institutionalized brutality that, in violence to the soul and in the complete innocence of its victims, is aptly compared to the Holocaust and to abortion, and in some ways is worse.

A review might be in order here, provided by Operation Help the Children.

The former Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu impoverished the nation with various grandiose projects, and starved his people in order to export food. Economic conditions today in Romania remain stagnant, with over one million adults unemployed and the rest are underemployed making the U.S. equivalent of $30 a month. The Romanian medical system is outdated, with minimal infection controls. Needles are reused on patient after patient and nurses have only high school-level training. Many adults and children with less serious illnesses are treated at clinics only to become infected with the AIDS virus as a result of that treatment. Romania itself has no civic tradition, no model for community activism or volunteerism due to communism and the remnants of Ceausescu's tyranny.

In Romania, the orphanages are simply not a priority. Many Romanians are so poor they resent the attention given to the orphans. There is still widespread prejudice against Gypsies, so many Romanians do not wish to adopt or even help the "Gypsy orphans." Most of the "caregivers" in the orphanages are members of the old Ceausescu regime and don't recognize the need for any change in the system. Even in the cleaner orphanages, the ones with new directors and more staff, there is no bonding with the children, no contact, no holding. Babies are swaddled and have bottles propped in their mouths. Many children stay in Romanian orphanages and are not adopted because their parents have yet to give them up formally. As long as a parent visits once every six months, the child cannot be considered abandoned and so cannot be considered for adoption. Some parents promise to come back when the children are older, but statistics show only about 10 percent actually do.

If you can still bear to read, the New York Times of May 10, 2006, relayed the grim conclusions of a report by investigators for Mental Disability Rights International.  The article said in part:

[A]bout 9,000 babies are deserted in Romania every year, one of the highest rates in Europe. The country's foster care and adoption programs strain to keep up with the number of children who need their help.

As a result, abandoned children with even mild disabilities and some with none at all are being kept in maternity wards or other hospital-associated institutions until they are old enough to be moved to an orphanage or other institution. In February, investigators for the group found 65 infants, some without any disability, being cared for by three people at a "nutritional recuperation center" in the western city of Timisoara.

The children were confined to their cribs most of the time, the report states. Some of the older ones rocked back and forth, banging their heads or "making the rhythmic sounds from dislocated jaws common in children left lying down for extended periods," the report said.

Researchers described an eerie silence…where [the children] were housed, because "children who do not receive attention when they cry learn to stop crying."

Karen Green McGowan, a registered nurse who assessed many of the children cited in the report, said the early neglect led to disabilities later on, making it likely that many otherwise normal children would end up institutionalized for life.

While the Romanian government claims that only disabled adults are institutionalized,

[t]he report documents several cases of older children, some kept in permanent restraints, in adult facilities, including the St. Pantelimon adult psychiatric hospital in the eastern city of Braila.

[Invesitgators said they] "found 46 children in Braila… that looked like they were from Auschwitz, just skin and bones."

They found bed-ridden teenagers "so emaciated that they looked like they were 3 or 4 years old," their limbs atrophied and contorted from disuse.

Instead of giving the children attention, the report states, the hospital staff tied them down.

After Mental Disability Rights International and a Romanian organization notified the government of the situation, the children were moved to two smaller institutions for children, the report stated. But the more disabled of them remained isolated, without even a bathroom for toilet training. All of them, up to the age of 17, use diapers.

 The hope of the investigators for Mental Disability Rights International was that the imminent entrance of Romania into the European Union, where human rights are supposed to be so well attended to and where even baby hedgehogs are cared for and stimulated, would prompt changes in the Romanian orphanages.  But, according to Operation Help the Children, today there are over 100,000 abandoned and orphaned children living in state-run, poorly-equipped orphanages and children's hospitals.  Very poor parents who take their sick children to the hospital often leave them there permanently.

There are also twenty thousand or more children living on the streets. Many of the street children and teenagers will die of disease, hunger or exposure to the harsh Romanian winter.

Yes, I know that 100,000 is a much smaller number than the number of victims of the Holocaust.  But the vast majority of victims of the Holocaust — as much as they suffered, as completely as their human dignity was stripped from them — once knew a loving embrace, eyes that smiled into their own, a stroke of comfort from a friend, a mother's hug.  They once lived a human life.

Yes, I know that the number 100,000 is even more dwarfed by the number of victims of abortion.  But as terrible as the crime of abortion is, as completely as it robs its tiny victims of every good that life holds, their suffering is over relatively quickly.  It does not go on for years and years.

There is something about the horror of the lives of these abandoned children that is so extreme in suffering, so inhumane and awful, that I think it ranks with the greatest evils of our time.  The bottom line is that the children of Romania need your help.  Operation Help the Children is dedicated to helping as many of the impoverished children of Romania as possible.  The following are some of the major projects that they are hoping to fund:

A food emergency fund for OHTC's "Make A Meal A Day" in which volunteers prepare and hand out food to the street orphans.  The fund is also for the shipping of non-perishable canned food (such as peanut butter and jelly) that OHTC has in inventory.

Purchasing and shipping important necessities for:

Orphanages:  These items include automatic kitchen grinders to grind vegetables and fruits for baby food, automatic juice makers, window fans for the kitchens, foods (sugar, cream of wheat, cereal for ages 0-3), powdered milk, diapers (of various sizes), detergents, soaps, sponges, and one fax machine.

Children's Hospitals:  These items include feeding equipment, liquid solutions for external feeding, disinfectants, ventilation equipment and cover-up protective clothing for working with contagious children.

Intensive renovation and improvements of the interior and exterior of the orphanage's plumbing, tiles, interior repairs, replacement of unusable appliances, new showers and other necessary improvements.

Please visit their website: www.OperationHelpRomanianOrphans.org to learn more about Operation Help the Children and their work among the poorest of God's children.  You can also use their online donation method if you wish to use Paypal or your credit card to make a tax-deductible donation.

Please do not turn away and think that this is "just the way it is."  You can make a difference in helping these children live human lives.  After all, you'd give a cleaning brush to a baby hedgehog, wouldn't you?

[Note from author:  For those who might recall, yes we did run this article last Fall.  So why are we putting it up again?  Because the need is still there and it is still tremendous.  Please help.]

(Operation Help the Children (OHTC) was established and incorporated on July 1st, 1999 as a 501(c)(3) non-profit charitable organization located in Media, PA.)

Please send your donation to: OPERATION HELP THE CHILDREN  

95 W Rose Tree Rd.

MEDIA PA 19063

Phone: 866-477-6482                               Fax: 610-565-4251

    E-mail: ohtc7@hotmail.com

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  • Guest


         Thank you for shedding life on this tragedy.  It's a shame that the mainstream media doesn't give press time to such a huge issue (I guess they're too busy reporting on celebrity fashions, etc).  Just earlier today I was wondering whether it's possible to adopt from Romania.  I think I'll look into that further. 

  • Guest

    Go Claire!

    We have adopted kids and kids born to us. (Whatever way God wants to build a family suits me.) We adopted internationally, where there were children waiting for us to get our paperwork done.

  • Guest

    Thanks for the encouragement, C-Kingsley.  I could really use it, as international adoption is very daunting. Sometimes it seems easier to just give up and remain childless, but I'm 38 now, and in ten years I could really regret that.

  • Guest

    Gena M.


    We've also adopted internationally twice.  We have a biological child as well.

    It's hard in many ways, and it would be easy (and much less expensive) to give up.  It's life changing and a calling. I was told over and over that the delays and headaches are your labor pains.  Motherhood is the greatest vocation that I can think of.  When it seems like too much, remember wonderful results will occur in the long run.  If there is one thing I've learned and am STILL learning from my children, it's Patience! 

  • Guest

     gena….said, It's life changing and a calling,

    truly she is correct as God calls us each to our unique vocation.  It is the calling which sustains us in the dark hours and transforms the pleasant feelings of life into Holy Joy.

    These children in Romania have been calling out for love and and a family for decades.  I sometimes wonder if God is using their voice to whisper my name.

    Keep listening, Claire, and you will rest in Him regardless of whom rests in your arms.

  • Guest

    goral, would you go back to the news article on Time magazine and the pope?  thanks

  • Guest

    Thanks, Mary.

    I called OHTC and talked to Anna.  She seems to be a beautiful person who truly appreciated your article. 

    She told me that small organizations, as noble as they are, often get forgotten in favor of large programs.  It seems like OHTC follows the Catholic principle of subsidiary involvement and well worth the support of those who can give.

    I'll never look at hegehogs quite the same way when I read Jan Brett's books.


  • Guest

    This is very sad indeed. Proof the footprint of Soviet Bolshevism has dire consequences to this day.

    There were actually more victims of communism before, during, and after Hitler - who make the Holocaust look like a drop in the bucket. Why all the attention on only the Holocaust all these years?  

    These are only a small percentage of the victims being glossed over by the mainstream media we should all be hearing about. Great information in this article and I think it will gather some support for these poor children.

  • Guest

    I beg you all, please send a link to this article to everyone you know.

  • Guest

    Mkochan, these hedgehogs are as adorable as the article is heart-wrenching. Links will go out. This is an example of the tyrranical "village" just devouring people. The Romanians went after Ceausescu with a firey vengance and this is one reason why.

  • Guest

    Ave Maria!

    Posted to another blog site just now.  There are so many couples desiring children and these ones are left to die….


    Why is 'man' so inhuman to 'man'?


    I recall visiting the Missionaries of Charity in Mexico City and seeing the tender care the 'throw-away' people get from the sisters and volunteers. The sisters give their very lives to care for these unwanted ones.  This is what a true Catholic does.

  • Guest

    The contrast between the care and stimulation these little hedgehogs are getting and the neglect of the children hit me right between the eyes.  Perhaps enough of a cry could go up about this that the UN or the EU would step in and DO something.  The thought of anyone imprisoning my little grandson for a single day behind bars and without attention is gut-wrenching enough and then to know these babies and children are left to languish for years is beyond belief.  It just must make our Lord weep.

  • Guest

    It is so incredibly tragic and unnecessary. 

  • Guest

    You'd think all these "enlightened" Europeans who are so vocal about "human rights" would have already done something about this before Romania entered the EU, but I guess they were too busy protesting Poland's laws agaisnt abortion.

  • Guest

    A heavy heavy heart.

    I went to the website, looked around.  I don't want to donate money, I don't want to knit them scarves.  I want to GO THERE and take every wretched child home with me.  Sometimes, many times, I just don't understand.  Surely there are 100,000 loving Catholic homes in the world that could take in a Romanian orphan.  How frustrating that the Romanian government appears to have frozen all international adoptions.  I wonder, if adoption were free, and the Church gave families a moral imperative to respond, if the problem might be solved rather quickly.

  • Guest

    It's ironic that pro-abortion people claim that us pro-lifers only care about the lives of unborn babies rather than children after birth, yet, as Mary points out, they are doing nothing about this travesty in the Romanian orphanages.

  • Guest

    Gena and Elkabrikir, thank you for your encouragement regarding my adoption calling.  Please keep me in prayer for discernment.

  • Guest

    This is stunning.  Truly hard to believe.

    Lord, have mercy on us all.

  • Guest

    This is such a sad horrible situation.

    It makes the mind cringe.

    I have to say, however, it bothers me that the popular accepted notion, even in Christian articles regarding Romanian orphans is to lay sole blame on 'lack of contraception' and because abortion was illegal.

    When I first heard about this, it was years ago, from some missionary newsletter and it wasn't so politicized yet, I think. In the article, I remember it stated that Ceausescu would enforce the pregnancy laws by charging women a "Celibacy tax" for not getting pregnant, and the state would pay parents a sum for evey baby born, and that is why the parents do not give up parental rights, so they don't loose the state stipend. I rarely see this mentioned now in stories of the poor Romanian orphans.

    It is interesting the Putan is now starting a movement called "Nashi" encouraging Russian women to procreate.




  • Guest

    I am French but I've been living in Romania for the past few years doing volunteer work for the roman catholic church. I would like to make a few points:
    There are more and more non-profit orgaanizations, with lay or religious nature, getting involved aand taking care as best they can of those kids. A lot of catholic orders are there in Romania already working with orphans and doing great work. They also need help – maybe the OHTC already is in contact with some of them. If not, they should, because the point is: simply traveling there with food and supplies wouldn't help much, because public orphanage employees are famous for stealing pretty much all they can grab. The local tv networks there also do a lot of stories, but the corruption in the Romanian political society is huge – so they just care for getting richer, and not for a few kids that nobody seems to want anyway. The kids living in street canals are also a real vivid issue.
    The adoptions stopped for several reasons: first, there were a few cases of pedofiles managing to adopt romanian children and a lot of scandal followed. But, mainly, the corruption in the state adoption system is huge, so kids were sold instead of given away to proper families, there was no background check, so pretty much anywone with enough money to bribe an underpayed romanian adoption employee could get their hand on one or several kids. And many of them did, so that had to be stopped around the year 2000.
    It is still stopped, because romanian officials still don't care about the issue enough to make solid laws, employ enough trained social workers and control the process, so that it can be a legal, normal one.
    Yes, Romania is in the Eu, and some things are better than they were when James Nachtwey took those famous photos – but only in the big cities(and not always, even there) and only for as much as private NGOs and christian (mostly catholic) organizations could help. Which is very much a drop of water in a much larger pond.

    If you think they discriminate gypsies, yes, they do. But the issue in itself is very complex, because a lot of the european countries, mainly Italy, are confrounted 
    with gypsy migration, and there are no laws good enough to regulate this phenomenon.
    Also, if you think the Romanian orphans deserve a home with you, yes, they probaby do. But be very careful – if trying to adopt: those babies could be sold to you, even by their parents, which later will create chaos (that also happened a few times, with Romanian citizens who legally adopted the kids)

    Yes, help is needed – but be careful: use mostly those organizations already there, and/or that have enough peoplepower to control how your help supplies are used. Otherwise, you may just contribute at making some adoption worker a richer man.

  • Guest


    How can I get in touch with the religious orders and lay orders that try care for these children?

    Thank you.

  • Guest

    Why was the website link disabled?

  • Guest

    Dear Claire,

    Hang in there with the adoption process!  We adopted our son and daughter from Russia.  Our agency told us that we would have them home by April of that year, but we never even met them until July.  It was an excruciating 13-month process filled with uncertainty, disappointment, and panic, which ended in the most joy-filled family union!

    International adoption is difficult and expensive.  It's a fact.  But when you finally hold your child in your arms — well, the pain of your _labour_ disappears.

    Although our children were housed in one of the "better" institutions, the condition in which we found them broke our hearts.  While there, we had the opportunity to tour the orphanage.  I happened to comment that a certain baby boy had beautiful big dark eyes, and the doctor said, "Oh, that one?  It's just a gypsy."  I wanted to grab him and bring him home, too!


    If adoption were free, my Husband and I would definitely adopt again.  (Our adoption cost us $40,000.00.)  And God Himself commands us to care for orphans.  (See Sirach 4:10; and James 1:27 RSV).  Nevertheless, these days, even Catholic people ignore much of what the Church teaches.

    May we all be attentive to God's voice in our lives; and may we seek His counsel always.

  • Guest

    Thanks Mary,

    I'm going to make this required reading for my 11th graders in my Catholic Social Teaching class. Very informative! Allan

  • Guest

    What link, lavendars? I just clicked on every link in the article and they all work.

  • Guest

    Mommyx3, my life has changed drastically since I first responded when this article was originally posted in September.  We switched to domestic adoption, and before we even became fully activated with our agency, I got a call last month about a one week old baby boy who needed a family!  My husband and I picked up our new son on January 15th, and brought him home a week later (we had to wait a week before we were allowed to take him across state lines).  He is an incredible blessing.

  • Guest

    Oh, Claire!  I am so happy for you and your Husband!!  I have followed your struggles through your posts here; and you have been frequently in my prayers.  I hope you are fully immersed in the JOYS of Motherhood!  May God continue to bless your family!

  • Guest


    The best way is to contact the catholic Caritas organization. They have a branch in Romania, and many activities, and they can link you further. Unfortunately, all Romanian Caritas sites are only in romanian, so you probably should start from caritas.org
    Thanks for asking

  • Unom Nacajit

    Search for “History of Romania part 15 – Holocaust” on youtube to see the lies of the anti-Romanian propaganda exposed.