Remembering the Jews of Geleen

The photograph above might appear strange for a Holocaust story, but I posted it for a good reason. It is a chemical plant called DSM. At the edge on the top of the photo, you can see a few apartment blocks where I grew up, in the town of Geleen in the Netherlands.

The DSM was a daily reality for me. When I looked at it again today, I realized that there were several fellow-Geleen citizens that would have loved it if that chemical plant, ugly as it was, had been their daily reality. They never saw it because they were murdered. Below is a small poem I wrote for them a few years ago and the names of those murdered.

You are not different from me.

You eat the same food.

You read the same books.

But yet you are not free.

You are not free because of someone’s idea of you.

You are given a yellow star.

You are catalogued and numbered like cattle.

But yet you’re not an animal but a human too.

You are being killed in the vilest of ways.

You are a man, a woman, a child, a parent.

You are erased as if you were never here.

But yet you are remembered on many days.

You are not different to me but you are also not the same.

You are merely a number and a name on a list.

You are not listened to for you have no voice

But I pledge I will shout for you in loud acclaim.

 Last nameFirst nameBornDied*
1Freimark-AdlerHermine12-12-1876 Urspringen (D)14-05-1943 Sobibor
2BaumMax04-01-1907 Bauchem (D)31-03-1944 Auschwitz
3Cohen-Ten BrinkEsthella Carolina05-06-1904 Ootmarsum31-08-1942 Auschwitz
4Meyer-CahnJeanette (Jetta)18-12-1859 Leutesdorf (D)10-05-1943 Westerbork
5ClaessensAlbert19-04-1905 Obbicht30-04-1943 Midden-Europa
6CohenFrieda11-07-1924 Vaals31-08-1942 Auschwitz
7CohenHenny30-10-1925 Vaals26-09-1942 Auschwitz
8CohenJosephine09-07-1930 Geleen31-08-1942 Auschwitz
9CohenSimon01-05-1889 Midwolda31-08-1942 Auschwitz
10FreimarkErnst12-08-1936 Frankfurt (D)31-08-1942 Auschwitz
11FreimarkFriedrich27-10-1902 Marktheidenfeld (D)30-04-1943 Midden-Europa
12FreimarkKurt21-12-1939 Heerlen31-08-1942 Auschwitz
13Levy-GoldschmidtIrene15-02-1907 Rheda (D)30-11-1943 Auschwitz
14GoldschmidtJosef24-10-1867 Rheda (D)28-05-1943 Sobibor
15GoldsteenFrederik09-07-1918 Rheydt (D)15-08-1942 Auschwitz
16Levi-HarfRosalie27-10-1880 Mönchengladbach (D)28-05-1943 Sobibor
17Goldschmidt-JacobFrieda19-02-1869 Rheda-Wiedenbrück (D)07-10-1943 Maastricht**
18May-JacobsohnKlara14-05-1871 Neckarbischofsheim (D)14-05-1943 Sobibor
19Meyer-KaufmannBerta03-01-1912 Köln (D)31-08-1942 Auschwitz
20KaufmannMargard10-11-1928 Gronau (D)03-09-1943 Auschwitz
21KaufmannRichard30-06-1886 Moers (D)03-09-1943 Auschwitz
22Heimberg-KlestadtBertha28-12-1891 Büren (D)25-01-1943 Auschwitz***
23Claessens-KrzanowskaAjga17-03-1909 Zawiercie (Polen)31-08-1942 Auschwitz
24LebensteinIda16-05-1888 Ochtrup (D)28-05-1943 Sobibor
25LevyArnold27-05-1880 Wuppertal-Elberfeld (D)28-05-1943 Sobibor
26LevyHans Erich22-03-1911 Düsseldorf (D)31-03-1944 Polen
27LöwenfelsLuise05-07-1915 Trabelsdorf (D)30-09-1942 Auschwitz
28Freimark-MayGertruda16-02-1902 Niedermendig (D)31-08-1942 Auschwitz
29Winter-MayIrma Johanna30-08-1908 Niedermendig (D)31-08-1942 Auschwitz
30Goldsteen-MendelCarolina06-07-1880 Tetz (D)22-10-1943 Auschwitz****
31MeyerMax23-01-1900 Remagen-Oberwinter (D)30-04-1943 Midden-Europa
32RoerHelene14-09-1921 Zülpich (D)31-08-1942 Auschwitz
33RoerIlse20-02-1925 Zülpich (D)31-08-1942 Auschwitz
34Baum-SalmagneSophia12-06-1867 Eilendorf (D)16-11-1943 Bergen-Belzen
35WillnerPaul Siegfried05-06-1902 Aachen (D)30-04-1943 Midden-Europa
36WinterGustav01-11-1897 Korschenbroich (D)30-04-1943 Midden-Europa
37Kaufmann-ZilversmitAdele07-12-1890 Gronau (D)03-09-1943 Auschwitz

The Residents of Peschstraat 28, Geleen—All Murdered

I could call this history on my doorstep. The Peschstraat in Geleen is a street that is well known to me. Although on the other side of town, I did go there often to visit friends living on that street or nearby. Though, I knew little about one family who lived on that street. The family was murdered during the Holocaust. Via The Simon Wiesenthal Genealogy Geolocation Initiative, I came across the story of the Freimark family.

In 1817, three Freymark families lived in Homburg am Main (located between Frankfurt and Würzburg). Salomon Freimark, 14, moved with his parents from Homburg to Marktheidenfeld in 1887 and started a blacksmith shop there in 1901. He married the tailor Hermine Adler from nearby Urspringen around 1898. They had four sons, the third of which was Friedrich, born in 1902. Salomon died in 1911, after which Hermine earned a living with a “Kurz-, Weiss- und Wollwaren-Geschäft.”

Friedrich married Gertruda May from Niedermendig (near Koblenz) in Frankfurt in August 1935. Gertruda had another sister and brother; her father had died in 1933, and her mother was still alive.

One year later, their son Ernst Freimark was born in Frankfurt. His parents decided not much later to leave Germany. In May 1936, Aunt Irma and Uncle Gustav Winter-May had moved to Geleen, where Gustav had a launderette and hot iron company. The childless couple took Grandma May in November 1936, and in the spring of 1937, Ernst and his parents also came to Geleen. Father Friedrich became uncle Gustav’s partner in the clothes laundry. In April 1938, Grandma Freimark also came to live with the family in Geleen. Kurt Freimark was born in Heerlen in December 1939 and became the eighth family member at Peschstraat 28.

In the middle, the white house annexe laundry on the Peschstraat. Photo 1960s

Six months later, the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands happened. The family underwent gradual introduction measures to isolate and exclude Jews. In February 1941, they had to register and then by June 1941, they were no longer allowed to enter public places. Ernst was not allowed to go into public places in September, not even school. All eight lost their German nationality in November 1941.

For Employment in Germany program, six of the eight residents of Peschstraat 28 were ordered to report on 25 August 1942. The two grandmothers (ages 65 and 71) were left behind at the residence. Uncle Gustav and his father tried to get an extension using an argument about having 300 kg of laundry that needed to be taken care of but to no avail. The two couples and their two children, along with many others, were transferred via Maastricht to Westerbork and then deported to Auschwitz on 28 August.

An hour before they were due to arrive, the 18-55-year-old men, were separated from their wives and children at the Kosel Labour Camp. Friedrich Freimark and Gustav Winter were placed in labour camps with their fellow sufferers from Kosel. The women and children were gassed immediately upon arriving in Auschwitz on 30 or 31 August—Gertrude with her sons, six-year-old Ernst, two-year-old Kurt, and sister Irma.

Friedrich Freimark with Ernst and Kurt

The death dates of Friedrich Freimark and Gustav Winter were later formally set by the Red Cross as 30 April 1943, somewhere in Central Europe. The exact day, place and circumstances have never been clarified.

The two grandmothers who had remained behind were arrested in early April 1943 and taken to the Vught Camp with the last Jews remaining in Limburg. After, they were deported via Westerbork to Sobibor Extermination Camp, where they were gassed to death on 14 May 1943.

In June 1943, “De Limburgsche” Stoomwasscherij was located at Peschstraat 28, which was still there after the war. The Maurits Clothing Laundry of Gustav Winter and Friedrich Freimark was officially closed on 27 October 1947. None of the family had returned.

Wietske—My Hero and My Mother

Mom, this picture of you is typically how people will remember you. In the kitchen, making coffee, ready to make soup and sandwiches.

In that same kitchen you asked me on 24 January 1996, “Ben je gelukkig?” (Are you happy?) Although there isn’t really an accurate translation for gelukkig it is more than just happy it also means are you content or blissful but to all those meanings I could answer, “Yes.”

Two days later on 26 January 1996, I received a call from my sister, saying there was something wrong, “I think mom is dead.” Those words hit me hard. I got on my bicycle, I must have broken a speed record because I appeared to have arrived at the apartment within seconds. The fear we had became a reality—you had died.

Just a few hours before that you were at bingo, cheerful and funny like you always were, singing Het busje komt zo on your way home, an indication of your sense of humour, which you bestowed upon my sisters, my brother and me.

Wietske Jager was born on 10 December 1935, the daughter of Frisian immigrants from Harkema, who moved to Geleen in Limburg.

Although my mother had no formal secondary education, she still spoke three languages. She taught me that intelligence does not equate to education. She was always welcoming to everyone.

One day my sister brought some of her Italian-in-laws to see my mother. The fact that my mother didn’t speak Italian, didn’t stop her from talking to her Italian guests, she simply added an ‘o’ to every word, making it sound a bit Italian. This was not to make fun of them but to give them the respect of making them feel at home. And you know what, I am nearly sure they understood her.

Regardless of what hour of the day you would call, there was always coffee. There also seemed to be an endless supply of soup. She looked after four children on her own. Nowadays some people would look down on her because she was only a mother and a homemaker. People now would say she had no ambition. I pity those people because they didn’t understand the value of real life. My mother always did, she never gave up no matter how hard things got. Her sense of humour and her fighting spirit passed on to her children.

Although she was small in stature, she had the attitude of a giant.

She died on 26 January 1996 when they carried her coffin down the stairs, it started snowing and that snow remained for a few weeks. Clearly, when she arrived in heaven she shook up the place a small bit.

The church was too small for the funeral service. There were queues of people outside the church, despite it being very cold. She was like a celebrity.

Kleine reus ik mis je nog iedere dag

Lytse reus Ik mis dy noch alle dagen

The 80th Anniversary of the Bombing of Geleen by the RAF

Today 80 years ago my hometown, Geleen, was bombed by the RAF by mistake. Originally the target was the German city of Aachen. 84 were killed.

This is the story of that day:

England, 5 October 1942:

The weather at 9:15 am: rain and low clouds; at 12:15 p.m.: clearings extending South; 4:10 pm: further clearing up to the Felixtowe-Lizard line. North of this, the Allied Air Force expects clear skies well past midnight, important for returning aircraft. It is decided to carry out a bombing flight on Aachen. Due to expected clouds over the target area, the attack should be brought forward slightly. Between 19:09 and 19:40 hours, 257 aircraft take off from various airports for the flight. Leading the way are the pathfinders who will mark the target with flares. Bad weather makes the flight more difficult and some pathfinders do not reach their target area. The planes spread out over a large area.

At 9:42 pm the command post of Staatsmijn Maurits of the air surveillance centre / Luftschutzcentrale receives the air danger signal. A warning signal is given: aircraft approaching.
No more coke ovens should be emptied to prevent glowing embers from emitting light. At 10.10 pm, dozens of flares suddenly hang in the sky over Geleen to the west and northwest. Shortly after the air raid siren of 22.15, bombs down whistling. The explosions become more and more numerous and more violent. Fire breaks out in several places. Again and again, planes turn over Geleen and drop new loads of bombs.

Geleen turns into hell. Houses collapse. Debris is thrown around and clouds of dust hang over the burning city like a thick fog. Finally, around 11:10 pm, the violence subsides. The planes fly off again, leaving behind death and destruction. Miners are locked up underground in the Maurits. Shaft lifts no longer work. They are forced to embark on a long climb to the top. Miraculously, they accomplish it without accident. The last miner does not see daylight again until 10:30 the next morning.

About thirty aircraft were involved in the bombing of Geleen. 36 high-explosive bombs were dropped*. Five of them are direct hits in the Eindstraat, Vueling, Minister Ruysstraat, Nachtegaalstraat and Romaniestraat. The other bombs fell in the open field and some bombs failed to explode. Spread over the entire municipality, approximately twelve thousand incendiary bombs and three hundred phosphorus bombs were also dropped.

Fire brigades from all major Limburg places, even from Den Bosch, Tilburg, Breda, Nijmegen, Rotterdam and Aachen, provided assistance in Geleen and at the Maurits State Mine. Due to the poor visibility, the attackers have become so dispersed that there are casualties throughout South Limburg. When one of the pathfinders returns to base, he declares: We had no idea where we were.

The action has claimed about a hundred lives in South Limburg, of which 83(an 84th victim was later added) in Geleen. Among them was a twelve-year-old boy, probably Jewish, who was buried as an unknown victim. There is no death certificate for him. There were also fatalities in Beek (1), Schimmert (3), Heerlen (7) and the hamlet of Aalbeek (2).

Geleen counted 22 seriously injured. 59 homes were destroyed, 227 were heavily damaged, 103 of which had to be demolished. 528 homes suffered serious or minor damage. And 1728 homes had roof and glass damage. In addition to the streets already mentioned, the Groenstraat, Rijksweg-Zuid, Geenstraat and Annastraat were heavily affected. Three thousand inhabitants were homeless, about twenty per cent of the population. Only one plane dropped its bombs over Aachen, the actual target of the attack. Near Maastricht, a Wellington bomber crashed and five crew members were killed and one was taken prisoner wounded. A bomber exploded during a firefight over Brunssum. The wreckage and corpses of the crew landed scattered across that municipality. In all places in South Limburg, there was damage from high-explosive and incendiary bombs. What came to be called the bombing of Geleen was a night of terror for all of South Limburg. “A night that haunts you like a nightmare,” a resident of Geleen noted. Geleen experienced the darkest day in its history.


The saved Jewish child in the street where I was born.

The best way to describe this story is a microcosm of the Holocaust history. But before I go into the story I have to explain the wider background, to put it into context.

Although I am fully Dutch, I was seen as a child of a mixed marriage, The Netherlands is a small country, however, that doesn’t mean there are significant cultural differences in the various regions.

My mother was from Friesland in the North West of the Netherlands. Her parents moved with all the kids to Limburg in the South East of the Netherlands, and although my mother was born in Limburg she was always considered Frisian.

My mother’s family ended up in Geleen, my birthplace, in the 1920’s. The coalmines brought employment. The ended up in the part of town called Lindenheuvel, and in the group of streets called ‘Auw Kolonie’ the Old Colony, it was called like that because the street names all had the names of Dutch colonies. My mother married my father in 1960, she was considered a Frisian protestant, whereas my Father was a Roma Catholic, Limburg was and still is a predominantly Roman Catholic, this did cause issues. But in the compound of the Auw Kolonie that was ok. I was born in the Borneo street(named after an Indonesian island) It was mainly Frisian migrants who resided in the Auw Kolonie.

The story I came across is about Sjaak Ketelaar, and his family . Sjaak’s mother, Sietske Kuitert, was born in Drenthe, just like his father. The special thing is that mother Sietske could speak Frisian. She must have learned it from her mother (Antje Kootstra) because she came from Friesland. She honored that language, as witnessed by the fact that she regularly attended evenings organized by the Fryske Kriten. The Ketelaar family lived in Geleen in a neighborhood known as ‘the old colony’. They belonged to the Reformed Church. Father worked as a topsoiler at the Maurits state mine.

Sjaak grew up in Limburg. He lived there during the first twenty years of his life (until about 1963). It is striking that most of the people with whom I reminisce about the post-war period seem to be impressed by the Catholic processions. So is Sjaak:

“What I also remember were the processions. It was a poor neighborhood here, but the streets were covered with colored sand. Beautiful runners were made. When the procession was over, we all took to the streets as children to sweep that sand together. That was wonderful to play with. How they did that, I still don’t get it. And all from the poles along the road with flags on them (…). That was 60 years ago with us. I thought it was beautiful. The people had then opened the front door and placed a table there. They had their own altar, with statues on it. It was something. It was always exciting to see who made the most beautiful altar. I don’t know if prizes were given for that… And during the procession the pastor came by and I remember – I was standing there in front – there were many people standing on the side; everyone knelt, they had to do that when the host came by. I thought I’m protestant, I’m standing still, I don’t have to kneel. And I felt my coat being pulled. Down you! But I didn’t kneel. I stopped. That was in the mayor Lemmensstraat. They weren’t annoying, those Catholics. I always got on well with them.”

How the Ketelaar family became involved in rescuing a Jewish child from the clutches of the Germans is described in the booklet ‘At the foot of the Steenberg’ by Anne Stap (2008/not in the trade). She documented the following story.
‘One day, during the war, the Germans raid the old colony. The Germans enter the Timorstraat early. Father Stap is not at home. He’s on early shift and he’s off to work. The children are still in bed. At Anne Stap’s aunt and uncle in the Curacaostraat, a Jewish child, without papers, is kept hidden. The child was smuggled out of an Amsterdam hospital with his mother, barely six weeks old. A pedigree or birth certificate of the now 10-month-old boy is missing. What now? Uncle and aunt know the Ketelaar family. From their own house they have a view of the house of the Ketelaars on Borneostraat. This way they can see that the raid there is already over. The Ketelaar family has three boys, one of whom is in hiding. They quickly send their daughter to pick up the pedigree certificate. It only takes the eight-year-old child two minutes to make the crossing. She does not stand out in the German bustle. She is back just in time with the pedigree. The Germans are satisfied with the excuse that the boy’s mother is in hospital in Maastricht.
For safety reasons, the daughter has to give up her ‘brother’ in collaboration with the Geleen underground. He is housed elsewhere. Painful of course, but all’s well that ends well: the child, the mother and the father survive the war.’

I don’t know what house number I was born in on the Borneostraat, but it actually gave me the goosebumps when I read the story, it could have been my house. That is how palpable the Holocaust still is.


Josephine Cohen just a girl from Geleen.

For anyone who is not from Geleen or the province of Limburg ,in the south East of the Netherlands, the name Geleen will mean very little. Yo may have visited the town perhaps while it was still hosting the annual Rock festival of PinkPop. Maybe you even visited the former mining town during one of the street theater festivals. But to me it is the place where I was born, it is where my roots are.

Josephine Cohen was also born in Geleen, albeit 38 years before my birth.

Her father was Simon, a shop owner. The shop was situated on Mauritslaan 110, in Geleen. An address I would have passed by many times a week because it was near my school.

There were six in the Cohen family. The Father Simon, the Mother Esthella Carolina Cohen-ten Brink. Daughters Josephine, age 12, Henny age 16.Frieda age 17 and 1 son Gerrit. Gerrit is the only one who survived the war. He died on September 22, 1998, age 76.

Josephine was the youngest, she was born on July 9.1930.

Simon Cohen’s clothing warehouse was closed with effect from 1 November 1941. The reason for this is uncertain, but it is plausible that Simon refused to accept an ‘Aryan administrator’ imposed by the occupying forces. In August 1942 the Cohen family was called up to report for the ‘Arbeitseinsatz’. The call was for men between the ages of 16 and 65, including their wives and children. As in many families, this led to heated discussions in the Cohen family. Son Gerrit, whose friends urged him to go into hiding, argued strongly in favor of this, but at the express wish of his law-abiding father, he waited with the whole family on 25 August 1942 for the arrival of the police. When the dreaded knock was finally heard at the door, Gerrit fled after all. He reached the flat roof and the attic of the neighbors through a skylight. Then he went into hiding. Rumors of Gerrit’s suicide may have been deliberate so that the police wouldn’t look for him.

The other family members, along with many other Jews, were taken by bus from the Markt in Geleen to Maastricht that afternoon and arrived in Westerbork on August 26, from where they were deported to Auschwitz on August 28. Simon and Esthella and their daughters Frieda and Josephine were gassed there on arrival on August 30 or 31, 1942. Sixteen-year-old daughter Henny was selected for forced labor, but she died less than a month later, on September 26, 1942, according to the death certificate of influenza.Gerrit was the only survivor of the Cohen family. He is said to have hid in the vicinity of Stein-Meers. Gerrit Cohen married in 1947 and continued to live in Geleen for the rest of his life.

Josephine was only 12 when she was murdered.


The murder of Philibert Steinbach- a boy from Geleen

Geleen is a small former mining town in the province of Limburg, in the south east of the Netherlands. It is not a particular famous place, although it is the place where the first professional football was played in the Netherlands, and it used to host one of the world’s biggest rock festivals’PinkPop’

It is also the place where I was born and a boy called Philibert Steinbach. Most of us will have seen the picture of his sister ,Settela Steinbach.

Philibert Steinbach was born in Geleen on September 4, 1932. On May 16, 1944, Philibert Steinbach was arrested in Eindhoven. From May 16, 1944 to May 19, 1944 Philibert Steinbach was imprisoned in Camp Westerbork. From May 22, 1944 to August 3, 1944 Philibert Steinbach was in the Gypsy Camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Sinti and Roma had to live in assembly camps outside cities from 22 June 1943, such as near The Hague or Eindhoven. At the behest of the Nazi occupier, the caravans were pulled together here and the Sinti and Roma concentrated. From that moment on, the Sinti and Roma were forced to live in the assembly camps or in a house. This made it easier for the occupier to arrest the Sinti and Roma a year later during the gypsy roundup.

Not the actual camp where the Steinbach family stayed.

The travel ban for Sinti and Roma , also known as the towing ban, was introduced on 1 July 1943. The wheels of the caravans were confiscated or had to be removed. Horses were also seized.

From May 22, 1944 to August 3, 1944 Philibert Steinbach was imprisoned in the Gypsy Camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau. On August 3, 1944 Philibert Steinbach was murdered in Auschwitz, he was aged 11.

The Sinti and Roma were seen by the Nazis as an inferior race and were persecuted for that reason. About 500 Sinti and Roma were deported from the Netherlands, almost the entire community. Across Europe, it is estimated that some 500,000 Sinti and Roma were murdered in concentration camps.

The picture at the top of the blog is an old picture of the start of the street in Geleen where I I grew up. When I was 11 I felt very safe and secure, due to a large part of my family living in the street. Nearly every second house would be occupied by an uncle, aunt or older cousin. Despite the fact that Philibert had a large family, he never enjoyed that safety. Most of his family were murdered just like him.

Only recently I discovered that I am related to the Steinbach family via some in laws. 77 years after the war I am still discovering new aspects of the horrors of the Holocaust.

This is the only official document I could find of Philibert, it was issued by the war graves foundation on February 26,1958.



I am always intrigued in the history of how things come to be. Like who was the first to discover could be turned into a hot beverage. However, as the title suggest this is not a blog about coffee but about my other guilty pleasure, Chocolate.

The history of chocolate is a bit more mysterious then that of coffee.

From Latin America to the modern day, chocolate has come a long way to get to the shops and eventually to you. From where did chocolate originate to how it became the indulgence we cherish and enjoy today.

The history of chocolate began in Mesoamerica. Fermented beverages made from chocolate date back to 1500 BC. The Mexica believed that cacao seeds were the gift of Quetzalcoatl, the god of wisdom, and the seeds once had so much value that they were used as a form of currency. Originally prepared only as a drink, chocolate was served as a bitter liquid, mixed with spices or corn puree. It was believed to be an aphrodisiac and to give the drinker strength.

After its arrival to Europe in the sixteenth century, sugar was added to it and it became popular throughout society, first among the ruling classes and then among the common people. In the 20th century, chocolate was considered essential in the rations of United States soldiers during war.

Chocolate is made from the fruit of cacao trees, which are native to Central and South America. The fruits are called pods and each pod contains around 40 cacao beans. The beans are dried and roasted to create cocoa beans.

It is not entirely clear exactly when cacao came on the scene or who invented it. According to Hayes Lavis, cultural arts curator for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, ancient Olmec pots and vessels from around 1500 B.C. were discovered with traces of theobromine, a stimulant compound found in chocolate and tea.

It’s thought the Olmecs used cacao to create a ceremonial drink. However, since they kept no written history, opinions differ on if they used cacao beans in their concoctions or just the pulp of the cacao pod.

Cacao is the Spanish word for chcahuatl, which is what Aztecs called the beans chocolate is made from. It’s thought that English traders misspelled cacao when they brought the beans home, and so cocoa stuck.

The Mayans and the Aztecs believed (and perhaps some people still do. I know I do) that chocolate was a gift from the gods. The Aztecs in particular revered the drink – they gave it to victorious warriors after battle, would use it during religious rituals, and even used cacao beans as currency. To them, cacao beans were more valuable than gold. So maybe money does grow on trees.

The Aztec word for the bitter drink is ‘xocolatl’ which some think the modern word chocolate comes from. It bears a resemblance… sort of. Others think chocolate comes from the Aztec word ‘choqui’, which means warmth.

“Well Dirk” I hear you all say “That is all very interesting, but how did it become a global phenomenon?”

During the 16th century a man called Hernán Cortés travelled to Mesoamerica to establish Spanish colonies, and when he arrived he was greeted with gallons of the spicy drink. He took some home with him to Spain and it became a hit.

Initially, it was often used as a medicine, but its bitter taste led people to try sweetening it. So, some added sugar, vanilla or honey. This made it absolutely delicious, and it soon became very fashionable at the Spanish court.

Chocolate was ‘the’ drink of the European aristocracies – no upper-class home was complete without Chocolate making and drinking paraphanalia.

Up until this point, chocolate had only ever been consumed as a drink. But things started to change in 1828. Coenraad van Houten from Amsterdam was the man who changed the game: he invented the ‘cocoa press’, which could separate the fat from a cacao bean, leaving behind a fine powder.

This powder was much more tasty to enjoy as a drink, and people started adding milk to it instead of water, making it more like the hot chocolate we’d drink today. This method also meant chocolate could be mass-produced, which made it cheaper and so the wider public could buy and enjoy it. Some called this the democratisation of chocolate.

In 1847 British chocolatier J.S. Fry and Sons had the novel idea of recombining the fat and liquor, and adding sugar. He set this in moulds, and voila! The chocolate bar was born.

The chocolate made through this method resembled a mild dark chocolate. The next big episode in the chocolate saga came when Swiss chocolatier Daniel Peter put powdered milk in the mix, creating the world’s first milk chocolate bar.

Chocolate’s popularity soared from then on, and it’s never really declined.

Most modern Chocolate is highly-refined and mass-produced, although some chocolatiers still make their chocolate creations by hand and keep the ingredients as pure as possible. Chocolate is available to drink, but is more often enjoyed as an edible confection or in desserts and baked goods.

I love to walk into little Chocolate shops, like Leonidas just to smell the aroma and sample the chocolate pralines.

When I am home in Geleen. I enjoy walking into the specialty Chocolate shop “de Zeute inval” on Bloemenmarkt 34,6163 CG ,Lindenheuvel Geleen. I am greeted with that sweet smell of Chocolate, quite heavenly, I must add.

I am off now to have a bit of Chocolate dipped into coffee


Philip Silbernberg—Murdered in Auschwitz

It is just a photo of a soldier with his family. One could easily dismiss this photograph as someone’s memory. A father who loved to smoke, a mother all dressed up and two well-dressed children—a boy and a girl.

This photo could have easily been a picture of my grandfather with his family. Like the man in the picture, my grandfather had something in common. The man pictured is Philip Silbernberg, and it was 1939. The year the Dutch army was mobilized for fear of war. My grandfather was sent his notification to report that year, as well.

War did come to the Netherlands on 10 May 1940 as German troops invaded the Netherlands. The fighting continued for four days, and on 14 May, the Dutch army capitulated.

In a way, Philip and my grandfather may have been relieved that the fighting only lasted four days. They realised things would change. The Germans set up a new government, a Nazi regime composed of German and Dutch members. But in general, things would not change all that much, and for a short time, that held true.

On 12 May 1942, there was a notification in the newspaper, Het dagblad van het Zuiden!, the daily newspaper of the south, that all men who served in the Dutch army on 10 May 1940, the day the Germans invaded the Netherlands, and who were 55 or younger, had to report to the occupying authorities by 15 May 1942. It had been the second notification.

On that same day, 12 May, my grandfather died. For years, I thought he was executed, but now I believe there is a possibility he committed suicide.

I do not know if Philip Silbernberg saw that notification, but he probably did because he lived in the same area as my grandfather, only a short cycle distance away. Philip’s outcome was completely different.

Philip was born in Ophoven-Sittard. His father owned a shop in draperies and colonial goods there since 1890 and later it was known for men’s fashions. His father died in 1934. Philip and his brother Les took over the family business in 1929.

In August 1929, Philip married Jenetta (Jettie) van der Stam from Rotterdam. They settled in Sittard, where their daughter Roosje was born in 1930, and their son, Herman, was born in 1934. Les married in 1937 and started his own shop in Geleen, my hometown, while Philip continued the family business.

Mother Rosalie, affectionately called den Engel, (The Angel), moved in 1939 with daughter Else and her family to Nieuwer-Amstel near Amsterdam. She passed away in November 1941.

In the spring of 1939, Rosalie’s brother Albert and his wife Hedwig Schwarz-Wihl emigrated from Dortmund to the Netherlands. Upon their arrival, they moved in with Philip’s family.

When the Nazis forced the Jews to wear the yellow star, Philip purposely went to the city photographer, Wulms in Sittard, to be photographed in his suit with the Star of David. He told his son, Herman, “Boy…you should be proud of it.”

In August 1942, the Silbernbergs escaped the first major deportation round in Limburg because Philip had recently registered as an employee of the Jewish Council. Nevertheless, Philip and Jettie decided to have their children go into hiding in Heerlen, and in October, they went into hiding. Philip’s brother in Geleen, and his sisters in Amsterdam and Nieuwer-Amstel, also went into hiding with their families.

The mayor of Sittard issued an arrest warrant for Philip and his wife to have them detained for trial. There was also a request for the location of the two Silbernbergs children. The charge— they changed their residence on 20 October 1942 without having the required authorization. This description referred to Jews who had gone into hiding.

Betrayed when hiding in Heerlen on 6 March 1944, they were arrested and deported from Westerbork to Auschwitz on 23 March. The exact date their murdered is not known. The camp wrote it as 31 August 1944.

The two children had escaped to Belgium and were in hiding until the end of the war. After the war, they were taken care of by Nathan and Else Wijnperle-Silbernberg.

The more I do research on the victims, the more I realise, it could have easily been my family. Sittard used to be the neighbouring town of my hometown Geleen, but in 2001 the two towns merged together and are now known as the city of Sittard-Geleen.

A few weeks ago, a grandson of Philip sent me a few more pictures:
Philip and Jenetta’s honeymoon in Bruxelles.
Philip’s brother Les (Isidore) with his wife, Greta and the children of Philip and Jenetta—Herman and Roos. (This photo, we think, was taken in Liège at the end of the war.)



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The Steinbach Family

The title of the blog is ‘The Steinbach Family’ but is really a blog about the Romani people. The reason why I picked the Steinba,ch family name is twofold. Firstly the picture at the start of the blog is of Settela Steinbach. It is one of the most iconic pictures of the Holocaust. Initially she was identified as a Dutch Jew, but the facts of her real identity were discovered in 1994.

Secondly at least one of her siblings, Philibert Steinbach, was born in my hometown, Geleen. Only recently I found out I have connection with the Steinbach family via spouses if some of my cousins.

Philibert was born in Geleen, on the 4th of September 1932 and murdered in Auschwitz, on the 3rd of August 1944.

The Romani were forced to live in assembly camps outside cities from 22 June 1943, such as near The Hague or Eindhoven. At the behest of Nazi regime in the Netherlands , the caravans were pulled together here and the Romani people were concentrated.

From May 16, 1944 to May 19, 1944 Philibert Steinbach and the rest of his family were imprisoned in Camp Westerbork.

On 19 May thee Steinbach family were put on a transport together with about 240 other Romani to Auschwitz-Birkenau on a train that also contained Jewish prisoners. Right before the doors were being closed, Setella hauntingly stared through the opening at a passing dog or the German soldiers. Rudolf Breslauer, a Jewish prisoner in Westerbork, who was shooting a movie on orders of the German camp commander, filmed the image of Settela’s fearful glance staring out of the wagon. Crasa Wagner was in the same wagon and heard Settela’s mother call her name and warn her to pull her head out of the opening. Wagner survived Auschwitz and was able to identify Settela in 1994.

On 22 May the Dutch Romani, among them the Steinbach family , arrived in Auschwitz-Birkenau. They were registered and taken to the Romani section. Romani who were fit to work were taken to ammunition factories in Germany. The remaining three thousand Romani were gassed in the period from July to 3 August. Steinbach, her mother, two brothers, two sisters, aunt, two nephews and niece were part of this latter group. Of the Steinbach family, only the father survived; he died in 1946 and is buried in the cemetery of Maastricht.

The Steinbachs were all accomplished musicians and never harmed anyone.

The Romani were seen by the Nazis as an inferior race and were persecuted for that reason. About 500 were deported from the Netherlands, almost the entire community. Across Europe, it is estimated that some 500,000 Sinti and Roma were murdered in concentration camps.

In contrast to Anne Frank, who left us her diary, Settela did not leave us anything apart from this one haunting image .Just a few fleeting seconds in a film about Westerbork transit camp. Millions of people have been moved by this image without realising who this girl was.