The picture is of a page in a poetry album which belonged to a friend if Hedi Metzger
The text is in German and it says. “Forget me not, trust in G-d. Speaking is silver, silence is gold. This from your memories ,Hedi Metzger, Amsterdam 19-4,1939.”
Less then 2.5 years later she would be murdered in Auschwitz.
Hedi was born on Berlichingen, 24 December 1926 . She was murdered 80 years ago in Auschwitz, on 26 September 1942, she reached the age of 15.
Hedy and herbrother Lothar came to the Netherlands in January 1939. They first stayed in the Zeehuis in Bergen aan Zee, then in the Burgerweeshuis in Amsterdam, and in January 1940 moved in with a foster family in Amsterdam. Their parents were Lylli Gutmann, born in 1900 in Ohlhausen, and Simon, born in 1892 in Berlinchingen. Both perished in Riga in 1943.
In the orphanage she wrote the few lines in the poetry album of a girl friend, who like her came from Germany.
In the 1960s, a collector bought a batch of books at an auction in Maastricht. Hedi’s little poem was also included in the books.
Twenty of those books had an ex-libris with the name Alex Heumann pasted on the inside of the cover. Presumably this concerns Alex Heumann (Maastricht, 29 August 1885). His birthplace could be an explanation for his language skills. (Maastricht and the south of Limburg is close to Belgium and Germany, most people would speak German and/or French aside from their native Dutch)The collection contains Dutch, German and French authors, including Poelhekke (about Alberdingk Thijm), Boutens, Veth, Rilke, Tollens, Sternheim and Molière’s Oeuvres complètes. In addition to being a proprietary mark, an ex libris is also a way in which the owner expresses something of himself.
Handwritten Notes Very personal are the books in which the owner has made a note, although it is usually no more than his own name, sometimes supplemented with an address or a date. They are often religious books that have been preserved as special keepsakes. Such as the prayer book that Rachel Groenstad (Amsterdam, 14 July 1900) received on the occasion of her wedding on 6 September 1925. Her new name is printed on the cover: ‘Rachel Drilsma, geb. Green City’. Johanna van Thijn-Goldsmid (Oss, 20 May 1905) owned a somewhat more luxurious version, whose name shone in gold letters on the cover. Sometimes only the giver of a book is known, as is the case with the prayer book ‘Tephillah Wetachanoenim’, which Ruben Velleman (Groningen, January 11, 1894) donated to his nephew Joop in 1936 for his bar mitzvah. A sticker in the book shows that the book was obtained from the ‘Hebrew and Alg. bookstore’ by J.L. Joachimsthal in Amsterdam. Remarkably many children have left a handwritten note in a book. It usually concerns gifts that they received on a special occasion. Edith Kahn (Wermelskirchen, November 10, 1924) had come to the Netherlands from Germany in the 1930s with her mother and two sisters. The family lived in Zaltbommel, where the mother started a business in embroidered baby clothes. In December 1932 Edith had been given a Haggadah for Passover as a ‘memorial of my visit to the Jewish School’. In the prayer book Shabbos-Tefillo by Kurt Cahn (Wesseling, April 10, 1929) there is a cryptic, but significant text: ‘Kurt Cahn, B.6-21. Camp Westerbork, Hooghalen East’. Judging by his age, he may well have celebrated his bar mitzvah in camp Westerbork. Kurt had fled to the Netherlands in 1939 together with his brother Josef (Wesseling, 25 August 1925) and sister Hannelore (Wesseling, 31 May 1935). The three children stayed for some time in the Central Israelite Orphanage in Utrecht, before they were transferred to Westerbork. In Westerbork, which first served as a refugee camp and later was used as an internment and transit camp, the small theater hall in barrack 9 was used as a synagogue. Later, the central hall of the orphanage, barrack 35, was also used as a youth shul. Religious life was simply continued the Nazis turned a blind eye initially.
Poetry albums A third category of life signs in books is found in poetry albums. This kind of touching children’s prose has been popping up more and more lately. Former girlfriends are often only too happy that they still have something tangible from their deported classmates. For example, ‘Thea’ found two poems from former girlfriends in her carefully preserved album. One is by Frieda Mathilde Kattenburg (Amsterdam, March 27, 1932). She wrote: “Dear Thea, Even though you are not my sister; and you don’t get a kiss either; mine every day too; still as a girlfriend; I write a sentence; that I like you.” The other poem is by Anita Maria Grünewald (Duisburg, December 15, 1931), written in March 1941: ‘It is of little value; what I offer you; pick roses on earth; but don’t forget me.”
Several writers made good use of the double meaning of forget-me-nots. Klaartje Fresco (Rotterdam, 26 March 1934) wrote a poem in June 1941: ‘Sprinkle flowers in your path. Roses and daisies. But in between all those flowers! A few forget-me-nots for me.” Hedy Metzger (Berlichingen, December 24, 1926) used the literal meaning a few years earlier. In a heart-shaped template she wrote to a friend from Germany just like herself: ‘Ver-giß-mich-nicht! Vertrau auf G.tt!!’ For her 13th birthday, in 1940, Geertruida (Truus) Spanjer (Amsterdam, 26 November 1927) had been given a poetry album. The album has been preserved and contains, among other things, a poem by her niece Selma Spanjer (Amsterdam, 19 May 1931) from May 1942: ‘Dear Truus, Een hart klein, full of sunshine. A big smile, every day. That makes your body fat and round. Dear Truus, stay healthy.” Jiska Pinkhof (Den Helder, December 9, 1931) was a daughter of the painter Leonard Pinkhof (Amsterdam, June 19, 1898). She wrote in a friend’s album: ‘Always be a ray of sunshine to everyone you meet. Then you bring joy to others, and you are well off yourself.” Bertha Augurkiesman (Antwerp, 18 May 1930) left the following rhyme to a girl next door: ‘Dear Hennie, I am sitting here sighing; I bite my pen; what a pity I am not a poet; but oh dear Hennie; I don’t know anymore; then my best wishes; and I’ll never rhyme again.” Finally, a heartfelt wish from Frijda Goudsmit (Amsterdam, 28 March 1927). At the end of the thirties she and other children from the Middenweg in Amsterdam were part of the club ‘The cheerful Achttal’. In a preserved poetry album, Frijda wrote in 1939: ‘An angel comes flying. See how kindly she smiles. It’s not a lie. Happiness is what she brought.”
Mara Ginic (now Kraus) was born in Zagreb, Yugoslavia in 1925. At the age of 3 or 4 she moved with her grandparents to Osijek, Slavonia(Nowadays in Croatia). When she was five years old her parents divorced and her mother moved to Belgrade, but she stayed with her father and grand parents in Osijek. When she was 8 they moved to Belgrade. After her father re-married, Mara lived with him and her step-mother.
—In April 1941, a few weeks after Hitler’s troops occupied Belgrade my father and I escaped with the help of my Catholic and ethnic German mother to the Dalmatian island Hvar. But Hvar occupied by the Croat Ustashi turned out to be a quite unsafe place. So we escaped once more under the nose of the authorities, this time to Split, occupied by the Italians. In December of the same year, the Italians deported us to a small town in Piedmont, Castellamonte, in northern Italy, where we were interned as civil prisoners of war.
In September 1943 the Germans occupied northern Italy. My father, some friends and I fled to the mountains with the intention to cross over to Switzerland. After an adventurous, dangerously unsuccessful try we were able to find a guide in Breuil (Cervinia). He descended from a line of famous mountaineers: his grandfather Jean Antoine Carrel was the first Italian to climb the Matterhorn.
Breuil lies at the foot of Matterhorn and our aim was Zermatt which lies on the other side of the Matterhorn in Switzerland. Accompanied by Carrel and wearing our backpacks and low shoes, we left at dusk. On the way another mountain guide joined us. We plodded single file into the night up a path which became steeper and steeper. We were a party of five refugees, two men and three women. Carrel headed the line and carried a thick rope rolled over his shoulder, while his colleague closed the line.
After a time Carrel stopped and gave us all a small pill. A drug for endurance that pilots take before difficult assignments, he explained. My backpack suddenly became light as feather, and it seemed as though my feet barely touched the ground. For about three or four hours we went uphill on paths that weren’t too difficult. The bright night was turning cooler and I put on my mittens. Father wasn’t so well equipped, and he constantly held his city hat with one hand because the wind threatened to blow it off his head. I gave him one of my mittens since his hands were freezing, as the cold became more biting.
We wandered uphill without much effort until daybreak, but the worst still lay ahead. The path became more stony and narrow, and we now had to step carefully sideways, leaning against a steep rock face. Then our taciturn guide fastened one after the other to the rope and let us slide down several yards over the step-like cliffs. After this difficult passage was behind us, Carrel stopped and pointed straight ahead. A glacier spread out before us, and far below, meadows and houses were veiled in the morning mist. “That’s the direction”, pointed Carrel. ” Now you have to go alone. It’s the border and I can’t go any farther”.
There he was given the gold coins as it has been agreed before by my father’s friend, Hinko Salz, who was a dentist and had gold coins. Luckily for us, because my father didn’t have any.
The two men turned around and disappeared from our sight in an instant. For a few moments we stood there, helpless, then got hold of ourselves and stepped onto the glacier. Its icy breath beat against us. It was smooth and crossing it wouldn’t have been difficult if we had worn mountain shoes, and if there hadn’t been crevasses every couples of yards which we sometimes easily stepped over, but more often were forced to jump. We had been on our way for twelve hours and the pills had lost their effect. The high had passed now into a great weariness. Every step became an effort of will, not to mention jumping, when our backpacks yanked us to the ground every time.
My throat was parched, the wind blew my hair in my face and obstructed my vision. My knees buckled and the glacier never seemed to end. Every time now when I jumped I fell on the ice, until I no longer had the strength to get up. Father was bushed too, but spurred me on and helped me again and again to get up. My limbs were stiff from the cold, my fingers and tows were numb. Enough was enough! Not another inch! I am staying here!
As father tried to help me I started to scream. At 11.500 feet this was exactly the right time to have a nervous breakdown. At Dr. Salc’s sign, my father gave me a slap in the face, and I began to cry, but gradually quieted down, pulled myself together and dragged myself along like a good girl. Soon we made it over the glacier. Now before us lay a lake, and not far from there we saw a house: the border guard.
The guards had been observing us with binoculars for some time and came to meet us. We dropped exhausted on the benches in front of the small guard house. They gave us water and let us have a breather before we were politely, but resolutely informed that we couldn’t remain there in Switzerland but had to turn back. We hadn’t expected that. At that time we still didn’t know anything about the many refugees who were not only refused entry to the country, but were even immediately handed over to the Germans.
At first my father and Dr. Salc tried to persuade the border guards. My father said his sister lived in Switzerland, and since he had her address — she was interned in a camp near Lugano — he asked to be allowed to call her there. Over the telephone he inquired if she had any contacts who could help us be admitted to Switzerland. “My poor brother, I’m a refugee, how can I help you?” Since nothing could be expected from that side, the negotiations turned to imploring and begging for entry — and when even tears were of no avail the two adult women threw themselves at the feet of the officials, pulled their hair and made such a scene that I had to look away in shame.
After this terrible exhibition the top official went to the phone, spoke for a long time with distant superiors and finally informed us he couldn’t decide anything on his own and had to bring us to Zermatt. We hoped then we were saved. We believed once in the country we wouldn’t be expelled any more. We were lucky, because as I heard later, many refugees who already were inside the country have been handed over by Swiss police to the Germans.
So we started on our way, traipsing along with our remaining strength behind the border guard through this wonderful, free country where there was no war and no SS.
Even the air seemed to me particularly fragrant, like honey, or was it my imagination? Was I hallucinating smells? In my exhaustion and ecstasy I hadn’t noticed that our escort was smoking a pipe, out of which small honey-scented clouds floated over us. How we came to Zermatt, to whom our guard handed us, where we spent the night: all this went unperceived by my sleepwalking senses. The twenty-four hours of marching, climbing, jumping over crevasses, agitation, despair and ensuing deliverance had completely emptied my mind. I believe we stayed in a hotel. All I see is the staircase we went down the following morning which caused us immense strain because of our sore muscles.
In Zermatt we became famous overnight. We were treated like heroes. People felt admiration for our accomplishment and compassion for our lot. On our way to the train station from where we were to leave for a camp, men and women on the streets congratulated us and offered us fruits and chocolate. Even as we sat in our compartment, they passed us apples and cigarettes through the windows.
We remained in Switzerland until the end of the war. Meanwhile I had married Ivo Kraus and we decided not to return to Yugoslavia, but go to Italy. From Italy we emigrated to Argentina. My father did return to Yugoslavia, only to escape from the Tito regime 2 years later. Some month before he had married in Belgrade an Auschwitz survivor, Silvia Drucker. They emigrated to Venezuela where their daughter Nicole was born.
My husband and me had two children and we lived later again in Italy, and in France, in Venezuela and finally in São Paulo, Brazil, where we divorced. In São Paulo I met Joe J. Heydecker with whom I lived until his death in Vienna, Austria.—–
Daniel Falkner was born in Poland in 1912 and grew up in the city of Rzeszow. Daniel hoped to become a doctor but was unable to attend medical school because of restrictions placed on the number of Jewish students. As he neared the age of compulsory military service in Poland, he was sent to a military academy. After completing military service he moved to Warsaw and shortly before September 1939, he was called up.
Daniel’s division eventually surrendered and he became a prisoner of war. After escaping, he returned to Warsaw. In the autumn of 1940, Warsaw’s Jewish population was forced into the ghetto. Daniel and his wife escaped the ghetto and lived in hiding until discovered in 1943. Later, hiding amongst a group of non-Jewish Polish political prisoners, Daniel was taken to Sachsenhausen camp in Germany.
As Allied troops advanced in April 1945, the Germans evacuated those prisoners deemed fit for forced labour and left the rest behind to die. Daniel avoided deportation by hiding under floorboards and was liberated. After the war, Daniel joined the British Army as an interpreter and was reunited with his wife in 1946.
And of course then came the ghetto, and this was a terrible upheaval. Thousands and thousands of people had to move in and out, those Poles who lived among the Jews had to move out from this designated area and the designated area was only a small corner of Warsaw, the most dilapidated part of Warsaw and the Jews who lived throughout Warsaw had to move in. And this was a period which is imprinted on my mind, people with, with all sorts of chattel moving in and out. And of course the living conditions were impossible, every, every cellar, every corridor was full, filled with people. And many couldn’t find even this and they slept in the street. The result was that every morning the undertakers had to collect bodies from the streets. In July 1942 the German authorities announced that to ease up your loss, you can volunteer to go to the East and there you will be provided with work and food and clothing and so forth. They were not specific to say where to the East, what is the name of the place where you are going, and what sort of work you are going to, to have to perform. And many thousands of volunteers came forward to be sent to the East.
Every day about six thousand volunteers were sent off, not to be seen or heard of again. And then when these volunteers started to become thin on the ground, the Germans made traps in the, arranged traps in the street, and whoever was caught in the trap was sent off. And among those were old people, disabled people, blind people or children, and they were packed to capacity in those cattle trains and sent off. And one or two of those who were sent off came back and said ‘this is all a lie, this, we are, they are being sent only a few tens of kilometres away from, from Warsaw to a place called Treblinka and there they are being exterminated completely’. You see the human nature is such that this is a thing that is incomprehensible, no one, no one can take it in that someone is planning a complete annihilation or murder of a whole people, this is inconceivable.
Pieter Kohnstam was born in Amsterdam in 1936. His parents, Hans and Ruth Kohnstam, were forced to flee from the Nuremberg/Fuerth area in Germany to Amsterdam, The Netherlands during the early days of the Nazi regime. Coming from a well-known upper middle class family, they left behind a lucrative toy merchandising company with sales offices and warehouses in cities throughout Germany and Europe.
It was by chance that the Kohnstam’s apartment in Amsterdam was downstairs from the family of Anne Frank. Ruth became a close friend of Edith Frank, and Anne, the youngest daughter, became Pieter’s babysitter. Both children attended the local schools in the neighborhood.
“In the morning of July 6, 1942, Anne Frank came to say good-bye to us. The Franks were about to go into hiding in their secret annex. It was a sad and difficult parting for everyone. As things had deteriorated, Anne had come down every day to play with Pieter (age 6). Ruth (Pieter’s mother, age 31) and Clara (Ruth’s mother/Pieter’s grandmother) had become very fond of her. We hugged and kissed each other good-bye. Remembering that moment still brings tears to my eyes.
We watched from our living room window as the Franks left for their hiding place. It was raining outside. Margot had gone ahead earlier. Otto was dressed rather formally, as if he were going to work. He wore a dark suit and tie, an overcoat, and a hat. He was carrying a satchel under one arm and holding onto Edith with the other. Edith was also wearing a hat and carried a shopping bag. Anne had put on a scarf against the rain. She looked back one more time as we waved good-bye to them. We were crying and praying for their safety.
Two days later, the Nazis conducted a Razzia in our neighborhood. We heard their sirens and car horns blaring from far away. As the black lead motorcycle turned into our street followed by the passenger car and the large truck packed with Nazi soldiers, I was filled with foreboding. Pieter was standing on the sofa with his nose pressed against the lower part of the window, looking towards the street while holding on to Clara’s waist. Ruth and I looked at each other with apprehension.
The convoy stopped in front of our building, and soldiers poured from the back of the truck. They rushed up to our apartment and hammered their rifle butts against our front door, shouting, “Open up, or we will break down the door.”
While Clara let them in, I saw Ruth slipping a small piece of paper into Pieter’s pocket.
The soldiers burst into the room, led by a Nazi officer who waved his pistol at us and shouted, “Be still, or you will be shot.” Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Pieter dig for the paper in his pocket, sneak it into his mouth, and carefully chew and swallow it. I held my breath, praying that no one else had noticed. Fortunately, the soldiers were too busy putting tags with the SS insignia on our furniture and belongings, and paid no attention to us. The officer explained that, because we were being deported, they were claiming possession and ownership of everything we had. We would be committing a crime if we removed so much as a toothpick from our apartment.
When they finally left, we all heaved a sigh of relief. Ruth praised Pieter for his quick thinking in disposing of the paper slip. She smiled at him and said, “Don’t worry; it won’t harm you. It all comes out eventually.” The slip had been filled with telephone numbers, including one for Gerda Leske. (Gerda and Ad Leske were close friends of the Kohnstams, frequently coming to Sunday brunch before the German occupation. They continued to come over on Sundays following the occupation, making sure to supply food for the family and toys for Pieter, an only child. Both Christian; Gerda was originally from Berlin and Ad was Dutch. They owned stores in Amsterdam and Maastricht). Ruth had taken a big risk, figuring that the Gestapo would not think to search a small child. We had been very lucky indeed.
When we received notice for our departure date, Ruth called Gerda, who devised a brilliant, but dangerous plan.
Nothing further happened until the day when we were to report to the freight depot in the eastern section of Amsterdam for transport to Westerbork. Ruth and Clara spent the morning sewing cash — large bank notes — and jewelry into the shoulder pads of our coats. Ruth also hid some money in the shoulder pads of her blouse. We buried the rest of her jewelry in the garden behind our apartment. We never saw any of it again. The day before, I had bought two knapsacks — the kind hikers use — and we packed them with enough food for two days. We stored them in the back bedroom, so they would not be visible if somebody looked through our living room window from the street. I had also obtained strong, waterproof hiking boots with nailed rubber soles for Ruth, Pieter, and me. In addition, I had forged travel permits and identity cards for the three of us.
The hours crawled along at an interminable snail’s pace. We were too nervous to eat anything for lunch. Pieter kept asking questions of Grandma Clara: Why do we have to leave? Why can’t you come with us? Will I ever see you again? She answered every one of them patiently, reassuring him that everything would be all right. I realized, with surprise, that he was voicing the same concerns that were going round and round in my mind. I, too, was wondering if we were ever going to see Clara again, if we would ever return to Amsterdam. As my thoughts turned to the previous time when I fled from the Nazis, I wondered if I would ever set foot on German soil again, and if I would ever regain any of what my family had lost.
(Ruth and I had fled Nuremberg for the Netherlands in September 1932. My work as an artist was considered “degenerate” by the powerful, fanatic followers of Hitler in Nuremberg; and, not only our possessions, but quite possibly our lives were in danger. Though the Nazis were not yet “officially” in power, on the advice of my father, a judge, we quickly fled the country. This was one year after our marriage and I was thirty years old.)
Finally it was time to go, and it was hard to tear ourselves away. The apartment at Merwedeplein 17 had been our home for nearly eight years; and, once again, we were leaving everything behind, except for our lives, our memories, our hopes and our faith. We had agreed that I would start off alone, and Ruth would follow with Pieter. If she was stopped by a Nazi patrol, she would claim that he was sick, and that she was taking him to the hospital. I drank half a bottle of French Armagnac, put on my black beret, and, with a final goodbye to Clara, left our apartment through the back door. The gate at the rear of our garden opened onto a small passage that ran along the back of our apartment buildings. Emerging from the alley into the main street, I saw an SS patrol taking a cigarette break in the park. I prayed that Ruth and Pieter would get away without any trouble.
Fortunately, we all made it safely to Gerda’s salon. Since we did not look like shoppers, we entered through the back door, so as not to arouse suspicions. The first thing we did was to remove the Stars of David from our garments. It was a cumbersome process, but critical for our survival. We rubbed dye into the areas where the yellow patches had covered the fabric, so they would match the rest of the coat where the material looked more worn.
Gerda had come up with a clever cover story: She was taking her staff to a fashion show in Maastricht. Since Ruth was a young and beautiful woman, she would go as her fashion model. I was the artist and would act as the company’s fashion designer. And Pieter would come along as Gerda’s son. We impressed on Pieter that he would have to be absolutely quiet for the duration of the train ride, and that he would have to act as if Ruth were a stranger. Knowing what a challenge it would be for a gregarious child who liked to talk to anybody, and who was, no doubt, as scared as we were, worried me. How would he behave under these tense circumstances? Would he be able to keep silent and deny his own mother?
By the time we finished with our coats, there was not much time left. We quickly agreed on a meeting place in case we got separated. Then we headed to the Hauptbahnhof, the main railroad station, to take the train to Maastricht. We took separate trolleys. My ride went without a hitch, although there were a number of Nazi troops patrolling the streets, stopping, kicking, clubbing, and frisking people at random. When I arrived at the great hall of the railroad station, Ad Leske was waiting for me under a large round clock that was suspended from the ceiling. He greeted me formally like a business acquaintance, shook my hand and said, “Good afternoon, how are you?” In the process, he pressed a railroad ticket into my palm.
Then he accompanied me to the platform where a commuter train was waiting. We passed an Amsterdam City Council member I knew well coming from the train. He winked at me and gave me a quick nod, letting me know that Ruth, Gerda and Pieter were safe in the railroad car. Ad took me to my seat, quietly wished me luck, shook my hand again, and left. After all the years of a close friendship, it was difficult to part so abruptly, but we had no choice.
The train was filled with Dutch workers heading home for the day. Ruth was sitting two seats ahead of me on the other side of the aisle. Gerda and Pieter were several rows farther down, facing us. Pieter looked serious but content, nestled inside Gerda’s arms. We had agreed that if any one of us was stopped or apprehended, the others were not to look or give any sign of recognition. Pieter tried once to make eye contact with Ruth, who forced herself to look away. For a moment he looked stricken, and I was afraid that he would start to cry; but, Gerda had noticed the exchange and drew him closer to her, hugging him to her breast as if he were her own son. As he slowly relaxed into her body, I also felt myself calming down.
But we still had to wait. It seemed to take forever until the conductor finally walked along the train cars, slamming all the doors shut. His shrill whistle signaling departure was music to my ears. With a sudden jolt, the train lurched into motion and slowly pulled out of the station. We were finally on our way.
Throughout the ride, Nazi soldiers patrolled and spot checked the identity cards of various passengers. We tried to act unconcerned, but it made me nervous every time they walked down the aisle. Sure enough, one of them asked to see my papers. I handed him my ticket and the identity card I had forged, and held my breath. They looked them over and handed them back to me without comment. A wave of immense relief swept over me, followed by a warm feeling of pride that my handiwork had passed the test.
By the time we reached Maastricht, the sun had set and it was getting dark. We met at the end of the railroad platform, and Pieter gave Ruth a tight hug, burrowing into her as if to seek extra reassurance.
Outside the station, the managing director of Gerda’s salon in Maastricht was waiting for us, a thin man with a pinched face. His eyes kept darting all over the place. As we started to walk to his car, he asked to speak to Gerda in private. They stepped to the other side of his Peugeot, and I heard him murmur in a low, insistent voice while glancing nervously in our direction. Gerda stared at him, and her face became tight with anger. She did not raise her voice, but she must have said something to him that permitted no argument, because he looked down at the cobblestone street and then nodded in acquiescence.
He stood back as we said good-bye to Gerda. It was a long, emotional, tearful parting. How could we ever thank this extraordinary woman enough? How could we repay her for her generosity and courage? Gerda had risked her life for us. She had made arrangements with the underground in Amsterdam to take us across the Belgian border. She had accompanied us to Maastricht herself. If the Nazis had apprehended her, they would have killed her and her family. We did not want to let her go, but after yet another embrace, Gerda finally tore herself away and headed back into the railroad station, wiping her teary eyes, to wait for the next train back to Amsterdam.
As I watched her leave, I realized that our lives were never going to be the same. We had crossed a line and could no longer turn back. We were committed. Our journey to freedom had begun. It was July 14, 1942. By coincidence it was also Bastille Day in France; a good omen, I hoped.”
In 1963, Pieter immigrated to the United States where he pursued a career in the specialty chemical industry, focusing on pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. He became a U.S. citizen in 1968. He and his wife, Susan, married in 1965 and have two children and three grandchildren. Now retired in Venice, Florida, Kohnstam is active in community affairs. He is the past President of the Jewish Congregation of Venice. He is frequently invited to schools and various organizations to speak about his experiences as a Holocaust survivor, his book, and matters relating to Jewish and interfaith topics.
Maria Ossowski was a Polish civilian living in Zakopane, Poland when the Second World War began. During the war, non-Jewish Poles were conscripted into forced labour in Germany and Maria’s parents sent her to live with family in Warsaw in an attempt to save her from being called up. In Warsaw, Maria and her aunt helped Jewish children by providing them with whatever food and clothing they could. She was suspected of being part of the Polish Resistance and arrested in 1943. She was deported to Auschwitz in May later that year.
“Eventually we were herded into what was to be our washing room. It was a huge barrack, with the water running, cold water I must add, from the, from the, from the, the top, there were men in already prison garb, which we never seen before. We were made to strip, we were made to go in front – each one of us – in front of that man, that man or the other one, they were all standing in the line, and we were shaven – we were shaven – our heads were shaven, our private parts were shaven and we were pushed then under that water. And after a while we were pushed out of it into another part of that big block, where the huge amount of terrible-looking – and already smelling terrible – clothes were prepared for us.
What we actually got was one dress which you had to put over your head. The dress had sleeves, but not long, like three-quarter sleeves, and when we have had this on, we were marched again to another part, where the girls this time – prisoners obviously – were sitting by the little tables, and that, and then where we were getting our numbers tattooed on our arms. It was done with simply – Biros were not invented then – so it was just implement with which you write letters in those days, and it was put into the ink and the point was made on your arm ‘til it had the shape of the number. You actually are asking me what, what made me survive, or what helped me survive. And this answer is the one which actually brings you pain all your next life, this normal life, because you never know why. So the easiest thing is to say, yes, God wanted it, that was supposed to be that way, but there were more human factors in it.
The fact that I was not, that I was young, that I was not ravaged by the long term imprisonment in prison…I told myself very quickly that I don’t want to die there, and the, this psychical attitude help you enormously. You were never to feel sorry for yourself. If you started to feel sorry for yourself you were a goner, you, you, you, you were Muselmann, as we were calling those who were physically and mentally broken. When we came, of course, we knew nothing. I, I knew nothing. I didn’t know about the extermination policy or – we knew that the ghettos were, were burning and the people were killed in the ghettos…
To see it with my own eyes was really a terrible shock and I can tell you one thing, that there is point in your life where your heart is no heart anymore, it’s a piece of ice. I had the feeling that my heart was hard, and not because I didn’t have feeling for my fellow prisoners – no, that I always had – but there was this hand, this iced hand which kept hold my heart like this. And my heart were not alive any more, it was – the sheer terror of it made my, part of my body almost turn into the ice.”
Last Sunday I had the honor and privilege to be invited to a zoom presentation by the Ghetto Fighters’ House museum titled “The Hippocratic Oath at the Umschlagplatz: The Jewish Doctors of the Warsaw Ghetto”
Three words from that presentation stuck with me “Just like me”. The sum up perfectly what the Nazis should have thought off before they decided to conduct mass murder “Just like me” because there really was no difference. When the sun shone, they’d feel the heat. When it rained, they’d get wet. When it was freezing, they’d feel the cold. When they were thirsty’ they’d drink. When they were hungry, they’d eat. Just like me.
The three words are used in a different context in the presentation , but that is the thought it provoked in me. Three simple yet powerful words.
The topic of the program was: The Hippocratic Oath at the Umschlagplatz: The Jewish Doctors of the Warsaw Ghetto. This was the third in a four-part series on Grossaktion Warsaw: Remembering 80 Years Later. Opening remarks were given by Dr. Hadas Shasha-Lavksy and the host for this program was Tali Nates, Founding Director of the Johannesburg Holocaust & Genocide Center.
Guest speakers were Dr. Maria Ciesielska, Luc Albinksi and Dr. Michael Katz.
As rumors about deportation from the Warsaw ghetto spread, everyone began to sense that the end was near. The pressure on every person in the ghetto was extreme, with life and death hanging in the balance. To medical personnel, the issue was both professional and personal. What does a doctor do with his or her family? Will they be exempt? What does a physician do with his or her patients? Can we save lives at the Umschlagplatz? Medical ethics were even more challenged from this point. Doctors had to choose who would live and who would die. Based on years of archival research, Dr. Maria Ciesielska presented her findings from the most detailed study ever undertaken into the fate of more than 800 Jewish doctors who devoted themselves, in many cases until the day they died, to the care of the sick and the dying in the Ghetto.
Luc Albinski is a second-generation Holocaust survivor whose mother escaped the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942 and was hidden in an orphanage outside Warsaw for the remainder of the war. She married a Catholic and Luc was brought up as a Catholic, only learning about his Jewish origins in his early twenties. Since then, he has spent much time researching the fate of his Polish-Jewish grandmother, Dr. Halina Rotstein, a doctor in the Warsaw Ghetto, who decided to accompany her patients to the Treblinka death camp. He shared with the audience his personal story and how his journey led to the making of the film “Nobody Told Me ” about his mother, Wanda Albińska, and his grandmother, Dr. Rotstein.
Dr. Michael Katz, was born in Poland in 1928. Experienced German occupation in Warsaw, Lwow, Krakow. He lost his whole family in 1942 in Lwow and then Belzec. Was imprisoned in the Janowska Camp, but escaped from it and obtained a birth certificate of a Roman Catholic and lived as such in Warsaw under that alias. Became a member of the Resistance. Fought in the Warsaw Uprising in 1944. Evacuated from Warsaw to Krakow and liberated there in January 1945 by the Soviet Army. Dr. Katz, who is a retired pediatrician, shared his insights as a Holocaust survivor and as a medical doctor.
This program is in partnership with Classrooms Without Borders, Johannesburg Holocaust & Genocide Center, the Rabin Chair Forum at George Washington University, Moreshet Holocaust & Research Center, the Institute for the History of Polish Jewry at the University of Tel Aviv, the Polish Institute in Tel Aviv, and the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw.
I came across Gershon Willinger’s name on the Joods Monument website. It is his 80 birthday today, When I saw his name and his birthday, I also saw that the date and the place of his death were not known. I figured this was going to be an awful tragic and depressing story.
I decided just to a bit of research, but with the thought I wasn’t gong to do a piece about him. I reckoned it was going to break my heart, and I just wasn’t able for that today. However, although his story his sad in many ways, there was another story emerging too, the story of Gershon. The reason why the place and date of death were unknown is because he is still alive.
This is his story in his words.
“My name is Gershon Israel Willinger. Born Gert Israel Willinger, Israel was given by the Nazi regime who was in Holland at the time so that became automatically my middle name or somebody’s last name, but it was my middle name, which is still carried today. I was born in September, 1942 in Amsterdam Holland, where I grew up.
So I I’m the man of many names, Gert Israel. I was born until the age of 18 I was called Fritz. My last name was called Klufter because this was the name of my foster parents/ adoptive parents a year before I left. I didn’t want to be adopted, but it got me quicker out of Holland as well, because I got a Dutch passport. Born Gert Israel Willinger became Klufter. And then, then I had my bar mitzvah Gert Gershon, Gershon is a stranger in foreign lands, he was also the son of Moses. So very apt names for me. I still was called Fritz and the day on my 18th birthday, when I left Holland, I became Gershon.
I grew up in Holland and I left Holland at 18 to immigrate to Israel. I went to the kibbutz. Then I went into the army in 1961. I served two and a half years as a paratrooper in the Israeli defense forces.
Uh, then I studied social work. I became a social worker working with only youth juvenile delinquents and street corner groups. I was in the reserve for about 10 years, uh, fought during the war of attrition in 69, 70 at the Suez canal. I was with the entering to Jerusalem in 1967. I was not in the 73 war because I was studying for a bachelor’s degree and a graduate degree in the United States, uh, with my family. I came back during the 1973 Yom Kippur war, but, the trouble was that I couldn’t find my regiment. So I came with my whole family in the middle of my studies. We had to blackout our apartment, stayed for a number of weeks. And then when I couldn’t find them and things were, things were chaos. I stepped back on the plane and continued my education for the year in the United States with a wife and two small children in tow. And, um, we left Israel in 1984, uh, simply because of economic reasons for social workers is very hard also to not rely on family, but on yourself.
We have been here since in Canada, which is a, quite a good country since December of 1977 and have lived here since raised our children here, our three children who are now 50, 48 and 45 and, seven lovely grandchildren between the ages of 17 and 11. I speak for the Holocaust Center of Toronto and for the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
I have a responsibility to my parents and I have responsibility to my children and, uh, the Holocaust, I have a responsibility and it is, and, um, it’s not all altruism. There’s also an element of self-therapy, which is very good as well. Um, I’m one of the youngest. So from that point of view, I had to research my life most of my life, where you come from, who are you? Because the lack of identity of who you are as a person and many children who were born in between 1935 and 1944, although there’s a vast difference because if you’re a child who grows up with a parent and a child who has got a history of family before the war, I’m still can relate to that. But then the other children who really after second world war, which they don’t realize like myself, and only some chaos, I suppose, in the background of your mind, but without any knowledge, you start starting after the war, which meant, uh, who are you? Where are you? Where are you going to be placed? What are you going to do? And what is your legacy, whether you, who were your parents and how did they die and what happened and then so on.
My father was a, in hospitality industry before the war. And he was Bad Wildungen and I felt first that he was born there, but he wasn’t born there. He worked there, he worked, it was a spa city with natural spas, with special water. He worked there in a Jewish hotel. He was a chef. He lived on the premises, it’s very picturesque between little hills. It’s like the gingerbread houses and beautiful, absolutely gorgeous. I’ve just, there’s nobody of us anymore in Holland, because we were born there. We my sister was there until 11 and left and I at 18, I left and my parents came from Germany. Both of them there. My mother came in 29. She came actually, she had relatives in Holland. I think that she went to my aunt, who I stayed within 29. And she stayed in Holland, but she never naturalized.
My father, I found out was married to a non-Jewish Jewish woman in 1935. He divorced in 35. There became a law also that Aryans were not allowed to be married to Jews that became a law. But I think the marriage couldn’t have been that great either, but they divorced. And a, he came to Holland in 1937, 37 or 38 married my mother 37 I think it was. But he, he still went back and forth to Bad Wildungen because there was a train from Amsterdam to there between 1935 and 1937. He traveled up and down and still stayed at, at the hotel and worked there. And finally, when people thought that he was spy and I found it in the archives, because why do you go back and forth to Holland, the Nazi regime was already there? He stayed away and stayed in Holland, also not naturalized. So they got together, got married and then had my sister in May, 1940.
Now what possessed a couple, unless they had didn’t have birth control to want another child in 1942. So they had me, you know, they must’ve thought that children could stay with parents or whatever happened. When they saw that things were bad, they allowed me at a very early age to be taken by the underground who knew about this baby. And my sister was already shoved underground somewhere else. And I came to this family, the righteous among the nations. The stories that my mother, my birth mother, Edith came to where I stayed and worked as a short-term as a maid at the farm across the brook so that she could have contact, not with me, but find out about me. But she went back to Amsterdam and they went for one day to Westerbork the transit camp. And I think it was the 29th of June that they came to Westerbork and then they were sent straight through to Sobibor where in July and the data I have is the 2nd of July, they were together murdered upon arrival in Sobibor, in Poland.
I was eight years old when I came to permanent foster parents. So what I do know is the time of 1945, 1950, when you are in as many children, displaced children also today in all kinds of countries, uh, you were going from pillar to post. So institutions are fringes, foster homes and not knowing even if you’re a Jewish. So because the concept being Jewish sounds very abstract. When you’re a small child, you don’t realize that at all. So, consequently, I, I was very, very, uh, curious to find out who I really was. And so from an early age, my new foster parents, after those five years have a bookcase full of authentic photographs from the Nazi time, also that they obtained with the bodies in this concentration camps and how the Americans found the camps afterwards.
So I used to leaf through them, and that is a psychologically, a very normal thing because the child looks for his parent. And so things that, the image of the parent. So, so that interests start already at that age. And, um, of course you have a disassociation with people because you have moved around so much. So I, um, very quickly wanting to develop in the beginning of superficial sense of belong to the foster parents that you live with in order to belong and to be somewhere, however, it never succeeded that much. Like many other kids, um, who were privileged, uh, like I was privileged to psychiatric treatment and psychoanalysis after the war for about five years when I came to them from eight to 13, then again from 15 to 17.
So I didn’t know what parents really meant. So, um, they told me that I did have parents, which I didn’t bemoan my fate because it’s very, normally if you don’t even remember parents that you had them, and I remember very hard to call them mom and dad, because, uh, you know, you get there at eight years of age, a very difficult child with lots of problems. And, um, but with a hunger for reading. So to save me because I was read, like a fiend. So, um, and I could read, well, uh, like many other children, my friends also that I have, who are my age, little bit older, little bit younger who, uh, belong to my group. I don’t know if you’ve heard that group of, um, I belong to a group of 50 children who in 1944 were sent from Westerbork in Holland to Bergen Belsen. And we were there a couple of months and then from Bergen Belsen we were transported to Theresienstadt in Czech Republic. We were known as a Gruppe “unbekannte Kinder”, unknown children.
And what I tell usually schools is in order so that they can grasp especially grade seven and eights really like to talk to me because I ask them who tucks you in at night, who’s responsible for your food, who’s responsible for your clothing who’s responsible to take care of you and who loves you unconditionally, well it’s your parents. So now then put yourself in the picture of this and that happening.
I had their name, but never officially. My first name was also different because children went under, we had many names we had to deal with and cope with a lot of chaos and names. So my name was Fritz. Fritz was given to me by the people, the Schonewilles, who I lived with in Northern Holland, in the province called Trenta, who were righteous among the nations. And they took me in and they took care of me. But when my name was given away at the beginning of 1943, the very beginning of 1943, I was taken away by the Dutch police. Plenty many, many, many, many collaborators with the regime. The regime in Holland. Holland has got this wonderful connotation, wooden shoes, gabled rooftops, and it’s all very nice and pretty, but about 80% are either bad or are good people who did nothing. And about 15 to 20% put themselves out. And were treated abominably after the war, didn’t get any recognition, only years, years, and years later. So that those are the kind of people that I was placed with. I was taken away from them and they put themselves really in danger because my foster father went to jail. I was taken away by the Dutch place and placed in Westerbork the transit camp.
We knew it about each other. We never spoke about it. We were getting ready to go to Israel, we were Zionists and even not going to stay in Europe. And I stuck to that. I never went back. I never stayed in Europe. And I left Israel. I said, leave Israel, but not back to Holland or to Germany because actually I’m, uh, I’m Dutch because I was born there and I was raised there. My sister was there until she was 11 years old. My sister’s name is Rita. She was born in May of 1940.
You are with no nationality and again, no identity. So the memory of that is not that great. I lived with my foster parents and we went to Belgium or France or Italy because they were quite well to do Dutch Jews. Um, I had to also have special dispensation from the courts and I had a different, I remember a passport was pink instead of blue or a solid color … I was on refugee status, although I was born in the country. And there was no adoption. So finally, when I was 17, my foster parents adopted me to give me a name and give me a citizenship.
I am Jewish by religion, by birth first by birth, by religion and by tradition. And by way of life, I would actually put religion and the, and the traditional out of, out of context here and talk about I’m a Jew by birth and way of life. It’s culture, it’s everything. It encompasses everything for me. It’s just, that’s how I live. It is to me, it’s, it’s a way of life and the way of life is in the mind as well. It’s a way of life. It’s very hard to interpret it a little bit is religion, a little bit of this, a little bit as that in your general behavior, uh, your reactions. If you’re not exposed to Judaism at all, there may be a spark somewhere that still has to be developed. It isn’t developed yet, but I do believe there is some, um, you can be a Jew by choice and be really Jewish if you do buy. But if it’s from birth on and of, or even even a little bit later, it’s a way of life and a tradition that you accept with all its positives and negatives.
I think I have a duty as a Jew to tell my story to the world because every story of every Holocaust survivor is unique because they’re different people and different within themselves. Perception. You need to listen to as many stories. And I, a Jew is a normal person like any other person, the soul, two legs, wants to make it in life. We have certain attributes. We live our religion a bit differently, like everybody else does as well. A fight against bigotry, hatred of Jews is the oldest hatred that exists. And that’s why I find it very important, because we need to always have hope. It’s not my little story that I’m going to tell you here is not going to change people, their attitudes, but I want to have an understanding that they can choose what they think. That’s very important for me that people understand what the Holocaust is about. And other reason that I do it, I owe it to my dead parents so that they’re not just ash. So that they, and they don’t have a proper grave. So they don’t just becoming a number. So during my lifetime that I at least bringing them to life through photos, through pictures. There, there is a story attached to me in my background, people who were murdered because they were good people and didn’t do anything. And it’s also very good. And it’s good for my own psyche to talk about it because it gives me a sense of belonging. It gives me a sense of self and validation that I exist.
What happened is somebody in Germany he contacted the Holocaust Center of Toronto, a number of years ago. And says we have this name, we have got this, this, I don’t know how he knew I was in Toronto that I was here. He found out and he contacted the Holocaust Center, said there in Bad Wildungen, where my father worked, there was a Stolpersteine, five Stolpersteine up, uh, at, at a little Stiebel which was once a synagogue. But below there, because didn’t know exactly know where those people lived. And my father lived in the hotel. So what Jane and I did, we made a special trip to Germany for the first time, because I never had a gravestone of my parents. And it was only the gravestone of my father you know, the Stolperstein you know, how they look and what they are.
And I remember we saw it and, uh, we went to see that, and these men took us there. The Bürgermeister the, the mayor of the town came, he brought a little thing and we polished the stone and it was of five other people. And I didn’t cry. It was not even emotional because I, I think I’d cried enough all my life. And had been through all the emotions of first labeled, not a survivor, and being asked by other Holocaust survivors, you call yourself. So, you know, the survivor, you don’t know anything. You don’t remember anything, another slap in the face, you don’t belong anywhere. So anyway, that gives you somewhere to belong. And I cleaned it up very nicely. We stayed a week. We went to the place where my father worked, which doesn’t exist anymore, but it became a spa for people who are sick with asthma breathing. What is unique about it is that it is for me personally unique, it’s the only gravestone I have of my parents. It’s really ridiculous even to think about it, that only, the only gravestone is in Germany, but it’s there. And, uh, that I felt so at home, in Germany with the Stolperstein maybe it’s my culture where I come from. And I say, Hey, I don’t like nasty people, but these people are good people. And, um, I felt this is something that I can touch, it tangible it’s something of my parents. And it was very important to me. And it was a gravestone to me. It was a great, but, and also that the place that you walk, that you did, you walk over, it doesn’t bother me at all, because if it would be on the wall, I would have to turn my head.
What I also felt that if it is on the ground, so they have to put themselves out for half a second, too. I’m certainly not insulted, some people have got this mishagas you walk on. I have no problem. If you walk over it, it means many people go pass it because, uh, it will be more polished. The second time when I went, I said, you know, something that he said, the stone of your father is going to be taken away from here and placed now where he worked and lived on the main street. I said, that’s wonderful. I said, now I have a request. My parents were murdered on the same day in the same concentration camp. My mother is originally from Germany. Although she is not from this town because Stolpersteine are more of a, you worked or where you lived. I pay for it. Please put my parents, they were married, put them together as a Stolpersteine. They say, not only will we do it, it’s not your business to pay for it, we should. So I went again, said Kaddish again with all my Christian Germans around me and for my, and that’s what the Stolperstein does for me. It gives me historically a feeling that I belong and that people still care. Whether it’s out of guilt or not, I don’t care. It’s still it’s there. And my parents were Germans. They were transplants to Holland out of necessity, but they have still were entrenched in the German culture, German society when they lived there, especially the ones that live in small towns.
Reclaiming in a sense that that’s, it’s part of me, it’s part of my history. It’s part of who I represent and it is fine. And I don’t need to make excuses if people don’t like me because of it what can I do. People understand, people do understand, uh, especially Holocaust survivors who I speak with, they understand, uh, especially now that I have a Stolperstein there it’s a Stolpersteine is the, it’s the plural. Yeah. There’s an attachment. It had an impact on me as I … it’s very hard, but you try to visualize that he actually walked there and he lived there in that. And it’s the town. Yes it had spread out, it is modernized a little bit, but it’s still the core. The old city is, it’s all still the same. And, and, and so you like to, you like to transport you back in the past yourself, back in the past and your hunger actually to know and experience, but you can’t experience because you’re in a different day and time, but what he experienced through would have liked to experience.
Yes. And that is the feeling that I had. So yes, it had an impact, but not in a sentimental way. Uh, just, uh, Hey, this is me, this is again, part of the puzzle that needs another little piece of the puzzle that goes in that I. And there’s still pieces of puzzles that I, I, uh, I I’m looking for in my mind, uh, uh, about family, about the security that the history really is the history as it is about myself, because many children who live today who are wartorn deal with search. The search and the always need to develop themselves and be proud of themselves because their identity is so weak because of the displacement and because of where they have had to go to and how their life went. So I’m very, always very interested today in the downtrodden really.
You always were in search of who am I? What am I? So there’s the big difference that the horrors of the concentration camp, you don’t remember, you don’t know anything about, but you also don’t have the memory of who are you as a family. It could equate that to kids from Syria and from wartorn areas from the Rohingyas and Yazidi’s and people get murdered left right and center today. And so it’s really a very similar stories only that this was a very planned because you have to really define what is genocide and what is Holocaust. There are very different things the Holocaust is a planned annihilation of a people over a long period of time. Not necessarily in one geographical area, which happens. Genocide is usually a spontaneous annihilation people, bad.
Everything is bad ,often in one geographical area and a shorter period of time, not planned necessarily spontaneous, more spontaneous annihilation. So that’s that’s really the difference with the Holocaust. The difference is also, of course, that we spoke different languages. We adhered to different laws. We were members of different societies in different countries, who we were involved with in government and in arts and army in whatever way we were involved with. So, so it’s, it’s unique. Yeah, it’s unique because what do we have to do in 2021 almost, with the Holocaust of all those years ago. You have to make it also that it can be understood by children. And as long as we have are alive still, we it’s our duty to to speak. Well, life is very different, but, but what parallel can I draw? Children are children. They’re spontaneous, they ask questions and there are no inhibitions.
And they ask and if some misconceptions, and they know what parents’ tell the right thing or not the right thing, but they are inquisitive. They want to know, but it’s how you transcribe your knowledge, how you, how you get, how you put it in front of the children. Um, children are children. They are the hope of the whole, the future. So the more, if child is indoctrinated to hate somebody at a very early age it’s very hard to get it out of the child’s system. If a child gets indoctrinated at a very early age with goodness and equality, it’s very hard to get out of their system. So that’s what we have to do. So that’s where I see the parallel. It’s all up to the adults to, to guide the children. And then I see a parallel that children can be. Uh, I see also little children, teenagers in Nazi Germany can be also because of society be, um, although there are many Germans who knew the difference between right and wrong. But if you are allowed to go to a sports school and you go to the mountains to have a nice vacation and you belong to the Hitler youth, you’re damn sure you’re going to belong to the Hitler youth otherwise, you’ll get ostracized and you have no good. You haven’t got a good time. So you do that.
So it’s really up to the children to learn, and I, and I think nothing has changed. The child should know the difference between right and wrong and what it means to, to be a bully, what it means to be all-inclusive, but the child has to have it in them as well. But it has to also, uh, it has to be nurtured by parents, by educators and if you got the stuff nurtured the proper way. And then, then, uh, it’s usually the fright with children also of not knowing of what is strange like with adults., oh no we get to know each other suddenly, and yeah, it’s actually quite nice to find out that you have a different, different traditions, different way of life than I have.”
I met my wife, Jane (née Levy), in England, and we were married in Israel in January 1970. We have three children and, to date, seven grandchildren. In December 1977, we immigrated to Canada. For the first number of years I was employed as a youth and camp director for the Hamilton Jewish community. In 1984, I joined the Children’s Aid Society as a social worker, specializing in working with abused and neglected children. I retired in 2003. I am active in the Jewish community and spend much time lecturing about my past experiences. In June 2006, we moved to Thornhill to be closer to our children and grandchildren.”
Dear Mr. Willinger I wish you a happy 80th birthday and I hope your story will be an inspiration for many.
The one thing that always baffled me is the vehement hate the Nazis had for Jazz music. It was considered ‘Entartete Musik’,-degenerate music a label applied in the 1930s by the Nazis to Jazz and also other forms of music.
I have done a piece on Johnny & Jones before , this is not so much a follow up but more of an enhancement to the previous blog. I feel it is important to remember those who were murdered for their art and their religious background.
In the 1930s, the Amsterdam duo Nol (Arnold Siméon) van Wesel and Max (Salomon Meyer) Kannewasser , alias Johnny and Jones, were extremely popular – thanks in part to their first single Mister Dinges Weet Niet Wat Swing Is. They were cousins, accompanying themselves on guitar, the musicians sang their swinging Jazz songs with smooth lyrics in a semi-American accent. Their careers come to an end when the two Jewish musicians are arrested by the Germans during World War II and they are killed in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.
In 1934, “The Bijko Rhythm Stompers” performed in De Bijenkorf, a group consisting of Bob Beek, Max Kannewasser, Max Meents and Nol van Wesel. This is the first time that the collaboration between Max (Salomon Meijer) Kannewasser (24 September 1916/Jones) and Nol (Arnold Simeon) van Wesel (23 August 1918/Johnny) can be traced. In 1936 Johnny and Jones started performing as a singing duo. They were discovered during a performance in café-restaurant “Van Klaveren” on the corner of Frederiksplein – Weteringschans. Shortly afterwards they quit their job at De Bijenkorf and entered the artist profession. They soon became the first teenage idols in our country.
They could be heard regularly on VARA radio from 1938. They then performed as an interlude with “The Ramblers”. They recorded records for the record label Decca, which started in November 1938 with the song “Mister Dinges does not know what Swing is”. This song became a great success.
Initially at the start of the war, Johnny and Jones were able to perform without much problem. For example, in February 1941 they performed in Amersfoort with “The Ramblers”, but at the end of 1941 this was forbidden for Jewish artists.
With growing pressure to go into hiding, their final performance was for a wedding reception of one of Arnold’s colleagues from de Bijenkorf(Dutch department store), Wim Duveen.
He married Betty Cohen in the main Synagogue of Amsterdam in 1942. Salomon had married Suzanne Koster in 1942, a woman from the Dutch East Indies (Surabaya) and Arnold had married Gerda Lindenstaedt, also in 1942, a German refugee who had come to Holland 1939.
The young men went into hiding with their wives in the Jewish nursing home “Joodsche Invalide,” where staff would hide them in an elevator between floors during inspections. When they were not hiding, they performed for staff and patients. Disaster struck on 29 September 1943 when the home was raided and its inhabitants sent to Westerbork.
They were put to work there processing parts of crashed aircraft, including Plexiglas (source: Leo Cohen, fellow prisoner in Westerbork).Johnny and Jones found a place in the camp at the revue (consisting of excellent artists). Since only German-language performances were allowed, Johnny and Jones had to learn German. So first that language had to be well mastered, so they only performed in March 1944 during a camp revue.
In August 1944, the two singers were allowed to leave the camp, with permission of the commandant, not only for their work disassembling parts but also to record songs in Amsterdam. In the NEKOS studios they recorded 6 songs about their life in Westerbork, including ‘Westerbork Serenade’.
Below is the translated text of the song.
“Hello we feel a little out of order, To pull myself together is quite hard, Suddenly I’m a different person, My heart beats like the airplane wrecking yard.
I sing my Westerbork serenade, Along the little rail-way the tiny silver moon shines On the heath. I sing my Westerbork serenade With a pretty lady walking there together, Cheek to cheek. And my heart burns like the boiler in the boiler house, Oh it never hit me quite like this at Mother’s place I sing my Westerbork serenade, In between the barracks I threw my arms around her Over there This Westerbork love affair. And so I went over to the medic, The guy says: “there is nothing you can do; Oh but you will feel a whole lot better After you give her a kiss or two (But that you must not do…)”
A fellow artist who met them at the time wondered how Jews were allowed to walk freely in Amsterdam, without a yellow star. They told him about their temporary freedom. He suggested that they go into hiding but they refused. It was a camp rule: those who escaped risked the lives of their families, who would be deported. So they returned.
In September 1944 they were deported with their wives to Theresienstadt. They did not stay long. On a transport from Theresienstadt the duo were split from their wives: Salomon and Arnold were deported from camp to camp: Auschwitz, Sachsenhausen, Ohrdruf, Buchenwald and then finally, after a 10-day train journey, they ended up in Bergen-Belsen, where they died of exhaustion shortly before liberation and the end of the war. Nol van Wesel died on 20 March 1945, aged 26; Max Kannewasser died on 15 April 1945, aged 28.
Salomon’s mother-in-law, Marie Louise Koster, recalled seeing their bodies dragged out of the sick barracks onto a van, to be cremated. She was in the so-called Stern Lager (Star camp) with her husband Willem and her daughter Sonja. Salomon’s wife Suzanne survived Mauthausen and Auschwitz and lived in the USA until 2018. Gerda was killed in Auschwitz in 1944. Neither had children. Arnold’s parents were killed in Auschwitz in 1942. Salomon’s parents had died before the war. Their cousin Barend Beek went via Westerbork to Auschwitz and was killed in a subcamp of Stutthof on 11 December 1944.
They may have been murdered but their music lives on.
When you look at the picture, you would assume it is the mugshot of a hardened criminal. But you couldn’t be further from the truth. The picture is of Hans Scholl. He was arrested and later murdered for exposing the criminals that arrested him.
There wasn’t an awful lot of resistance in Germany against the Nazi regime, but there were some groups who actively defied the Nazis. One of those groups was the ‘White Rose’, Hans and his sister Sophie were the founders of that group.
Born on September 22 1918, Hans Scholl was the typical Aryan ideal. In 1933, he joined the Hitler Youth and quickly became a squad leader. However he soon grew disillusioned with the Nazi party. In 1937 a former member of his group, Ernest Reden, confessed to a homosexual relationship with him. Hans was arrested and kept in solitary confinement before admitting the allegations were true. Hans made a positive impact on the judge, who dismissed the choice to join the youth groups as the “youthful exuberance” and “obstinate personality” of a “headstrong young man.” The judge then dismissed the homosexual allegations as a “youthful failing.” Although he was charged under “Paragraph 175”, the paragraph in Nazi law that criminalized homosexual behavior,Hans was allowed to leave the trial with a clean slate. Ernest Reden, on the other hand, was sentenced to three months prison and three months in a concentration camp for the relationship.
Paragraph 175 was only abolished in 1994.
In the summer of 1940 Scholl was sent as a member of the medical corps that went with the German Army invading France. Although he observed little of the actual fighting as he was working at a field hospital where four hundred soldiers were being treated. As a medic he assisted during leg amputations and other operations. He was based in the town of Saint-Quentin and felt guilty about living in requisitioned houses. He told his parents in a letter: “I liked it better when we slept on straw. What am I – a decent person or a robber?”
Scholl returned to his studies in Munich. He attended classes at the university, listened to lectures at various clinics around the city, and attended the wounded soldiers who had returned from fighting on the front-line. He told his sister Inge Scholl: “Going from bed to bed to hold out one’s hand to people in pain is deeply satisfying. It’s the only time I’m really happy. But it’s madness just the same… If it weren’t for this senseless war there would be no wounded to be cared for in the first place.”
Hans was again enrolled in the military service in the spring of 1941 as a medic in the Wehrmacht. After his experiences at the Eastern Front, having learned about mass murder in Poland and the Soviet Union, Scholl and one of his friends, Alexander Schmorell, felt compelled to take action.
In 1942, Hans ,Sophie and others founded the non-violent underground protest movement called The White Rose. From the end of June until mid-July 1942, they wrote the first four leaflets. Quoting extensively from the Bible, Aristotle and Novalis, as well as Goethe and Schiller, the German poets, they appealed to what they considered the German intelligentsia, believing that these people would be easily convinced by the same arguments that also motivated the authors themselves. These leaflets were left in telephone books in public phone booths, mailed to professors and students, and taken by courier to other universities for distribution.
Hans also was responsible for graffiti on public buildings which read ‘Down With Hitler’ and ‘Hitler the Mass Murderer.’ The siblings continued to distribute the leaflets until they were apprehended in 1943 after throwing dozens of fliers from a university window.
“Since the conquest of Poland, 300,000 Jews have been murdered in this country in the most bestial way … The German people slumber on in dull, stupid sleep and encourage the fascist criminals. Each wants to be exonerated of guilt, each one continues on his way with the most placid, calm conscience. But he cannot be exonerated; he is guilty, guilty, guilty!”
— 2nd leaflet of the White Rose.
The Scholls and another member of White Rose, Christoph Probst, were scheduled to stand trial before the Volksgerichtshof—the Nazi “People’s Court” notorious for its unfair political trials, which more often than not ended with a death sentence—on 22 February 1943. They were found guilty of treason. Roland Freisler, head judge of the court, sentenced them to death. The three were executed the same day by guillotine at Stadelheim Prison. Sophie went under the guillotine first, followed by Hans and then Christoph. While Sophie and Christoph were silent as they died, Hans yelled “es lebe die Freiheit!” (long live freedom) as the blade fell.
IN THE NAME OF THE GERMAN PEOPLE in the action against
Hans Fritz Scholl, Munich, born at Ingersheim, 22 September 1918,
Sophia Magdalena Scholl, Munich, born at Forchtenberg, 9 May 1921,
Christoph Hermann Probst, of Aldrans bei Innsbruck, born at Murnau, 6 November 1919, now in investigative custody regarding treasonous assistance to the enemy, preparing to commit high treason, and weakening of the nation’s armed security, the People’s Court first Senate, pursuant to the trial held on 22 February 1943, in which the officers were: President of the People’s Court Dr. Freisler, Presiding,Director of the Regional Judiciary Stier, SS Group Leader Breithaupt, SA Group Leader Bunge, State Secretary and SA Group Leader Koglmaier, and representing the Attorney General to the Supreme Court of the Reich, Reich Attorney Weyersberg, [We]find: That the accused have in time of war by means of leaflets called for the sabotage of the war effort and armaments and for the overthrow of the National Socialist way of life of our people, have propagated defeatist ideas, and have most vulgarly defamed the Führer, thereby giving aid to the enemy of the Reich and weakening the armed security of the nation. On this account they are to be punished by death. Their honor and rights as citizens are forfeited for all time.
— Translation made by Berlin Documents Center HQ US Army Berlin Command of 1943 Decree against the “White Rose” group.
Something that is often overlooked is the fact that Hans had 4 more siblings aside from Sophie.
Inge Aicher-Scholl (1917–1998) she wrote a book about the White Rose after the war.
Elisabeth Scholl Hartnagel (1920–2020), married Sophie’s long-term boyfriend, Fritz Hartnagel
Werner Scholl (1922–1944) missing in action and presumed dead in June 1944. In 1942, Werner was sent out to the Russian front, where, by chance, he was stationed near Hans. The two were able to see each other fairly often.
Thilde Scholl (1925–1926)
Robert Scholl was a politician and the father of Hans and Sophie Scholl. He was a critic of the Nazi Party before, during and after the Nazi regime, and was twice sent to prison for his criticism of Nazism. He was mayor of Ingersheim 1917–1920, mayor of Forchtenberg 1920–1930 and lord mayor of Ulm 1945–1948, and co-founded the All-German People’s Party in 1952.
On 27 February 1943, five days after the execution of his children Hans and Sophie as members of the White Rose, Scholl was sentenced to 18 months in prison for listening to enemy radio broadcasts.
Although this post is titled ‘Hans Scholl’ we should not forget the sacrifices made by the other family members.
Hans Scholl would have been 104 today. In wikipedia he is called an activist, but he was much more then that.
I sincerely believe that some people are just born evil. If it hadn’t been for war, their evil ways would probably have been displayed in other ways.
Dr. Ernst Knorr was born Heiligenbeil,Germany on October 13, 1899. He died in Scheveningen, the Netherlands on July 7, 1945he was an SS officer in the rank of SS-Untersturmführer (second lieutenant), but he was also a Doctor.. He led the SD. He was part of Referat IV-A (Bekämpfung Kommunismus) of the Sicherheitsdienst in The Hague and was known as the executioner at interrogations.
If prisoners had to be tortured during interrogations, it was euphemistically indicated that they would call the doctor. His workplace was Binnenhof 7.which is near the Dutch parliament. Until the beginning of June 1941, the communists were only kept under surveillance and deliberately not yet arrested, partly because of this Knorr could be involved in other activities. He was present at the violent interrogation in which the Resistance fighter Sjaak Boezeman was killed.
He was taken to the Binnenhof and interrogated by five SD men, including Ernst Knorr . At 03:15 Sjaak was taken back unconscious to the Oranjehotel, he was in bad shape. The SD’ers claimed that Sjaak tried to cut his own wrist arteries with a razor. When he regained consciousness, Sjaak told the guards that the Germans slit his wrists. That morning Sjaak Boezeman died in his cell. He is the first or one of the first Dutch resistance fighter to be murdered by the Nazis. Albert Schaap, a prison guard at the Oranjehotel prison, testified later:
“I then saw that his back was all wounded, for he was completely covered with bruises and his whole back was covered with blood. He could not speak properly, as his whole face was shattered and the blood was running out of his mouth. “
From the beginning of June 1941 Ernst Knorr was involved in the violent interrogation of communists in The Hague. On September 2, 1941, he was the leader of a team of 3-5 people that interrogated the communist Herman Holstege in the prison of Scheveningen (Oranjehotel) so cruelly that it was expected that he would die. The intention was to learn from Holstege, who had remained silent for a month, the names of his contacts at the communist party leadership in Amsterdam. Knorr penetrated Holstege’s anus with a rubber bat, after which the intestines were tamped. Holstege, however, gave little information and not the names of the leadership in Amsterdam. Holstege died the next day. In view of the preparations in the Oranjehotel, the torture was planned. In a post-war report, this was referred to as stupidity, because it lost the opportunity to track down the party leadership in Amsterdam.
In the course of 1942, Knorr was sidetracked and replaced by Hans Munt. In post-war reports, Munt indicated that these acts of violence were the reason for the changes in position, but in practice they did not mean the end of the torture of communists.
On February 19, 1943, a trap was set up in Delft for the communist resistance fighter Gerrit Kastein. Three SD men were waiting for him in a cafe, while Knorr waited outside in the car. Kastein was arrested and taken to the car. Near the car, Kastein managed to pull out a pistol and shoot. He injured Knorr quite badly; after the cars drove away, a pool of blood remained on the street. Gerrit Willem Kastein jumped out of the window at the Binnenhof on 21 February 1943 but did not survive the fall.
The extremely violent interrogations not only cause the deaths of Sjaak and Gerrit Willem. The valuable secrets they carry are also lost. This goes too far for Ernst’s superiors, as a punishment he is transferred to the Scholtenhuis in Groningen. There Ernst continues his violent practices.
There, too, he stood out for his cruelty. He murdered the resistance fighter Esmée van Eeghen, her body was riddled with bullets, and dumped in the Van Starkenborgh Canal. Van Eeghen is controversial because she fell in love with a German officer, but in spite of this played a significant role in the resistance, especially in Friesland, a role that would ultimately be fatal for her, due to her turbulent love life. The character Rachel Stein from the 2006 film Black Book was based on the life of van Eeghen.
Although van Eeghen was financially independent, she took up a job as a nurse in the Amsterdam civil hospital. In the spring of 1943 she entered into a love affair with the medical student Henk Kluvers. When he was supposed to sign the declaration of loyalty for students in the spring, he went to Leeuwarden to evade this signature. Van Eeghen followed him and supported him and his friend Pieter Meersburg to hide Jewish children on behalf of the Landelijke Organisatie voor Hulp aan Onderduikers (LO) in the north of the country. They saved the lives of at least 100 children.
Klaas Carel Faber, execution command member and escaped war criminal, said about the execution:
“I saw Miss Esmee get out of the car. She had only just gotten out of the car when I saw Knorr firing at Miss Esmee. After the first shot I saw her fall to the ground. I heard she was still screamed. I saw Knorr shoot her ten more times.”
On April 16, 1945, Knorr withdrew to Schiermonnikoog with a number of German soldiers. It was the intention that people would be picked up by boat from Borkum to go back to Germany. It was not until May 27 that a Dutch officer went to the island to demand the surrender. The group was transferred to the mainland on May 30 and locked up in prison in Groningen. Knorr was transferred on June 27 by Canadian Field Security to the so-called Kings Prison in Scheveningen, located in the penal prison.
On July 7, 1945, Knorr was found dead in his cell. He had a piece of rope around his neck. In the cell, however, there was no high fulcrum to hang oneself from. According to statements from other Germans in prison, Knorr had been severely beaten and died as a result. No autopsy report has been prepared. Later, a prison doctor stated that it was technically possible that Knorr committed suicide by attaching the rope low to the wall and strangling himself by hanging over.
I never met Lia, in fact today is the first time I came across her picture. It would have been her 90th birthday today. She was born in Amsterdam, 20 September 1932 . And murdered in Sobibor, 2 July 1943. Reached the age of 10 years.
When I was born she would have been 35. She could have been the midwife who delivered me.
When I was 10, she was 45. She could have been my teacher.
When I was 20, she was 55. She could have been my manager at Philips components.
When I was 30, she was 65. She could have visited me in Ireland for her first trip abroad, celebrating her retirement.
But none of that ever happened. She was murdered on July 2,1943 in Sobibor. Murdered for one reason and one reason only, she was Jewish.
Lia Konijn was the daughter of Mijer Konijn and Betje van Beezem. After her mother had passed away she, and her siblings Marcus, Betty and Mary were housed at the Jewish orphanage at Leiden.
Jewish Orphanage, Machseh Lajesoumim. A place with a tragic history, but also a place where many children, despite the circumstances, had a happy childhood. A place where you could have fun, where you got a little pocket money to spend yourself, where you could be a member of a youth club, where you learned to experience the beautiful aspects of your faith, and for many children it felt like one big family.
During the war, being Jewish, which until then most children had experienced as something joyful, gradually began to take on dark and sad sides. The stories, wisdom, customs and celebrations that had given life in the orphanage rhythm, structure and meaning, were suddenly reason for the outside world to impose all kinds of restrictions. It seemed as if Jews were not allowed to exist. On March 17, 1943, the Orphanage was evacuated by the Leiden police by order of the occupying forces. All history narrowed to that one, fatal moment.
March 17,1943 the same day my Father in Law was born.
Lia Konijn, a girl I never knew. Yet her story touches me on more then one level.
So many words can be read and written about the Holocaust, but it is often the images that stick in ones mind. They say a picture paints a thousand words. In this blog there will only be pictures, and although all of them are horrific. none are graphic. There will be no description with the pictures because I believe they all speak for themselves.
Werkdorp (Labor Camp) Wieringermeer was opened in 1934, and was managed by the Jewish Labor Foundation. It could accommodate about 300 residents, who would follow a short (two-year) training course.
The Werkdorp , built by the residents themselves – mostly refugees from Germany and Austria – was intended to train its temporary residents in practical skills that would enable them to live in israel and work in agriculture. The boys received a two-year manual or agricultural training, the girls a short instruction in agriculture and housekeeping. In the village there was a carpenter, a blacksmith, a bakery and a joiner’s workshop.
After the German invasion and occupation in the Netherlands, the village was evacuated on March 20 1941, except for about 60 who stayed behind. W. Lages and Klaus Barbie were involved. From August 1940 until the eviction in March 1941, Abel Herzberg was director of the Jewish working village in the Wieringermeer. Herzberg was on the so-called Frederiks( Karel Johannes Frederiks was the secretary general of the department of internal affairs) list with his wife and three children and therefore enjoyed a certain protection.
On March 24, 1941, a number of members of the foundation board sent a letter to the Sicherheitspolizei in Amsterdam stating that continuing the training in the Werkdorp was the only option for the young people to emigrate afterwards. It was hoped that this would appeal to the occupier. Klaus Barbie indicated that he was sympathetic to a restart of the Werkdorp and would discuss this with Lages. On June 9, there was an answer and the members of the foundation board were told that the students could return to the Werkdorp. Barbie asked for a list of the names and addresses of the students living in Amsterdam. The foundation board believed Barbie and gave him the list. On June 11, the Werkdorpers received a message from the Jewish Council that the Nazis would come and collect them from their homes. A number of people did not believe what was about to happen and went into hiding.
Indeed, the Nazis had something else in mind. The attack on 14 May 1941 on the Bernard Zweerskade in Amsterdam – without casualties – and the attack on 3 June 1941 on the telephone exchange at Schiphol – one seriously injured – prompted the Nazis to carry out reprisal measures and they wanted 300 male Jews from 18 to 35 directly to Mauthausen. The arrests of the Werkdorpers started on 11 June. In the end, 59 were arrested. They went to camp Schoorl. 58 of them were murdered in Mauthausen, one was gassed in Hartheim Castle.
Like Westerbork, Wieringermeer had also been built to accommodate Jewish refugees, prior to the war, but they were both turned into much more cynical places.
On August 12th, 1944 a report was issued in Haifa, Israel. regarding the situation of the Dutch Jewry up to May 1944, The transports to the death camps continued for another 4 months . Below is the transcript of the report. Wieringermeer is also mentioned in it.
There were 140.000 Jews in Holland at the beginning of the war (incl. 26.000 non dutch Jews)
Deported to Poland (including all orphanages, old-age homes, hospitals, lunatic-asylum Apeldoorn, and all Jews from Vught-camp excepting a few hundred working in Vught for Philips) 110.000
In hiding (estimated) 15.000
Married to Christians etc, deceased (all estimated) 6.000
(The number of Jews who are free in Amsterdam – there are none in the provinces – is negligible)
The ‘star’ of which I enclose one, had to be worn as from May 1942; the deportations started July 15th 1942 Up to December 31st 1942 40.000 Jews had been deported.
Wieringen on March 20th 1941 210 pupils (boys and girls with the Jewish manager) were brought to Amsterdam about 60 pupils and 20 people from the staff were allowed to remain in order to finish the harvesting of that years crops; they were allowed to remain until August 1st 1941 when the Werkdorp was finally liquidated.
About 60 of the pupils were sent to Mauthausen;
“ 100 were deported to Poland
“ 50 are still in Westerbork and Bergen-Belsen
“ 60 are in hiding.
The dutch authorities paid an indemnity for the property they took over; (although it were the Germans who ordered the liquidation; this money was used to keep two ‘Homes’ in Amsterdam for the remaining pupils until they too were finally dispersed in the great razzias on May 26th and June 20th 1943. The equipment of the carpentershop and the smithy and metalshop was used in trainingschools in Amsterdam and finally brought to Westerbork.
The following data were given to me in Vienna on my way through to Constantinople by the assistant of Dr Löwenherz who could not come personally;
Data July let 1944: Vienna Free Jews … 180
In hiding ………………………………………….. 2000
Versippte (Intermarriage etc) ………… 6- 8000
Sent to Theresienstadt 15000 (of whom 3800 still there)
Sent to Poland…………………………………… 48000
The rest (there were 2100000) emigrated or died.
9000 Hungarian Jews had come through Vienna on their way to Poland; 41000 were still expected. (We saw two transports of 1000 each, one in Vienna and one on the way to Hungary) 310000 jews in Budapest had not yet been interfered with.
Haifa, August 12th 1944″
It was signed by someone with the last name ‘Van Tijn’ unfortunately I don’t know who that is.