Love Sees No Colour or Religion

Alfred Münzer was only nine months old when his family separated during the Nazi Regime occupation of the Netherlands. At one year old, he was placed into the care of a Dutch-Indonesian family for his protection. After liberation, his mother, who survived several concentration camps including Auschwitz, returned and they were reunited.

This is his story.

“I was born in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands and survived the Holocaust because a Dutch-Indonesian family and their Indonesian Muslim nanny risked their lives to save a nine-month-old Jewish baby.

My parents were born in Eastern Europe, my father in a small town called Kańczuga and my mother in a neighbouring town called Rymanów.

They immigrated to the Netherlands to escape anti-Semitism and to explore opportunities in a country that had welcomed Jews for hundreds of years.

My father was the first to arrive in the Netherlands and started a men’s clothing business in the city of the Hague. My mother followed him a few years later and they were married in November 1932, just before Adolf Hitler came to power in neighbouring Germany.

My father’s business flourished, and my parents made many friends, many of them not Jewish, and in July 1936, they celebrated the birth of their first child, my sister Eva. She was followed in November 1938 by my sister Leah, another happy occasion marred unfortunately by news of Kristallnacht, [the Night of Broken Glass], when the full fury of anti-Semitism was unleashed in Germany. Still, my parents felt safe in the Netherlands.

All that changed 14 May 1940, when Germany invaded the Netherlands and installed a Nazi government of occupation.

In 1941, my mother realized she was pregnant again. Her obstetrician told her it would be immoral to bring another Jewish life into the world and urged her to have an abortion. But my mother ignored the doctor’s advice. And so, I was born eight months later on 23 November 1941.

Eight days later family and friends gathered in our living room to observe the first milestone in a Jewish life. My bris [circumcision] ceremony. Photographs were taken on that occasion, and they were very significant because these two photographs were to be kept by my mother on her body through her stay in 12 concentration camps.

In August 1942, when I was nine months old, my father, like many other Jewish men, received a summons to report for labour duty, which meant going to a concentration camp. The summons was a sign of imminent danger, which forced our family to go into hiding.

My sisters were placed with two devout Catholic women who lived next door to us. And I was placed with a neighbour across the street, Annie Madna. My parents went into hiding at a psychiatric hospital, my father pretending to be a patient and my mother, a nurse.

Annie Madna had some bad run-ins with the Nazi government and felt it would be safer for me to be with her sister, Yorina Polak. But Yorina had a neighbour who was a member of the Dutch Nazi Party, and that is why I finally ended up with Annie Madna’s former husband, Tolé Madna.

Tolé Madna was born in what was then a Dutch colony, the Netherlands East Indies, now called Indonesia. Tolé became my Papa, the three Madna children, my siblings and Mima Saïna, the Indonesian nanny who had cared for them, now became my mother.

Mima could not read or write but had a heart of gold and cared for me as if I were her own. I slept in Mima’s bed, and she kept a knife under her pillow vowing to kill any Nazi who might try to come and get me.

Because I was in the house illegally, there were no food ration coupons for me and for three long years, she and the Madna family shared their meagre rations with me. They made sure I never came close to a window for fear that some passers-by might see a very different-looking child.

There were times when the house was being searched and I was told to hide in a closet. But I thought it was just a game and I remember playing with the Christmas decorations that were stored in the closet.

There were also times when I was very, very hungry, but what I remember most of the three years with the Madna family, was love and laughter.

Sadly, my sisters met an entirely different fate. After a year with the two Catholic neighbours, they were placed in what was assumed to be a safer home. But there, the husband of the woman who had agreed to shelter my sisters denounced his wife and my sisters to the Nazis. His wife was sent to a concentration camp where she developed typhus, but survived.

My sisters, however, were taken to Auschwitz where they were killed on 11 February 1944. They were seven and five years old.

My parents only succeeded in hiding at the psychiatric hospital for three months. On Christmas Day 1942, they enjoyed a surprise visit with my sisters. But one week later on New Year’s Day 1943, all the Jews who had been hiding in the hospital were arrested by the SS.

My parents were deported, first to two camps in the Netherlands, and then to Auschwitz. My father remained in Auschwitz for six months and then was taken to a succession of camps in Mauthausen, Gusen, Steyr, and finally to a camp high in the Austrian Alps, Ebensee.

He witnessed liberation by the US Army but was so debilitated that he died two months later, still at Ebensee on 25 July 1945.

Miraculously, my mother survived Auschwitz and a series of death marches that took her through nine other camps. She was liberated in April 1945 and she and I were reunited in July 1945. It’s the first clear memory that I have.

I had been asleep when my foster sister Dewie came to get me and carried me into the living room where the whole family had gathered in a circle. They passed me from lap to lap, but there was one lap I refused to sit in, one woman I kept pushing away. That woman was my mother.

To me, she was a complete stranger. I already had a mother and that was Mima Saïna. My mother thought it best that Mima continue to care for me. But unexpectedly, Mima passed away two months later, and that was when I finally bonded with my mother, a bond that lasted until she died 56 years later at age 94.

Sadly, the Holocaust did not spell an end to hate, bigotry, or mass murder. I asked Tolé Madna why he risked his life and the lives of his family to save a Jewish baby. His answer was a simple one, “What else was I to do?”

To him standing up to hate and bigotry wasn’t a choice, but a given. That’s the lesson I want the world to learn, that even when surrounded by unbridled hate, hate that robbed me of my father and sisters, and hate that took the lives of six million Jews and millions of others, it is possible and incumbent on all of us to stand up and do what is right.



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