Ben Ali Libi- the Magician of Sobibor

Ben_Ali_Libi

In all honesty the title of this blog is likely to be incorrect, but it is an intriguing title nonetheless.Ben Ali Libi was the stage name of the Dutch Jewish magician Michel Velleman  (5 January 1895 – 2 July 1943). I didn’t want to post this blog so soon after my last one but I believe it is an important story that needs to be told.

The reason why the title is intriguing is because although there is quite a bit documented about this man there is still little known about his life and especially his time in Sobibor.

But in here lies the power of his story . For the Nazi’s he was just a statistic, a number a creature not even fit enough to eat Adolf Hitler’s dog Blondi’s food. A subhuman as they called him. However he wasn’t a statistic or a number but a human being of flesh and blood just like you and me.

The only things we know is that he was a Magician and I believe a very accomplished one, the Dutch Magician Hans Klok (from Vegas fame) said in an interview, he had heard about Ben Ali Libi and I understand he has his book of magic tricks which was published in 1925.

The other thing we know for certain is that he was picked up during a raid in Amsterdam in 1942 and that he ended up in Sobibor where he was killed.

He was killed because the Nazi regime had no use for his skills. Jews were only good to die or for slave labour not to entertain people. However I would like to believe that Ben Ali Libi would have still entertained his fellow victims, with his magic, in the darkest hours of their lives, to still let a bit of light shine in their hearts and bring a glimmer of hope.

The Dutch poet and writer Willem Wilmink wrote a powerful poem about Ban Ali Libi, there is only a Dutch version of the poem. I have attempted to translate it or at least tried to ensure the essence of the poem did not go lost in translation. Both version are below 1st the Dutch version below that the translation of it.

Ben Ali Libi

Op een lijst van artiesten, in de oorlog vermoord,
staat een naam waarvan ik nog nooit had gehoord,
dus keek ik er met verwondering naar:
Ben Ali Libi. Goochelaar.

Met een lach en een smoes en een goocheldoos
en een alibi dat-ie zorgvuldig koos,
scharrelde hij de kost bij elkaar:
Ben Ali Libi, de goochelaar.

Toen vonden de vrienden van de Weduwe Rost
dat Nederland nodig moest worden verlost
van het wereldwijd joods-bolsjewistisch gevaar.
Ze bedoelden natuurlijk die goochelaar.

Wie zo dikwijls een duif of een bloem had verstopt,
kon zichzelf niet verstoppen, toen er hard werd geklopt.
Er stond al een overvalwagen klaar
voor Ben Ali Libi, de goochelaar.

In ‘t concentratiekamp heeft hij misschien
zijn aardigste trucs nog wel eens laten zien
met een lach en een smoes, een misleidend gebaar,
Ben Ali Libi, de goochelaar.

En altijd als ik een schreeuwer zie
met een alternatief voor de democratie,
denk ik: jouw paradijs, hoeveel ruimte is daar
voor Ben Ali Libi, de goochelaar.

Voor Ben Ali Libi, de kleine schlemiel,
hij ruste in vrede, God hebbe zijn ziel

 

Translation

On a list of artists who were killed in the war.

I see a name I hadn’t heard of before.

So I look in wonder

Ben Ali Libi ,the Magician

 

With a smile, a fib and a magic box.

And an alibi carefully chosen,

he barely managed to make a living

Ben Ali Libi ,the Magician

 

Then the friends of Widow Rost figured,

that he country had to be rid of the,

global Bolshevik Jewish danger.

They meant of course Ben Ali Libi, the Magician

 

Who had so oft hid a flower or pigeon,

wasn’t able to hide himself when there was a loud knock

A police van was already waiting outside

For Ben Ali Libi, the Magician

 

In the concentration camp perhaps,

he showed his most delightful tricks,

with a smile, a fib and a misleading gesture.

Ben Ali Libi, the Magician

 

And always when I hear a loudmouth.

with an alternative for the democracy.

I think,” how much space is there in your paradise,

for Ben Ali Libi, the Magician.

For Ben Ali Libi, the little schmuck

May he rest in peace, God rest his soul

 

The widow Rost who is mentioned in the Poem is Florentine Rost van Tonningen, the wife of Meinoud Rost van Tonningen, the second leader of the National Socialist Movement in the Netherlands (NSB) and President of the National Bank during the German occupation (1941–1945). Because she continued to support and propagate the ideals of National Socialism after World War II and the death of her husband, she became known in the Netherlands as the “Black Widow“.

Two lines in the last verse of the poem are poignant and are basically current with the rise of extreme right ideologies in Europe and other parts of the world.

“And always when I hear a loudmouth.

with an alternative for the democracy”

It is our duty to ensure that this alternative for democracy will NEVER happen again.

 

 

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