The above photograph sent shivers down my spine. Not because it is a horrific picture, just the opposite is true. Three young girls walk into town, pushing a pram.
Why I find it so disturbing, is because I know that street very well. I have walked the same route many times. In fact, all my Dutch family would have walked that route many times. It is the street that leads into the city centre of Sittard, the neighbouring town to Geleen where I grew up. Sittard and Geleen merged in 2001 to make it the bigger city of Sittard-Geleen.
The girl pushing the pram is Hermine Zondervan. She was born on the Brandstraat in Sittard, where her father had a business as an electrician and optician. Benoit had taken it over from his father. Hermien’s grandparents died when she was still small, in 1932 and 1934. Afterwards, Max Capell from Düren, a cousin of her father, lived with them for a while. Hermien did have a grandmother on her mother’s side, who lived on Stationsdwarsstraat.
Hermine was an only child but had a niece Ivonne who was the same age, and a nephew Herman who was a few years younger; and lived on the Bergstraat. On her mother’s side, she had an older cousin living in Sittard and a few others in South Holland. She spent a lot of time with Roosje Silbernberg from Engelenkampstraat, who was the same age as Hermine. In 1941, the family took in a single uncle from the father, the 84-year-old Jozef Zondervan from Maastricht. After the summer, Hermien was suddenly no longer allowed to go to school, and from then on she and the other Jewish children attended an improvised school next to the synagogue in the Plakstraat.
In August 1942, Uncle Henri was deported with his family, and in November of that same year, Uncle Jos Hertz was her mother’s brother. Hermine’s friend Roosje and her family then went into hiding. The Jewish class had become a lot emptier by then, but the atmosphere was becoming more and more oppressive.
It was Hermien’s turn, her parents and Great-Uncle Jozef Zondervan’s at the beginning of April 1943, when the last major deportation from Limburg took place. Grandma Hertz was also taken via Vught and Westerbork. First Great-Uncle Jozef, then Grandmother Hertz, and finally Estella and Hermine were all taken to Sobibor to be murdered upon arrival, on 12 June 1943. Hermine was 12 years old.
Father Benoit had stayed behind in Vught because his technical skills made him very useful in the so-called Philips Kommando, where he had to perform forced labour. In March 1944 he was also deported to the east, where he finally succumbed in April 1945.
Roosje Silbernberg survived the war.
After seeing the picture and reading the story I realized it could have easily been members of my family.