Gershon Willinger’s story

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.

Gershon and Rita in 1947

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.

sources

https://stumblingstones.ca/gershon-willinger

https://memoirs.azrielifoundation.org/exhibits/sustaining-memories/gershon-willinger/

Lia Konijn- A girl I never knew.

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.

sources

https://www.joodsmonument.nl/en/page/174606/lia-konijn

A murdered family.

The baby in the picture is Jonas David Kloot, he would have celebrated his 80th birthday today. He would have been blowing out 80 birthday candles on his birthday cake. But he didn’t even get to blow out his first birthday candle. Jonas was born on September 15,1942 in Amsterdam. Less then 9 months later, June 11,1943 he was murdered in Sobibor.

The other people in the photograph are Jonas’s dad, Hijman Kloot. Born in Amsterdam, on 5 June 1904. Murdered in Sobibor, 9 July 1943.Reached the age of 39 years. Occupation: Merchant

Jonas’s Mother, Femmina Kloot-Engelsman. Born in Amsterdam, 19 March 1908 . Murdered in Sobibor, 11 June 1943.

Jonas’s oldest sister, Clara Kloot. Born in Amsterdam, 7 March 1931.Murdered in Sobibor, 11 June 1943. Reached the age of 12

Jonas’s youngest sister, Annie Kloot. Born in Amsterdam, 7 August 1935.Murdered in Sobibor, 11 June 1943. Reached the age of 7.

Femmina and her 3 children were all murdered on the same day. They were all deported from Westerbork to Sobibor on June 8,1943 and were murdered on arrival on June 11,1943.

The Kloot family were not the only ones on that Transport. There were in total 3015 on that train, the majority were murdered on arrival in Sobibor on June 11,1943. Just think about that, about 2900 were murdered on one day.

The ages of those on the transport were:

Hijman Kloot and Femmina Engelsman married in 1929 in Amsterdam.

All members of the extended Kloot members were murdered in Sobibor, with the exception of Samuel Kloot and Isaac Kloot, 2 brothers of Hijman Koot, they were murdered in Auschwitz.

Samuel’s wife and 2 year old son were also murdered in Auschwitz. As were the 9 year old daughter, and wife of Isaac Kloot.

sources

https://www.oorlogsbronnen.nl/mensen?transport_from=https://data.niod.nl/WO2_Thesaurus/kampen/4869&transport_to=https://data.niod.nl/WO2_Thesaurus/kampen/4855&transport_date=1943-6-8

https://www.joodsmonument.nl/en/page/177108/hijman-kloot

The Dutch Queen did offer some resistance to the Nazis, but very little.

Queen Wilhelmina was Queen of the Netherlands from 1890 until her abdication in 1948. She reigned for nearly 58 years, longer than any other Dutch monarch. Her reign saw both World War I, although the Netherlands was neutral during WW1, and World War II, as well as the Dutch economic crisis of 1933.

It is during World War 2 where ,in my opinion and that of others, she didn’t as much as she should or could have done.

On May 4, 2020, King Willem-Alexander gave a speech where he too criticised the role of his great grandmother.

Speech by His Majesty King Willem-Alexander, National Remembrance Day, 4 May 2020
Speech | 04-05-2020

“It feels strange to be standing in an almost empty Dam Square. But I know that you all feel part of this National Remembrance Day, and that we are standing here together.

During these exceptional months, we have all had to give up some of our freedom. This country hasn’t experienced anything like this since the Second World War. Now, we are choosing our own path. For our lives and our health.

Back then, the choice was made for us. By an occupier with a merciless ideology that caused the deaths of millions of people. How did that total lack of freedom feel?

There is one testimony I shall never forget. It was given here in Amsterdam, in the Westerkerk, almost six years ago. A short, clear-eyed man – standing proud at 93 years old – recounted his journey to Sobibor, in June 1943.

His name was Jules Schelvis. There he stood, fragile but unbroken, in a full but utterly silent church. He spoke about the transportation of 62 people in a single railway wagon. About the barrel on the bare floor. About the rain that spattered in through the gaps. About the hunger, the exhaustion, the filth.

‘You began to look like a pauper,’ he said. And you could hear the heartbreak in his voice. He recalled the soldiers ripping the watches off prisoners’ wrists on arrival. And how he lost his wife Rachel in the ensuing chaos. He never saw her again.

‘What normal human being could have imagined this? How could the world allow us, honest citizens of the Netherlands, to be treated like vermin?’ His question lingered among the pillars of the church. I didn’t have an answer. I still don’t.

What I also remember is his account of what happened before his journey. Following a Nazi raid, he and his wife and many hundreds of others were taken to Muiderpoort station. I can still hear him saying: ‘Hundreds of onlookers watched as the overcrowded trams went by under heavy guard, and they didn’t once protest.’

Straight through this city. Straight through this country. Right before the eyes of their fellow countrymen. It all seemed so gradual. And with each new step it went further.
No longer being allowed to go swimming in public pools.
Being excluded as member of an orchestra.
No longer being allowed to ride your bike.
No longer being allowed to go to college.
Being put out on the street.
Then arrested and taken away.

Sobibor began in the Vondelpark. With a sign saying: ‘No Jews Allowed’. Certainly, there were many people who protested. Men and women who took action, bravely going against the tide and risking their own safety for the sake of others.

I also think of all the civilians and military personnel who fought for our freedom.
Of all the young soldiers who lost their lives on the Grebbelinie in those days of May.
The military personnel who served our Kingdom in the Dutch Indies and paid for it with their lives.
The resistance fighters who were executed by firing squad on the Waalsdorpervlakte or suffered inhuman treatment in labour and concentration camps.
The military personnel killed or severely wounded in peacekeeping operations.
True heroes who were prepared to die for our freedom and our values.

But there is also another reality. Fellow human beings, fellow citizens in need, who felt abandoned unheard. Who felt they should have received more support, if only by words. Also from London, and from my great-grandmother, despite her unwavering and fierce opposition. This is something that will always stay with me.

The impact of war lingers on for many generations. Even now, 75 years after our liberation, it remains with us. The least we can do is: not look away. Not justify it. Not erase it. Not brush it aside. Not normalise something that is anything but normal. And nurture and defend our democracy and the rule of law. Because only that can protect us from tyranny and chaos.

Jules Schelvis went through hell and yet managed to make something of his life as a free person. Much more than that. ‘I kept my faith in humanity,’ he said. If he could do that, then so can we. We can do it, and we will do it together. In freedom.”

However there were little acts of resistance or rather attempts, by the exiled Queen, to boost the morale of the Dutch civilians, from her residence in London.

Two (orange) packs of cigarettes, with the V-sign on the cover and the text ‘The Netherlands will rise again’. In the night of 30 to 31 August 1941, tens of thousands of orange packages are dropped over the Netherlands. Queen Wilhelmina’s birthday was on August 31. At the other side of the pack the letter W of Wilhelmina.

I know this was meant well, the goal was to boost morale. But on the other hand it also could have caused harm, anyone caught with these by the Nazis, would be severely punished, They could even face the death panalty.

Portrait of Queen Wilhelmina, published in the illegal press on her 61st birthday, August 31, 1941. The original portrait in pencil was made by Cor Visser. Dutch ‘war artist’ living in England.

The King mentioned Jules Schelvis.

He was a Dutch Jewish historian, writer, printer, and Holocaust survivor. Schelvis was the sole survivor among the 3,005 people on the 14th transport from Westerbork to Sobibor extermination camp, having been selected to work at nearby Dorohucza labour camp. He is known for his memoirs and historical research about Sobibor, for which he earned an honorary doctorate from the University of Amsterdam, Officier in the Order of Orange-Nassau, and Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland.

Below is one of his testimonies.

“The Jews of the Bahnhofskommando were very heavy-handed getting us of the train onto the platform. They let on they were Jewish by speaking Yiddish, the language of the Eastern European Jews. The SS men standing behind them were shouting ‘schneller, schneller’ (faster, faster) and lashed out at people once they were lined up on the platform. Yet the first impression of the camp itself aroused no suspicion, because the barracks looked rather like little Tyrolean cottages, with their curtains and geraniums on the window sills.

But this was no time to dawdle. We made our way outside as quickly as possible. Rachel and I, and the rest of our family, fortunately had no difficulty in swiftly making our way onto the platform, which had been built up of sand and earth. Behind us we could hear the agonised cries of those who could not get up quickly enough, as their legs had stiffened as a result of sitting in an awkward position for too long, severely affecting their circulation. But no one cared. One of the first things that occurred to me was how lucky we were to be all together and that the secret of our destination would now finally be revealed. The events so far did not hold out much promise though, and we understood this was only the beginning.

It was obvious we had arrived at our final destination : a place to work, as they had told us in the Netherlands. A place where the many who had gone before us should now also be working. Our presence must be of quite some importance, why else would the Germans have bothered to bring us all the way here, traveling for three days and nights, covering a distance of two thousand kilometres?

Yet the Germans were using whips, lashing out at us and driving us on from behind. My father -in-law, walking beside me, was struck for no reason. He shrank back in pain only for a moment , not wanting anyone to see. Rachel and I firmly gripped each other’s hand, desperate not to get separated in this hellish situation. We were driven along a path lined with barbed wire towards some large barracks and dared not look round to see what was happening behind us.

We wondered what had happened to the baby in our wagon , and to the people unable to walk; and what about the sick and the handicapped ? But we were given no time to dwell on these things and, besides, we were too preoccupied with ourselves. ‘What shall I do with my gold watch?’ Rachel said. ‘They will take it from me in a minute.’ I replied, ‘Bury it, because it could be worth a lot of money later.’ As she was walking, she noticed a little hole in the sand and quickly threw the watch down, using her foot to cover it up. ‘Remember,’ she said, ‘where I’ve buried it. We can try digging it up later when we have a little more time.’

Like cattle, we were herded through a shed that had doors on either side, both wide open. We were ordered to throw down all our luggage and keep moving. Our bread and backpacks, with our name, date of birth and the word ‘Holland’ written on them, ended up on top of the huge piles, as did my guitar, which I had naively brought and carefully guarded all the way. Quickly glancing around, I saw how it ended up underneath more luggage. It dawned on me then that there was worse to come. Robbed of everything we had once spent so much care and time in acquiring, we left the shed through the door opposite.

I was so taken aback and distracted by having had all our possessions taken from us, that although I had seen an SS man at some point, I never noticed, until it was too late, that the women had been sent in a different direction. Suddenly Rachel was no longer walking beside me. It happened so quickly that I had not been able to kiss her or call out to her. Trying to look around to see if I could spot her somewhere, an SS man snapped at me to look straight ahead and keep my ‘Maul (gob) shut.’

Along with the men around me, I was driven on at a slightly slower pace to a point just past an opening in a fence, where yet another SS man was posted. He looked the younger men up and down fleetingly, seeming to have no interest in the older ones. With a quick nudge of his whip, he motioned some of them to line-up separately by the edge of the field. Directly in front of me, my brother -in-law Ab was directed to join this growing group. My father-in-law, David, and Herman, my thirteen -year old brother-in-law, were completely ignored. My father-in-law was too old, Herman too young. Glancing at me for just a moment, he let me pass as well. He needed to select only eighty healthy-looking men.

Those who had not been selected had to move along into the field and sit down. That Friday 4 June 1943, the Sobibor sun beat down on our heads. It was midday and very hot already. There we were, defenceless, powerless, exhausted, at the mercy of the Germans, and completely isolated from the rest of the world. No one could help us out here. The SS held us captive and were free to do as they pleased.

The rows of men out on the field were getting bigger as those from the other wagons joined us. While we were waiting, I had a little time to collect my thoughts. Our harsh treatment seemed to be in conflict with the image of the Tyrolean cottage-like barracks with their bright little curtains and geraniums on the windowsills. They had had such a friendly and calming effect on me after all the tensions of the preceding days. The camp had seemed devoid of any other people, apart from the Germans and the Jews who had ‘welcomed’ us on the platform.

As I sat there, I noticed a few Dutch prisoners had approached from the other side of the barbed wire fence and were trying to make contact with us. I recognised Moos van Kleef, the owner of the fish shop on the corner of the Weesperstraat. My arms gestured a question: how are things here, what can we expect? To assuage us, he yelled out to us that it was all right here, no reason to be concerned. I heard him say: ‘We have a job here, everything is new or has to be built.’ My mind was ticking over faster. I thought: this must be the new camp for which they will require some sort of order service (police). That must be why they need those young men. My intuition told me I would want to be a part of that group. Not so much for the order service, but to be with my brother-in-law whom I could still see in the distance.

The field had become quite crowded and I had already come to terms with the idea of working in the camp when I saw the same SS man approaching. With his hands behind his back he ambled past the rows of men quite smugly, seeming quite pleased with himself. As he came closer, I suddenly remembered the order service. He had almost passed when I jumped up and put up my hand. I asked permission to ask him a question. Glancing back at me quite affably, he hesitated briefly and then nodded his approval. I requested in my best German, to join the other group. He stared into the distance, tapping his whip against his boot a few times. He turned around and asked: ‘How old are you?’ I replied: ‘Twenty-two, Herr Officer.’ Healthy? ‘Jawohl, Herr Officer.’ I had no idea what his rank was. ‘Can you speak German?’ Jawohl, Herr Officer.’

Not altogether disinterested, he searched me with his eyes for a moment, apparently lost in thought. Then nodding his head in the direction of the group, he said: ‘Na Los.’ I quickly ran towards it. The young men, relieved at finally being able to release some of the tension built up over the past few days, were chatting to an almost amiable SS man there. To my joy, my best friend Leo de Vries was also among them. The German looked surprised when I joined them, because he believed the eighty-strong group to be complete. A little incredulously he asked: ‘They sent you as well? So now we have eighty-one; one too many, because to my knowledge there should only be eighty.’

After standing around and exchanging thoughts for a while, we were cut off abruptly by the SS man, who, suddenly in quite a different tone of voice, told us to shut up. He continued: ‘My colleague has selected you to work at another camp not far from here. You will return to Sobibor every evening so you can meet and enjoy yourselves with your family and friends.’ Pointing towards the field , he carried on: ‘They are going to have a bath now. This is why the men have been separated from the women, because they obviously cannot bathe together. All the others who arrived today will stay here.

As he spoke, I also saw the SS man addressing the men out on the field, though I could not hear his exact words . Obviously they were being told to undress, because I saw them starting to take off their clothes. By the time ‘our’ SS man had lined us up in rows of five, all those out on the field had already removed their shoes and vests. Urged on by his loud Eins-Zwei-drei-vier cadence, he tried to get us to march smartly and in step towards the camp exit. He could not imagine how miserable we were after being scrunched up for days inside the cattle wagons. On our way to the train I must have passed the spot where Rachel had buried her watch. I could not remember it. But I thought I might remember again in a few hours’ time, when, on my return, I would be headed in the same direction as when we arrived.

Two wagons and an engine stood ready for departure. All traces of turmoil had been erased from the platform, as though it had never happened. The train arrived in Trawniki on the very same day, 4 June 1943. The group had to walk the remaining five kilometres from there to Dorohucza. Unlike other people, I never did see the narrow gauge railway at Sobibor, and neither did I see any people being thrown into rail carts. A possible explanation could lie in the fact that we were the first to enter the camp, so the sick and elderly would not have made their way onto the platform by then, and the tipper trucks were not yet required. They must have been there, ready for use, but without people screaming inside them I probably did not notice.”

sources

https://www.holocausthistoricalsociety.org.uk/contents/sobibor/julesschelvis.html

https://www.sobibor.org/en/postmortem-jules-schelvis/

https://www.royal-house.nl/documents/speeches/2020/05/04/speech-by-king-willem-alexander-national-remembrance-day-4-may-2020

https://www.timesofisrael.com/dutch-king-admits-jews-felt-abandoned-by-great-grandmother-during-holocaust/

Han Hollander-Sports Journalist, murdered in Sobibor.

Sport is very important in the Netherlands, the Dutch are passionate about many sporting events. For a small country it does quite well in many of the sporting disciplines. Equally important are the people reporting or covering sports, especially on radio.

Hartog “Han” Hollander was the first Dutch radio sports journalist. He was Jewish, but he changed his name to Han to make it sound more Dutch.

On March 11, 1928, a football match was broadcast live on the radio for the first time. The match between the Netherlands and Belgium is defeated by Han Hollander. Who is this man who can speak so compellingly about sports?

Sports reporting on the radio is a Dutch invention. For the first time in history, a football game was broadcast live on the radio on March 11, 1928. The match was played between the Netherlands and Belgium, broadcast by the AVRO. Han Hollander reported. The match ended in a 1-1 draw.

In 1936 he was allowed to report and cover the Olympic Games in Berlin, which he did again with great enthusiasm. Because of his positive contribution to the Olympic spectacle, he received a certificate signed by Hitler personally.

When the war broke out on May 10, 1940, his career was suddenly over. The German occupier did not take the first steps in anti-Jewish legislation until January 1941, but Willem Vogt, the co founder and director of AVRO, fired Hollander because of his Jewish origin on May 16,1940. His once good friend broke off contact with him. Years later, Vogt lamented that he was only taking these measures so as not to offend the Germans.

Unfortunately, during the war, Hollander did not see the need to go into hiding. He said he was relying on the certificate of the 1936 Olympic Games signed by Hitler. Hollander was deported to Westerbork, from where, after a careless remark from his wife, he was sent with his wife were sent to Sobibor , where they were murdered on July 9,1943.

Their daughter was murdered in Auschwitz on February 28,1943.

Sources

https://www.joodsmonument.nl/nl/page/76033/hartog-hollander

Han Hollander: sportverslaggever

http://resources.huygens.knaw.nl/bwn1880-2000/lemmata/bwn2/hollanderh

https://voetbalstats.nl/opstelnedxi.php?wid=92

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Remembering Esther Brilleslijper

It is nearly impossible to quantify the number of people being killed during the Holocaust, I personally think the estimated number of 1.5 million children is too low.

The one thing that can be quantified accurately is the value put on life. For a family of 5 it would be 37.50 guilders ,or the 2022 equivalent of $250. That is the price that was paid to the Column Henneicke, for the betrayal of Esther Brilleslijper and her family.

Esther Brilleslijper was born in Amsterdam, on 13 August 1942 . She was murdered in Sobibor, on 11 June 1943. She reached the age of 9 months.

In those 9 months she was arrested , yes a 9 month old baby arrested, and sent to Vught concentration camp.

On 6 June 1943 Esther Brilleslijper was transported from Camp Vught to Camp Westerbork.In addition to Esther Brilleslijper, 2,277 other people are known to have been transported that day.

From June 8, 1943, Esther Brilleslijper was transported from Camp Westerbork to Sobibor. Where she was murdered together with her father Levie Brilleslijper, 3 year old brother Wolf Brilleslijper, and mother Judith Brilleslijper-van der Woude.

I am remembering Esther Brilleslijper today on her birthday. It happens to coincide with my daughter’s birthday.

Esther Brilleslijper would have been 80 today.

sources

https://www.oorlogsbronnen.nl/tijdlijn/Esther-Brilleslijper/01/31381

https://www.joodsmonument.nl/en/page/169026/esther-brilleslijper

Dutch Israelite Girls Orphanage-MA’ASIEM TOVIEM MEGADLE JETHOMOTH

This house was an orphanage for Jewish girls from 1861 to 1943.
In 1889 the orphanage was extended to include the neighbouring house.
On February 10, 1943 the girls and their attendants were
deported to the extermination camp Sobibor.

They were supposed to have been deported before, but due to a scarlet fever outbreak on July 4, 1942 that was postponed

Thanks to the outbreak, the deportation of the children could be temporarily prevented. In each case, the medical service issued a statement showing that the orphanage was infected and that the occupier stayed outside. No new cases of scarlet fever occurred in October 1942, and on November 1, 1942, the protection afforded by the declarations was over.

A raid took place on February 10, 1943. A number of children were able to flee or were released thanks to the Jewish Council, as a result of the 103 girls in the orphanage, 63 were eventually murdered. from the They were transferred to Westerbork by train. 25 children were immediately deported to Sobibor, along with five employees of the orphanage. On March 10, 1943, the other children and the director Rebekka Frank were deported to Sobibor. All children and employees deported to Sobibor were murdered. Deputy headmistress Betsy Vromen-Snapper was deported to Bergen-Belsen and survived the Holocaust.

This is just one of those children.

Marion Preuss, born in Berlin, 1 August 1931.Murdered in Sobibor, 23 July 1943. Reached the age of 11.

Another disturbing fact is how willingly the Dutch civil servants were helping the Nazis. The documents were in Dutch, signed of by Dutch civil servants.

sources

https://www.oorlogsbronnen.nl/thema/Razzia%20Nederlandsch-Isra%C3%ABlitisch%20Meisjesweeshuis%20Amsterdam

https://www.oorlogsbronnen.nl/thema/Roodvonkuitbraak%20Nederlandsch-Isra%C3%ABlitisch%20Meisjesweeshuis%20Amsterdam

https://www.joodsmonument.nl/en/page/178375/marion-preuss

https://www.joodsmonument.nl/nl/page/58561/nederlands-israelitisch-meisjesweeshuis

The forgotten Kindertransport.

Most people will have heard about the Kindertansport-Childrens’s Transport-a unique humanitarian rescue programme which ran between November 1938 and September 1939. Approximately 10,000 children, the majority of whom were Jewish, were sent from their homes and families in Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia to Great Britain.

But there were 2 other Kindertransports, In Konzentrationslager Herzogenbusch, better known as camp Vught, in the Netherlands nearly 1,300 children were deported on 6 and 7 June 1943, most of them accompanied by their mothers, sometimes with fathers, sometimes alone. A few days later, almost everyone in the Sobibor extermination camp was killed by gassing. It is an exceptional horror story from the Holocaust.

The children were aged between 0 and 16.Children from 0 to 3 were accompanied by their mother. Or on the transport of the 7th June , children from 4 to 16 were accompanied by their father or mother. At least 1,269 were then transferred to Sobibor, where they were murdered almost immediately in the gas chambers.

The Jewish children had a hard time in camp Vught. The German SS leadership had decided in February 1943 that all children between the ages of 4 and 16 had to be separated from their parents. Boys and girls were housed in separate barracks, but there were not enough people to care for and entertain all the children.

At the end of April 1943, the children’s area in camp Vught became overcrowded. The chaos that this caused was a thorn in the side of the German SS leadership of the camp. On June 5, 1943 it was announced that all children had to leave the camp. The next day all the children from 0 to 3 years old with their mothers and a day later the children from 4 to 16 years old with one of both parents.

The 13-year-old Alida Lopes Dias from Amsterdam also had to go along with her mother and sister on the children’s transport. Her older sister Gretha stayed behind in Vught. She ran after Alie, as she called her sister.

“The German shepherds

bit into my legs. I screamed. But I still managed to say hello to Alie. I buttoned up her red cloak. And then she and Mother went into a cattle truck with hundreds of other children. I never saw her again.” Gretha said after the war.

The husband of Annie Vrachtdooder, who was imprisoned in Vught, wrote to her husband from camp Vught:

“At least you have a sign that I’m still here. Now darling I’ll tell you what happened. All women with children have been forwarded, including the women whose men work on the Moerdijk. (…) Now that Maup is here j.l. Sunday and Monday 2 transports went in total 3500 people. All the children are gone (…)”

For a short time there was a school in camp Vught where the children are taught by Rie Hakker, she wrote:

“(…) Despite all the trouble, especially with those transports, we still laugh a lot. Only not yesterday, when we saw the women leave alone with the children. He had scarlet fever, that 40 degree fever, etc. terrible. How lucky we are to be alone.”

At the last minute, Rie also had to join the transport.

These 2 transports were the only 2 transports specifically for children.

sources

https://anderetijden.nl/aflevering/37/Alle-kinderen-op-transport

List of household effects of David Isaac van Cleef . and his family

Graphic pictures of the Holocaust often tell such harrowing stories. But sometimes it takes just an inventory list of every day items, that are more shocking, because it tells the story of people like you and I. They ate the same food, wore the same clothes, used the same cups and plates. It was only because a group of men who determined they they were somehow different, a lesser class of human being. However it was those men who were really the unter mensch.

The can Cleef family were; David Isaac van Cleef. Occupation: Diamond polisher, aged 37. Marianne van Cleef-Pinto. Occupation: Seamstress, aged 39. And Frederica van Cleef, student, aged 14. They were all murdered on July 16,1943 in Sobibor

Below is the list of all their belongings, which undoubtedly would have been given to Nazi supporters or sold with the proceeds going to the Nazi regime.

living room
floorcloth
carpet
table with cloth
chair (2)
cooker
clock
mirror
hanging lamp
lace curtain (5)
drape (4)
flower table (3)
painting (2)
wall plate
sideboard with groceries
glass set
wall cupboard (2)
glass set
worthless items

living room
floorcloth
cane mat
writing desk
table
hanging lamp
bed with bedding
chair (2)
lace curtain
drape (2)
bookcase with books
wardrobe with clothing
table lamp

bedroom
floorcloth
runner
bed with bedding
table
chair (2)
bedside table
cupboard with clothing
laundry
lace curtain (4)
drape (2)
wall cupboard with knick-knacks (2)
wall plate (2)

room
floorcloth
table
lace curtain (2)
ironing board
iron
ceiling lamp
suitcase

kitchen
table
chair (3)
kitchenware
ceiling lamp
groceries
gas ring
vacuum cleaner (“Protos”)

corridor
runner
mat (4)
coat stand
cupboard with clothing

attic
tub (3)
ceiling lamp

source

https://www.joodsmonument.nl/en/page/490490/inventory-of-david-isaac-van-cleef-and-his-family

Jacques Swaluw-murdered aged 10 months.

The title is about Jacques Swaluw but it really is about just more then Jacques.

Jacques was born in Rotterdam on the 19th of June 1942.

Esther Swaluw was a daughter of Isaäc Swaluw and Maria Melkman. 2 December 1913 she married Izak van Been in Rotterdam, a son of Abraham van Been and Sientje Bacharach. Esther and Izak however divorced, which was registered in the Civil Registry of Rotterdam 13 June 1936. Together, they had a son Abraham who after the divorce grew up in the family of Izak van Been and his 2nd wife Hanna Boeki.

After her divorce, Esther had three more children: 16 June 1936 her daughter Maria was born. Her possible father was Izak van Been, however no name of a father was registered. But she was “a Jewish child” according a note at the registration card of her mother, made out by the Jewish Council of Rotterdam.

Esther had a relationship with the non-Jewish Jan Houtkamp in Rotterdam, from whom she had a son who was born 17 September 1940 and his name was John Houtkamp. According the registration card of Esther Swaluw, Jan Houtkamp acknowledged John as his at 2 December 1940, being the father of this child. Whether there was a formal marriage or not, could not be researched.

19 June 1942 Esther had another child, named Jacques. He received the family name of Swaluw so it is not clear who Jacques father was. At Esther’s registration per 1 October 1941 by the Jewish Council, her civil status was listed as “divorced”. Also a note made in April 1943 by the Jewish Council reveals that the 3rd child (Jacques) has not been acknowledged by Jan Houtman.

One of the many notes made at Esthers registration card of the Jewish Council is an attempt of 2 April 1943 by Esther Swaluw, to safeguard her children from deportation, where Esther has mentioned that her children Jacques and John were non-Jewish, while Maria Swaluw was Jewish. The note of 9 April 1943 is perhaps the most prominent, whereby “the person concerned (Esther Swaluw) 8 April has made a request that her children Jacques and John are G 1”. (G 1 – Mischiling Ersten Grades / half breed first degree). However, all attempts were in vain.

Her daughter Maria Swaluw was deported to Camp Westerbork already on 26 February 1943 and stayed in barack 84. Her mother Esther Swaluw and her children John Houtkamp and Jacques Swaluw were registered together in Westerbork 31 March 1943 and they stayed in barack 70. 4 May 1943 they were all put on transport to Sobibor and upon arrival there 7 May 1943 immediately killed.

source

https://www.joodsmonument.nl/en/page/124551/jacques-swaluw