The picture is of a vacant building in the town center of Geleen in the Netherlands. The building wasn’t always empty. It used to be a clothes shop called “Modehuis” or Fashion House. It was a shop that catered more for the older ladies, my mother liked to shop there A few doors next to it, there used to be a hairdresser, where I got my haircut several times.
Across from it there used to be a video store where I would rent my favourite movies. The address of the shop was Raadhuisstraat 16.
All of this will mean absolutely nothing to you, and even until today, the historical reference of the place was not known to me.
The shop was known as “Kousenhuis” (Stockingshouse) in the 1930s, the owner was Paul Siegfried Willner and his wife Charlotte Sophia Walter. Paul was Jewish but Charlotte was Roman Catholic. They were married on April 17, 1934, in Geleen, the maximum temperature that day was 21 degrees centigrade, so it was a warm spring day. Aside from the shop they also ran a wholesale business in cleaning products.
The shop was initially situated somewhere else, but due to subsidence caused by mining, they moved to the Raadhuisstraat. On January 11, 1939, Paul sold the shop to Julius Jacob Wolff.
Paul and his wife moved to Molenstraat 27 in Geleen. Below is a recent picture of that address.
As a young kid in secondary school, I had a friend living in Molenstraat 25, which is next door. The house is also near my favourite restaurant, swimming pool, and a few other places I would have visited several times a week.
Paul Siegfried Willner was born in Aachen in Germany, near the Dutch border, on June 5, 1902. He had moved in February 1934 from Aachen to Geleen. On November 25, 1941, Paul lost his German citizenship as per the new Reich citizens’ law. As a Jew, he was no longer considered to be a German.
On February 5, 1942, Paul and Charlotte divorced, I don’t know why but I can only imagine that this was to save Charlotte. If she was no longer married to a Jew, she would more than likely be safe.
On August 25, 1942, Paul had to register for labour in Germany, A day later on August 26, he ended up in Westerbork transit camp. Two days later he was deported to Auschwitz. But shortly before arriving there, he was taken off the train at the labour camp in Kosel. It is not clear where he was murdered. His date of death was registered as April 30, 1943, but that was a generic date used for many whose death date wasn’t known.
On October 5, 1942, the RAF mistakenly bombed Geleen, assuming it was Aachen, Paul’s house was destroyed as was the house of his ex-wife.
Julius Jacob Wolff who was also Jewish survived the war, His shop was still thriving when I left Geleen in 1997.
When I said at the start ‘how close the Holocaust still is to me, I meant it in a physical way as in buildings I have been in or have been close to, but also in an emotional way, because I never knew this bit of history. I had to emigrate to find out the significance of the actual buildings, which is a pity.
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