Excerpted from Sara Yoheved Rigler’s new book, I’ve Been Here Before.

The Secret Society is so recondite that most of its members are unaware that they belong. The qualifications for membership are Holocaust-related recurring dreams, panic attacks, fearsome flashbacks, or phobias of trains, showers, or uniformed men. Most of its members were born between 1945 and 1961, in North or South America, Europe, or Israel.

Although members’ individual experiences are unique, the common denominator, the secret handshake of this society, is a childhood obsession with the Holocaust by youths unrelated to Holocaust survivors, who never heard it discussed, who never saw a Holocaust movie until after their dreams, flashbacks, or phobias were already haunting their young lives.

In 2013, at the end of my Aish.com article on “Reincarnation and the Holocaust,” I appealed: “Readers who have stories alluding to a Holocaust incarnation are invited to send them to the author.” Among the hundreds of emails to my website, I read the frequent refrain. “After reading your article on reincarnation and the Holocaust, I felt ‘normal’ for the first time in my life.”

The closet is crowded with people who fear exposing their haunting experiences to mockery and disdain. One purpose of this book is to open the closet door and allow these thousands of people to emerge into the daylight of respectability and acceptance.

From Where These Dreams?

A past life in the Holocaust appears in one’s dreams like an unexpected and unwelcome visitor. Upon waking, if the dreamer is an adult, or later in life if the dreamer is a child, one may want to decipher the identity of the visitor. Although the dreamer fully understands that “that was me,” she may seek to know more about who she was then or to corroborate her dream with historical facts.

A non-Jewish woman from Wisconsin who was born in 1960 wrote to me:

I never thought there were others like myself out there. l never met anyone else who has had the experiences I’ve had. To my relief, here you are! This is my story:

At the age of four I began to have nightmares. But in them I was a grown woman. They were always about running through an unfamiliar city, but one very unlike the one I lived in. The streets and alleys were of brick or cobblestone, the houses smaller and much further apart than the ones I knew in waking life. …

I would see a stream of people crossing an iron trestle, like a bridge, that stretched over an underpass that could be walked or driven through. I would stand there and watch with horror as naked, bleeding masses of people were herded across the bridge, blood dripping to the pavement below. In the next moment, I was stopped by soldiers who demanded my jewelry, my wedding ring. They then chased me through a field, held me down, and slit my throat. I could actually feel my soul leave my body, quite literally, through the wound. Then I would wake up. These nightmares persisted into my adulthood.

I’ve read as many survivors’ stories as I can get my hands on since then, and the nightmares completely stopped. I studied the pictures, wondering if one day I would find a picture of that train trestle. I read one account by [Holocaust survivor] Livia Bitton-Jackson (I Have Lived a Thousand Years), where the people of her town were ordered to march across a bridge by a train station, stripped of their clothing and belongings. As I read, I was utterly awash with what I can only describe as a feeling familiarity, of, “Yes, this is it, this is what happened!” This has been the only instance of overwhelming recognition that I’ve encountered.

While to me it was an astounding find, I would still believe, even without this seeming corroborating evidence, that I was there in a former life. No other explanation makes sense to me. There is no way a four-year-old in 1964 would have the kind of information necessary to inspire such awful dreams.

A woman born to a Christian family in Australia in 1966 had a dream of a concentration camp that she considered “stupid” until she accidently found corroboration many years later.

I dreamed of a place that was being built. There was a lot of mud, and they seemed to be digging a lap pool. Myself and Joseph (I knew him in the dream, and we spoke a language that I understood in the dream but not awake) got out of a covered truck along with many others. I saw a woman and her two girls get out of a staff car, and one stumbled. I immediately went to help and ended up as a tutor/nanny but inevitably was gassed. I thought it was stupid. Whoever had heard of a lap pool in a concentration camp?

Years later, when the Internet was born, I was on a website about Auschwitz and, scrolling through, there was a picture of the lap pool!

NORE – No Other Rational Explanation

Since very young children do not read graphic Holocaust books nor see Holocaust movies, their dreams of Holocaust images would seem to corroborate that their dreams issue from a past life, or what I call NORE (No Other Rational Explanation). One of my subjects related that when she was a child, she walked into the living room while her mother was watching a Holocaust film, and her mother made her leave the room. Thus, the dream of a young Jewish, Los Angeles–born girl is particularly chilling:

When I was about nine or ten, I was sick with a fever. I had a dream in which I was tossed into a pile of bodies and was too weak to move. More bodies were put on top of me, and, after being unable to move from under them, my soul left my body.

Feverish prisoners being tossed onto piles of bodies when they were not yet dead was a common occurrence in the concentration camps. NORE.

Lauren Green, born to a Jewish family in Illinois in 1991, had to have six silver crowns put on her back teeth when she was just three years old. When her mother Karen was driving her home, suddenly little Lauren piped up, “I don’t like having silver teeth, because remember when we died together and those bad guys took our silver teeth?”

“I don’t like having silver teeth, because remember when we died together and those bad guys took our silver teeth?”

Karen was so shaken that she had to pull over to the side of the road. “Since we are Jewish,” she told author Carol Bowman, “I knew immediately that she was talking about the Holocaust… I knew that she was not playing a game. I could feel the truth of what she was saying…. The chances that Lauren could have known this detail are absolutely zero.” NORE

Sometimes the person having a dream is torn between the conviction that the dream must be a past-life experience and the taboo of believing in reincarnation. For example, a devout Protestant woman born in Greenville, Alabama, in 1942, wrote to me:

I don’t think any of us knew anything about the Holocaust…. I have been going through my old journals and have found a dream that seems to be connected to the Holocaust. The entry was dated July 3, 2001.

In the dream I was working in a government agency. I was told that it was necessary to locate the “children of the name-change men.” I knew these men had been arrested, but their families had not. Although I was assured that no harm would come to them, I didn’t believe it.

The scene changes, and I am in a home with a mother, her small son, and daughter. I know this is a family of a “name-change man.” While I try to convince the woman to take her children and flee, people arrive in front of the house. I tell the woman we must escape through the windows at the back of the house. The dream ends.

In trying to make sense of this dream, I have come to the conclusion that the place was Germany, probably Munich, during the 1930s. I have not found any reference to “name-change men” but wonder if it could be a reference to a group who made counterfeit papers for Jews to either escape or to find work.

I assume that there is a reason for my dreams. I have no idea what I’m supposed to do with them. I have come to believe that they are fragments of a past life as a Jewish woman. The official verdict of my religion, Christianity, would be that my belief that I had lived before would be a heresy. Unofficially, many Christians would not think that.

Victoria Thompson was born into a Catholic family in Adelaide, Australia, in 1979.

I have had dreams [of the Holocaust] for as long as I can remember, as well as a fascination with World War II and the Jews/Nazis.

I am a fourth-generation Australian Catholic with no known connection to these events. It was not a topic of discussion in our household, and I don’t remember reading or hearing anything much about it before the dreams started.

The dreams are always similar and a variation on the same theme. I am in a lineup of women, and we are being “sorted” and herded. Sometimes it’s very confused and frantic…sometimes silent and drawn out… Sometimes we are standing silently in a queue, but there is always a feeling of dread, fear, and inevitability…like I am waiting to die or be killed.

Reincarnation generally goes against Christian beliefs and scientific ones, but these dreams do leave me wondering.

Flashbacks and Inner Quicksand

Melanie, growing up in Christian family in Scarborough, Ontario, Canada, in the 1960s, had what she called, “a happy childhood until about four or five years old, when my memory came back.” As she describes the traumatic experience:

When I was four or five, my mother took me to school to register me for kindergarten. As we approached the school on foot and I saw the chain-link fence and paved yard, I began to feel very nervous. I began to ask my mother repeatedly where the train was. She kept replying that there was no train, that we were at a school (there was no train station near our home).

We entered the yard, and very quickly the scene “switched” and I saw a brick building. I then saw long lines of people in front of wooden desks with people behind them with clipboards and lists. I insisted I didn’t want to go, and again, where was the train? It must be on the other side of the building. I asked my mom if she was coming with me, to which she replied, “No, you go to school on your own.”

I began to cry and to try to get away from my mother. I knew the train led to death. I knew I had been about the same age in my last life when I took the train alone. I knew I had been in hiding with about four or five random adults. They often whispered together. One day I made a sound. They whispered and decided to give me up so I would not jeopardize the group. A woman from the group, or maybe she was the one hiding us, took me to the train. (I hated her for taking me to the train station.) She was stoic and curt, dispassionate. She took me to the desk with the woman who had the clipboard and a list.

Next thing I remember is being the small child in a boxcar at a level where I could smell the human waste, at a level that I could not escape. I remember I had dark, dark hair and eyes. (It seems cruel to be blond haired and blue eyed in this life and be fussed over for my looks by German neighbors!)

Anyway, I was making such a fuss in the schoolyard that another mother came over to my mom. “I’ve heard of this,” she told my mom. “This child has lived before.”

My mom scoffed and said, “No! She got this from TV.” The other mother said my reaction was too severe to be from TV and must be real. I was sitting on the ground refusing to budge, so the other mother knelt down and asked me what I remembered. Then she touched my back, and at this I was back in the schoolyard, speechless.

My own mother did not believe me (so this is not a story I share, and even my two brothers do not know it). I kept quiet, and my mom said, “See, she just got it from TV.” But I hadn’t.

Many people describe their flashbacks as “visions,” for which they have no logical explanation. A woman who is an executive in a high-tech company in Silicon Valley was born to a Jewish family in San Diego in 1966.

Since I was eight years old, I’ve had visions of being in the showers being gassed with many other women and children. Even when I would get into my own shower, I would sometimes feel dread, but I did not understand why. In these visions I saw myself as a child. They always started and ended in the room of the gas chamber. As an adult, I still see the vision, but less often.

Sometimes a flashback can be triggered by a sound. A man born to a Jewish family in Brooklyn in 1970 had both Holocaust-related dreams that have pursued him from childhood until the present and a dramatic flashback at the age of eighteen.

I was in an auto repair shop with a friend of mine. The sound of the impact wrench removing a wheel from a car triggered off a memory of my death. I was very puzzled for years from this memory, and didn’t understand it.

In the memory, I was standing around a very large pit with a group of people. Some military men were standing with machine guns in the background. I tried not to look around, and felt very exhausted, but I knew that my life was about to end. I saw very tall trees in the forest with leaves on the top. These trees weren’t like any that I’ve seen growing up in America.

Suddenly, one officer said three words in a foreign language that I wasn’t able to understand. I would assume that he said, “Ready, aim, fire.” The officers holding machine guns started to fire in sequence from the far-right hand corner of the pit, then continued along the pit to the left. I was somewhere in the middle or the far left. People being shot in the back of the head were falling forward into the pit, and I knew that it would be my turn in a matter of seconds. As soon as he got up to me, I felt very light-headed, with a dizzy feeling, then started to fall forward head first into the pit just like everybody else. When I was falling forward, everything started to get dark, until it was completely dark.

At this point I came out of my flashback, and my friend was next to me. He was looking at me the whole time, and tried to talk to me, but I didn’t respond. He asked me what was wrong, and I said that I didn’t know, and couldn’t explain it.

I Know This Story

Mirelle Jane Millar, growing up in a small town in the cane farming country of North Queensland, Australia, did not know a single Jew. Born in Whangārei, New Zealand, in 1980 to Pentecostal Christian parents who were both pastors, the only thing Mirelle knew about Judaism was that Jesus was Jewish. She learned nothing about the Holocaust in school.

As a child of four or five, Mirelle would say peculiar things, such as, “I don’t eat ham,” and “I don’t eat bacon,” and “Saturday is the day of rest, not Sunday.” The child had a single phobia: German shepherd dogs.

At the age of nine, Mirelle was in a video store with her mother and older brothers. Normally she would pick Mary Poppins, but that day she noticed a video called Escape from Sobibor. She wanted to get it. Her brothers told her that it wasn’t for children, but Mirelle insisted she must watch it. Her mum, unaware of the horrific content of the television movie portraying the death camp where 250,000 people were exterminated, was curious, and rented the movie.

Sitting in their living room that night watching the video, nine-year-old Mirelle announced, “I know this story.” Her mother assured her that she didn’t, but young Mirelle was adamant that she recognized everything. In the scene where a German shepherd attacks a woman, Mirelle cried out, “That’s why I hate German shepherds!” In the last scene of the film, where most of the prisoners are killed during their desperate escape, Mirelle began to cry.

“I had this sense,” she remembered three decades later, “that I need to find the people who survived. I knew they were my people.”

I came to the conclusion that I have a Jewish soul and reincarnated into a non-Jewish family, and that my past life most likely had been in the Holocaust.

For Mirelle, watching Escape from Sobibor was like opening a door to a dark tunnel. She started having recurring nightmares about the Holocaust that plagued her for the rest of her childhood and throughout her teenage years. She became obsessed with Jews (of whom she still had not met a single one) and with Israel. While none of her friends had even heard of the Holocaust, she voraciously read Holocaust books and saw films.

At the age of seventeen, she left school and went to spend a year in Israel. Eventually, she converted to Judaism.

I went through my conversion a few years ago, after years of trying to search for why I was so connected to Jewish culture, Judaism, the Holocaust, and Israel. I came to the conclusion that I have a Jewish soul and reincarnated into a non-Jewish family, and that my past life most likely had been in the Holocaust. As a child I knew things and had memories of things that were not told to me. During my interview with the rabbis prior to my conversion, they acknowledged my belief that I had a Jewish soul. Following conversion, it has been like my soul is at peace.

Tikkun – Rectification

Reincarnation assumes the existence of a spiritual entity, the soul, that continues to exist after the death of the physical body, and can enter a new body later in time.

The purpose of the soul’s descent to the physical world is, according to Kabbalah, tikkun or rectification of past mistakes. Just as every soul is unique, so every tikkun is unique, as illustrated by the stories in Part Two.

For some, a failure of action can be rectified through a single, glorious choice. For others, tikkun is a rectification of a character flaw; fear must be replaced by courage, selfishness by generosity. For still others, the disposition of anger – at God and at human beings – must be rectified by faith and love.

Reincarnation replaces the fear of mortality with the assurance of immortality. This immortality has nothing to do with the youthfulness or fitness of the body. The body and all its accoutrements will indeed perish. Reincarnation, however, guarantees the eternal longevity of one’s core identity – the soul. Like a child who gets off a roller coaster ride and runs to get in line to do the ride again, our souls crave “another ride,” another chance to redress wrongs with clearer consciousness and more benevolent actions. Death comes with a ticket for another ride – although usually the line is very long.

I’ve Been Here Before; When Souls of the Holocaust Return is available in your local Judaica store or by clicking here.

Related reading: Reincarnation and Jewish Tradition.