Forgotten Hero- Walter Süskind

Walter Süskind (29 October 1906 – 28 February 1945) was a German Jew who helped about 600 Jewish children escape the Holocaust. He was a member of the Dutch Jewish council (Dutch: Joodsche Raad) during the Second World War.

Süskind was born in Lüdenscheid in Germany as the first child of Hermann Süskind and Frieda Kessler. He had two younger brothers, Karl Süskind  , Alfred Süskind  as well as a foster brother Robert Salzberg. He had also the Dutch nationality due to the fact that his grandparents were Dutch.

In 1929 Walter Suskind became the director of Prussian and Polish margarine sales, for the German company Bolak. In 1935 Suskind married Hannah Natt, and in 1937 Robert Salzberg emigrated  to the United States of America.

In March 1938 Suskind and his wife, Hannah’s mother Fran Natt and Walter’s mother Frieda Suskind emigrated to Holland,because of the persecution of Jews by the Nazis. Suskind starts working on a sales job for Unilever, and in 1939 a baby girl is born called Yvonne, he discussed with Robert Salzberg the possibility of emigrating to the USA to work for Unilever.

In June 1941 Salzberg informs the Suskind’s that sponsorship has been arranged but a month later the Germans cease all emigration. In July 1942 the Amsterdam Jewish Council appointed Suskind to manage the Judische Schouwburg – The Dutch Theatre as a deportation centre for Jews in Amsterdam.

Hollandsche Schouwburg dutch theatre

 

In that position he could manipulate the personal data of children in particular. His close relationship with the German authorities helped him in his activities to help children escape. He especially tried to get close with the SS officer Ferdinand aus der Fünten, who was then the second man of the Central Office for Jewish Emigration in Amsterdam.

110px-Fünten

From 1942 until his deportation to Westerbork, he lived at the Nieuwe Prinsengracht 51 in the center of Amsterdam

prinsen

with his wife Johanna and their daughter Yvonne Süskind.

Walter Suskind & daughter

The deportation centre that Suskind supervised was called the Hollandsche Schouwburg, a gutted theatre located in the Jewish centre of Amsterdam.Directly across the street from the Schouwburg there was a crèche,the nursery on the Plantage Middenlaan. Tram lines ran on the street between the two buildings, and as trams passed by children were smuggled out of the Schouwburg, into the crèche, without being observed by the Germans.

The Nazis put the young children in the crèche instead of in the theater. The Jewish director of the nursery, Henriette Henriques Pimentel, together with Süskind and economist Felix Halverstad (who also worked at the Hollandsche Schouwburg), set up a system to rescue children via the nursery. Children were secretly brought to the Hervormde Kweekschool (Reformed Teacher Training College), two houses from the theater. They got there through the garden. They received help from the head of the school, Johan van Hulst. From there, the children went into a backpack, shopping bag or laundry basket to be transported to Limburg and Friesland by train and tram, often with help from the Utrechts Kindercomité (Utrecht Children’s Committee) of Piet Meerburg and the NV, a secret organization that managed to organize many addresses in Limburg. Süskind and Felix Halverstad ensured that these children were not registered and removed their names from the records of the theater. Thanks to this plan, about 600 children were saved.

Over time Suskind was perceived to be a Nazi collaborator when quite the opposite was true, but the operation was never betrayed or discovered by the Nazis.Only a few people directly involved with the escapes ever knew the existence and the details of the dangerous rescue mission.In September 1943 Suskind was arrested and spent three nights in Scheveningen prison, he was released but shortly after the whole family was arrested and sent to Westerbork transit camp.

Suskind was released but his wife and daughter were kept imprisoned at Westerbork and despite several attempts to free them by the Dutch Resistance, they all fail.On 2 September 1944 Suskind learns his family are about to be deported to Theresienstadt he joins them and his deported to Theresienstadt. Suskind had forged a letter from the Nazis describing how invaluable Suskind had been to the Nazis, and he tried to present this letter to the Commandant of Theresienstadt Karl Rahm,

Karl Rahm

 

but a Jew intercepted him and pushed him into a cattle car bound for Auschwitz-Birkenau.His wife and daughter were gassed on arrival at Birkenau but Suskind was selected to enter the camp.

Suskind did not survive Auschwitz, there is some confusion as to how he met his death is , one version is that he died on the death march from the camp in January 1945, another version is that he was killed by Dutch inmates of Auschwitz, who thought he was a collaborator.

 

 

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