The Star

I came across an excerpt from the book Wiswassebeesjes by author Dieta Kalk. I can’t think of a proper translation for the word, but that doesn’t really matter.

In the book the writer, recalls the removal of the Wallage family from Aprikozenweg 21 in Apeldoorn, the Netherlands, a day after seeing the Star of David. The wearing of the Star of David had compulsory starting at the beginning of May 1942. It is almost certain that the Wallage family was temporarily interned on the grounds of the Apeldoornsche Bosch in mid-January 1943 and sent to the transit camp Westerbork and then on to Auschwitz.

This excerpt gives a good illustration of the perception of the treatment of Jews, as seen from the vantage point of a child.

The neighbours next to us (the Wallage family) have two children.
They have beautiful dark hair and brown eyes.
“They are Jews,” says Mom.
“What are Jews?” asks Dieta.
Mom doesn’t answer. She looks very serious.
One day Dieta sees that the children are wearing a star on their jackets.
And their father and mother too.
“I want a star like that too,” says Dieta.
“Mommy, can I also have a star on my jacket?”.
“Only Jewish people should wear a star on their coat,” says Mama.
“They don’t like that at all.”
Dieta doesn’t understand it.
The next day a truck comes onto the street.
The entire Wallage family climbs into the car.
Soldiers are there.
“Where are they going?” asks Jopie.
“They are going on a
journey, but we don’t know where to.”
But no one looks happy, and Mom is crying.
“Is that because it’s war?” Dieta asks.
“Are they coming back?”
“Nobody knows,” says Mom.
The house is empty.
We never saw them again.

Levie Wallage started work as a qualified nurse at Apeldoornse Bos on 1 June 1925 to support his family. The piece mentions their two children. However, Levie Wallage and his wife Matthea Wallage-Halverstad, did have a third child. Renate Wallage was born 22 May 1943 in Westerbork.

This clearly indicates that the Nazis had no regard for the life of the Jews, born or yet to be born. They pushed a pregnant woman on a truck.

Matthea and her children were all murdered on 3 September 1943 at Auschwitz. Levie was murdered a few months later on 31 March 1944.



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Ruth Maier—Holocaust Diarist

Ruth Maier is often referred to as Norway’s Anne Frank, I don’t agree with that. I think it takes away the value of the words of both women. Their circumstances and lifestyles were completely different. Even the way they were murdered was different. The only thing they had in common was that they were both Jewish.

Ruth Maier was born on 10 December 1920, in Vienna. She and her sister Judith, who was 1½ years younger, spent the first years of their childhood in Vienna-Döbling, in the attic apartment of an apartment building on Peter-Jordan

Starting in 1930, the municipality of Vienna built a large residential complex nearby – along Gersthofer Straße – in which the family moved into a spacious apartment on the 3rd floor (staircase 1, door 14; entrance Hockegasse 2). On the floor above, the father, the chairman of the Austrian postal union and secretary of the International Trade Union Federation of Postal, Telephone and Telegraph employees PTTI, Ludwig Maier, had his office.

Ruth liked to sit and read in her father’s study, with whom she had a close relationship. She was just 13 years old when her father died of bacterial dermatitis. Mother Irma and Grandmother Anna tried to give the two girls a happy childhood.

On her 18th birthday, Ruth witnessed the violent excesses of the Nazi mobs during the November 1938 pogrom in Vienna: Ruth Maier, who had previously had no connection to Judaism, began to confront her identity in her diary. Judith managed to escape to the United Kingdom, via the Kindertransport. Ruth was able to find refuge in Norway. She was too old for the Kindertransport.

On 30 January 1939, a family from Lillestrøm took Ruth Maier into their home: the telegraph operator Arne Strøm, an acquaintance of Ruth’s father, had vouched for the Norwegian authorities that the young refugee would not be a financial burden to the state. In August 1939 Ruth Maier was admitted to the Frogner School in Oslo, she became fluent in Norwegian within a year, completed her final exams, and befriended the future poet Gunvor Hofmo at a volunteer work camp in Biri. The two became a couple, finding lodging and work in various places in Norway.

Ruth was also one of the models for the statue “Surprised”, by Gustav Vigeland. It is on permanent display in Frogner Park in Oslo. Vigeland began work on the sculpture in about 1904. The model for the face of the sculpture was Inga Syvertsen; the sculpture was completed in 1942. Ruth was surprised by another person entering the room while she was modelling for Vigeland, and she tried to cover her naked body, which shows in her posture. The statue was eventually cast in bronze in 2002.

But even during this period, Maier repeatedly found herself overcome by a sense of loneliness and of being misunderstood, feelings which became particularly strong once the German Wehrmacht occupied Norway. They eventually led to a nervous breakdown, and in early 1941, Maier had herself committed to a psychiatric ward. Gunvor Hofmo’s visits were the only ray of hope during the seven weeks she spent there. In fact, it seems that Hofmo was the only person in Norway who cared about Maier.

Below are some excerpts from Ruth Maier’s diary.

Saturday, July 20, 1940, Lillestrøm
“Lillestrøm is unbearable now. You come across German soldiers at every turn. They wink at the young girls with the same self-confidence, and the girls always smile back, bewitched by the uniform sore.”

In early January 1941, Biristrand
“I can’t tell you how warm I am with Gunvor. I love her deep eyes very much. I love her way of speaking about things subtly”

Ruth’s ast note to Gunvor Hofmo

“I believe that it is good that it has come to this. Why should we not suffer, when there is so much suffering? Do not worry about me. Perhaps I would not want to trade with you.”

Norwegian police officers entered the Engelheim boarding house for girls and young women in Oslo on November 26, 1942, and took Ruth Maier away. The arrest is said to have been violent. Maier was dragged into a car and forced to board the “Donau,” a prisoner transport ship, on the very same day.

Five days later, she was murdered in the Auschwitz extermination camp along with 187 Jewish women, 42 children, and 116 men from Norway who were unable to work.

Jan Erik Vold, the editor of her diaries writes about the last hours before her deportation:

“The raid in which she was arrested took place on November 26. 300 men, members of the police, Quisling’s stormtroopers and the Gestapo took part in the operation. Taxis that had been confiscated were used to transport the arrested persons. Nunna Moum lived in the Same boarding school as Ruth. She says that the arrest happened quietly. Two Norwegian police officers led the Austrian down the stairs into the street to a waiting car. She was told to sit in the back seat, where two tearful girls were already sitting. The girls in the boarding school woke each other up and watched the scene. Someone said, ‘We can watch your gold watch until you come back.’ Ruth replied, ‘I’ll never come back.’ “

Gunvor Hofmo kept Ruth’s diaries and much of her correspondence. She approached Gyldendal to get them published in 1953 but was turned down. After she died in 1995, Jan Erik Vold went through her papers and came upon Ruth Maier’s works. After editing them for ten years, they were published in 2007. Vold was highly impressed by the literary value of the diaries, comparing Ruth Maier’s literary talent to that of Hannah Arendt and Susan Sontag. The book was translated into English by Jamie Bulloch in 2009

Gunvor Hofmo never got over the loss of her girlfriend. This traumatic experience was probably one of the reasons for the crisis Hofmo went through in the 1950s, which caused her to become a long-term patient at the Gaustad mental hospital in Oslo for two decades. In the immediate postwar period, Hofmo had suffered from obsessions which became increasingly intrusive. She heard voices and was afraid of “radiation” in her head.

In a speech issued on 27 January 2012 on the occasion of International Holocaust Remembrance Day Prime Minister of Norway Jens Stoltenberg issued an official apology for the role played by Norwegians in the deportations. As reported on the official website of the Norwegian Government, Stoltenberg delivered his speech at the dock in the capital Oslo where 532 Jews boarded the cargo ship Donau on 26 November 1942, bound for Nazi camps. Stoltenberg said:

“The Holocaust came to Norway on Thursday 26 November 1942. Ruth Maier was one of the many who were arrested that day. On 26 November, just as the sky was beginning to lighten, the sound of heavy boots could be heard on the stairs of the boarding house “Englehjemmet” in Oslo. A few minutes later, the slight Jewish girl was seen by her friends being led out the door of Dalsbergstien 3. Ruth Maier was last seen being forced into a black truck by two big Norwegian policemen. Five days later the 22-year-old was dead. Murdered in the gas chamber at Auschwitz. Fortunately, it is part of being human that we learn from our mistakes. And it is never too late. More than 50 years after the war ended, the Storting decided to make a settlement, collectively and individually, for the economic liquidation of Jewish assets. By so doing the state accepted moral responsibility for the crimes committed against Norwegian Jews during the Second World War. What about the crimes against Ruth Maier and the other Jews? The murders were unquestionably carried out by the Nazis. But it was Norwegians who carried out the arrests. It was Norwegians who drove the trucks. And it happened in Norway.”

I don’t agree with the line of the speech “Fortunately, it is part of being human that we learn from our mistakes” The unfortunate truth is that we don’t, we should, but we don’t.


Love Sees No Colour or Religion

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

This is his story.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Fellowship of Courage

Usually, when I start a piece with a photo of a Jewish child, it is followed by the tragic story of that child’s short life and death. However, that is not the case this time.

In November 1943, the occupying Nazi regime in the Netherlands raided a guest house. They found a small Jewish girl, three-year-old Miriam Dasberg, the daughter of Rabbi Nathan Dasberg. Miriam had been kept in hiding there, safe from the Nazis. The young girl had been found and was to be deported to the concentration camps, where she would have been murdered.

However, another young person would be one of her saviours. Seventeen-year-old Hein Korpershoek was already a member of the Dutch Resistance. Now he was asked by a friend to rescue the little Jewish girl. The friend was Ans van Dam. She was a Jewish medical student from Hilversum who was part of a resistance group consisting of nurses and students, Jewish and non-Jewish.

Ans asked Hein to help her kidnap the child from the guest house. Hein’s friend Wibo Florissen also volunteered to join him and try to get the little girl before the Germans came back.

Hein and his friend Wibo Florissen disguised themselves as members of the Secret Police and abducted young Miriam from the house where she was being held. The two young men were frightened throughout the operation, but it ended in success when they handed Miriam off to Ans van Dam. He then hid the girl in another secret location. Two weeks later, Ans was arrested and sent to Auschwitz. She survived and later immigrated to Israel.

Miriam ended up in the South of the Netherlands, in the village of Swolgen near Tienray. She was placed by Hanna van der Voort and Nico Dohmen in the home of Leonardus Jacobus Nabben and his wife Maria Gertrudis Vermeulen-Nabben.

Hanna van de Voort, also known as Tante Hanna, was a Dutch resistance fighter during World War II. During the war years, together with Nico Dohmen and Kurt Löwenstein, she placed more than a hundred Jewish children with many foster families in North Limburg and saved them from deportation to the camps.

Miriam and her brother Lex both survived the war.

On 10 May 1995, Miriam Dasberg accompanied by her brother Lex, came to Swolgen for the first time in 50 years to meet her diving-time brothers and visit the Hanna monument, in honour of Hanna van der Voort, in Tienray.

There was a fellowship of at least seven brave and courageous souls who would have faced the death penalty if caught. Yet, they took the risk for a three-year-old who was a stranger to them. It had toyed with the idea of calling this piece The Magnificent Seven, but I think The Fellowship of Courage describes those involved better.

All involved were recognized by Yad Vashem as the Righteous Among the Nations, with the exception of Ans van Dam. It is a pity that Yad Vashem does not recognize the Jewish rescuers and resistant fighters as the Righteous Among the Nations, but I presume they have their reasons.

Many thanks, to Michele Kupfer Yerman, for pointing the story out to me.


Reintje Kosmis. Villain?

Now I will not say if I believe Reintje Kosmis was a villain [or not], but I will leave it up to you to decide. I always try to be as non-judgmental as possible in cases like this.

Reintje Kosmis was born 9 May 1900 in Emmen, the Netherlands.

Survival or betrayal is a diabolical dilemma in times of war. Writer and researcher Paul van de Water wrote a book about more than fifty women in the Netherlands and Flanders who were wrong during the Nazi occupation. One of them was Reintje Kosmis. During World War II she walked the fine line between right and wrong.

Reintje Kosmis had a tough childhood. She was born in Weerdingerveen, close to Emmen. Her father was rarely home. As an inland skipper, he was always on the go. She had a brother and two sisters, but we do not know if she got along well with them is not known.

Things were not going well at school. Kosmis was, to put it mildly, not too bright. She was 12 years old when her parents decided to divorce. Her father and his son, Reintje, left for Amsterdam, and she remained in Drenthe with her mother and two sisters. There had to be food on the table, so the young Kosmis had to get to work immediately. Later they move to Odoorn, where her mother’s new husband resided.

“And there she was guilty of theft,” according to writer Van de Water. Arrested—her punishment was prison for six months. She spent four months behind bars, but her reputation was now known as a thief in Odoorn and the surrounding area.

She decided to leave Drenthe, and head for Amsterdam, where she met her future husband. They were married, but after a few years, she divorced. The new relationship proved difficult and also ended in a divorce. Just before the German occupation, she met Salomon Jacobs, a well-to-do Jewish man. They married in May 1941 and relocated to Groningen.

Salomon Jacobs had previously been married to Adriana van Kralingen. They were divorced on 13 February 1935 in The Hague, when the persecution of the Jews also began. Jacobs was arrested and sent to Auschwitz, where the Nazis murdered him on 31 May 1944. Kosmis was left alone in the house as impoverished as her early years. To earn money to put food on the table, she rented rooms and looked for hiding places for Jews.

She’s betrayed, arrested and thrown into prison. There, she’s told, “You can be released, but we want something in return.” Indeed, Kosmis decided to give something back to the Nazis to be released. She betrayed a transport of Jewish people in hiding. They were all arrested, including their helpers.

Kosmis is released and allowed to go home. In her absence, her home was robbed. She reported the burglary to the police, putting her in contact with Jannes Luitje Keijer. He was a rogue police officer responsible for compiling lists of people considered undesirable. to be handed to the Nazis. He also made lists of places where people were hiding and who helped them.

Kosmis befriends Keijer, and together, they pursue an intimate relationship. In the meantime, the resistance also approached Kosmis. They knew that the police officer was dangerous. The resistance asked Kosmis to get information about Keijer. They killed Jannes Luitje Keijer on 22 April 1944. Whether Kosmis provided the information which led to the murder is not known. However, it’s known that she did go to the head of the Sicherheitspolizei, Robert Lehnhoff.

During a meeting in a hotel, Jacobs-Kosmis informed Lehnhoff that Keijer’s murderer would travel to the West by train the next day.

On the day of the murder, Rijnders, a member of the resistance, had told a friend, Tiba Heeren, that he had met and spoken with Keijer on the train. Heeren passed on this news to her friend Reintje Kosmis, who combined several things. Josef Kindel, a German SD officer and Evert Cornelis Drost, a Dutch SD officer, were instructed to arrest Rijnders, who used the name Iterson, on the train. His papers showed he developed resistance activities in Hilversum and the surrounding area. However, he had nothing to do with the assassination. On the night of 25 April 1944, Lehnhoff, Kindel, Drost and driver Mowinski drove with Rijnders to Ten Boer.

In a quiet place on the Damsterdiep, Lehnhoff shot him from a meter away. On Lehnhoff’s orders, the others present, except for Kindel, also fired at Rijnders. The next day, the local police found his remains near Garmerwolde.

The story of Kosmis wasn’t over yet with the murder of resistance fighter Bernard Rijnders. After Robert Lehnhoff committed the murder, she had an intimate relationship with him. She also continued to rent out rooms. She also scammed Jews by pretending to bring them safely to England.

An example of this is the story of the Wertheim sisters. They had to pay four thousand guilders to Kosmis, who told them she’d get them safely to England. As soon as the sisters arrived in Scheveningen, the Sicherheitsdienst picked them up. Via Westerbork, they arrived in Auschwitz, where, one was murdered, and the other survived. After the war, the surviving sister made a heavily incriminating statement against Kosmis. The double game Kosmis played ended on 8 May 1945, upon her arrest. Six months later, she appeared in court. Not only did Wertheim provide an incriminating statement against her, but also Robert Lehnhoff of the Sicherheitspolizei; the man Kosmis was dating.

The public prosecutor demanded the death penalty, but she received a life sentence instead. Kosmis filed multiple pardon requests; they were all rejected. Her release came 20 years later. Ironically she spent the last years of her life renting out rooms.


Martin Haas—The Story of a Survivor

Martin Haas was born Martijn Haas, at the end of 1936 in Breda, a small city in the south of the Netherlands. Just before the war started, about two hundred Jews lived in Breda. Martin survived because his parents kept him safe in hiding. His parents and 2 of his siblings did not survive. His sister Elizabeth and his brother Izaak, together with their mother Margaretha were murdered in Sobibor on 23 April 1943. His father, Jacob Richel was murdered on 28 February 1943 at Auschwitz.

Martijn Haas cries as quietly as he can at night in the dark attic of his hiding place. It is 1942 and World War II is in full swing. Martijn is five years old and he is alone. He does not know where his family is. Martijn nowadays goes through life as Martin, 83+ years old and the only one of his family still alive. Researchers found his family name in a research expropriated homes of Jews. They discovered nine properties belonging to Martin’s family in Breda were all taken away by the Nazis.

Most people in Breda know the Haas family. Jacob, Martijn’s father, has a large network of Jewish, but also non-Jewish friends and acquaintances. This is partly due to the family business Haas Manufacturen, where he sold textiles and delivered them to farmer families in the Breda area by car. A gap in the market, because many people do not yet have a car.

The business is going so well that Jacob invests in real estate with his two sisters Adele and Céline and rents them out. All family possessions are taken away during the occupation years. More houses were taken from other Jewish families in Breda. We discover this in the Verkaufsbücher, the administration of expropriations of Jewish property, which is managed by the National Archives in The Hague. Through post-war documents about the Jewish community of Breda, we know how to trace Martijn in the US. He now lives in San Diego and works as a professor at the University of California, where he has been addressed as ‘Martin’ for years.

Martijn does not find out exactly what happened to his family until the nineties. He tells us why and how he lives until then with all his questions. They pile up from October 1942, when he goes into hiding as a five-year-old.

“Just before my sister Rosa and I are taken to a hiding place, my mother puts me on the dining table. It’s a dark and rainy night. She expressly tells me to shut up. I must never reveal that I am a Jewish boy. Although I am, I have to forget about that for a while. And I do, more or less.”

Martijn says goodbye to his mother in the house of his grandfather’s brother at 42 Speelhuislaan, where they temporarily live. The bomb that the Germans dropped on Terheijdenstraat on Sunday 12 May 1940 destroyed their house. The actual target is the station around the corner, an important strategic point, but the bombers miss their target. Everything is gone, and no one is hurt. Breda was evacuated at that time because the mayor fears a fight between French and German soldiers in his city. However, the Germans advance so quickly that Breda is taken without too much resistance.

Because of that bomb, Martijn’s family lost all their belongings at the start of the war. Martin is then three years old. He is the youngest child of his father and mother, Jacob and Greet. He has two sisters, Elisabeth and Rosa, and a brother, Izaak. His grandmother Elisabeth is also part of the family.

“We move in with my grandfather’s brother right behind the station. On the wide sidewalk opposite the house, I learned to cycle with the boys from the street. And I remember one Friday night, the beginning of Shabbat. My two unmarried aunts Adele and Céline are visiting, as they often do. After dinner, we all sit together at the table and they talk about the situation. It is now war and it is very bad for us Jews. I don’t understand what they say. But after that, I don’t dare go into the hallway to go to the toilet. It’s dark, I think it’s too scary.”

“While we live there, my father has a new house built on the Mauritssingel. Another semi-detached house is in the centre. Our family is in one house number, where my father will also run his business, and my aunts in the other number, where they will start a boarding house. How my father did this in the middle of the war is not entirely clear. Because those ‘dirty dirty rotten Jews’ were not allowed to have a bank account. He must have had gold or a lot of cash. Anyway, the house came off. Once we went there with the whole family. And I remember well that there was a spiral staircase behind the house. This allowed you to go to the kitchen from the outside. Without having to enter the house. For the grocer, or anyone. I loved that so much. And that staircase, it is still there.”

The Haas family never lived in that house. During his search for what happened to his family, Martijn finds a handwritten letter dated 13 July 1942, from his father. In it, he writes to the municipality of Breda that he cannot declare the house completed because it is forbidden for him as a Jewish man to come there. It is an attempt to keep the house out of the hands of the occupier.

At that time, Jews had been banned from owning land and real estate for almost a year. The Dutch Property Administration registers Jewish property and outsources the expropriation and sale of Jewish properties to private individuals. In Breda, the ANBO does that, the abbreviation for General Dutch Property Management. NSB members lead this organization. In the Verkaufsbücher we see that nine properties of the Haas family have been expropriated, five of which are in the name of Martijn’s father and his two aunts Adele and Céline.

The homes at Bavelschelaan 112 and Rozenlaan 48 are the first to be listed as ‘provisionally sold’. That is in the summer of 1942. For 6,708.20 guilders C.v. Meant to buy both properties. This practically turns out to be a neighbour of the family. We see that this person is currently registered at the address Pastoor Pottersplein 39, two streets next to the Speelhuislaan where Martijn and his family live at that time.

It is also diagonally opposite another building of Martijn’s father: Pastoor Pottersplein 31. That house is also sold by the NSB members a few months later. Exactly the same is happening with the buildings at Prins Hendrikstraat 73 and Rozenlaan 40-42. The new owners pay no more than a few thousand guilders, a bargain

Around the same time as the expropriation of the houses, Martijn’s father is arrested. As a member of the Jewish Council of Breda, he managed to get a postponement a few times, but on September 29, 1942, that was no longer possible. He is forcibly taken to a Dutch labour camp in Doetinchem. Three days later, all men from the Dutch labour camps are transported to Westerbork. Martin’s father is there.

Martijn, his mother Greet Vleeschouwer-Haas, and his brother and sisters are also called up a few days later. They have to board the train to Westerbork on October 6 and will be reunited with their father there. However, his mother acts differently and thus changes the fate of Martijn and his sister Rosa.

“The evening before we were to be transported to Westerbork, Mrs Hees comes to our house. It is early evening, six o’clock, half past six. It’s raining and it’s dark. Mrs Hees wears a large black cape when she enters. My mother tells me that the two smallest children go with this lady. That’s me and my sister Rosa, whom I call Roosje. Two children could come along and the mother thought, ‘the smaller they are, the greater the chance that the surroundings of the hiding place will not get suspicious.’ And she was right about that.”

“We hide under Mrs Hees’s black cape and walk to the station together. There we take the train to Bergen op Zoom, about 40 kilometres from Breda. There is a lady waiting for my sister. Roosje goes with her to the Baars family, where she was supposed to stay. I continue with Mrs Hees to her house. It was then thought that we would only stay for a few months.”

“The first thing that needs to be done with the Hees family is choosing a name. I will be the seventh child in the family and will have a few options. I choose ‘Brother’, then a very common name. Because I’m blonde, I could easily pass for one of the Hees’ kids, but I don’t go to the same Catholic primary school. No matter how risky it is, Mrs Hees arranges a place for me at the public school in our street, the Coehoornstraat.”

“A heroic act, I later learned. Because I had no papers, my teacher had to be involved in the plot. And especially because Mrs Hees prevents Roosje and me from accidentally betraying ourselves when we meet in the schoolyard. She goes to a Catholic primary school.

Martijn leads a fairly normal life during the war. He learns to read, write and count, likes his teacher, and plays in front of the house of the Hees family with his friends. No one knows that he is a Jewish boy. He acts just like the rest. But at night it is different. Then Martijn can’t distract himself with schoolwork or focus on being a good boy. And he is overcome by loneliness, fear and uncertainty.

“I was still young, but to a certain extent, I knew what was going on. At night, in the dark attic where I sleep, I wonder how my family is doing. I’m very concerned. Where are they, what would happen to them? I cry as quietly as I can. I still carry that feeling with me. That is not going away.”

It will be years before Martijn gets answers to his questions. On the night he flees, his mother goes into hiding with Martijn’s sister Elisabeth and brother Izaak at a bakery in Princenhage, another part of Breda. His aunt, Rosa Vleeschouwer, goes with them. They are good there until the wave of betrayal in February and March 1943. The Sicherheitspolizei (SD) raids the bakery on 11 March 1943, at 11 a.m. His mother and his aunt just manage to get away with the children through the back door, but just before they reach the Bredase forest, the SD agents catch up with them.

The agents pick them up, interrogate them and take them to the detention house. They are then deported via Vught to Sobibor. Aunt Rosa is murdered there less than a month later. The same thing happened to Martijn’s mother, sister and brother a few weeks later. Elisabeth and Izaak are then 10 and 9 years old, Greet is 36. Martijn’s father has been deceased for two months. After Westerbork, he was transported to the labour camp in Auschwitz. He is 42 when he dies.

Before the end of 1943, Martijn has lost almost all of his relatives. Aunt Céline dies in the summer due to illness at her hiding place in Breda. And his aunt Adele dies a month and a half later in Auschwitz. His nephews, nieces and their families do not survive the war either. Martijn’s grandmother did not have to experience the worst part of the war, she died in the summer of 1940. She was already gone when the war really started. Martijn will only find out about all this much later.

Despite the fact that they are both in hiding in Bergen op Zoom, Martijn and Roosje do not see each other during the war. They do send each other letters, which the underground brings back and forth. “I also occasionally receive a letter from the underground itself. From a lady who made contact for my hiding place. She helped both my mother and Mrs Hees during and after the pregnancy and uses her network to help Jewish children. I always cry when I read her letter. And it doesn’t even say anything important, not even her real name.”

Bergen op Zoom is liberated on October 27, 1944.

The north of the country has to wait until after the hungry winter. On 5 May 1945, the whole country is free. Martijn then went into hiding with the Hees family for almost three years. It is waiting for a family member to pick him up.

“I dreamed, hallucinated, that my parents came to get me. Even when none of my family returned, it remained that way. Because no one told me what really happened to my family. That I and Roosje were entitled to the property that had been taken from us, all the homes that had been expropriated, was not my concern. I was too young and focused on catching up on my schoolwork. Meanwhile, I kept hoping that a mistake had been made. That one day my family suddenly walked into the street. That it was all a big misunderstanding.”

There appears to be an uncle on his mother’s side who also survived the war with his wife and two sons. His name is Dick Vleeschhouwer. Martijn goes to Amsterdam to become the third child in the family.

“They had also been in hiding, but the war was so terrible for them that they decided not to be Jews anymore. When I came to them, they were already Christian. They sent me to a strict Christian private school because they thought it was best. But for me, that was a very bad year. It did not work. They couldn’t handle having me, a deeply traumatized child, there.”

“I returned to the Hees family, but staying with them was not an option either. Mrs Hees wanted me to grow up as a Jewish boy, with my ‘own people’. I had to get a good education, also in my own religion. I shook that off then, remembering what my mother had impressed upon me just before I left. But Mrs Hees turned out to be the smartest of the two of us.”

A grandniece of his mother, Beppie Kogel, eventually finds Martijn. She and her husband Ben Oudkerk decide to adopt him. They do not have children of their own yet and would also like to take care of Roosje so that the brother and sister can grow up together. The hiding family Baars would like Roosje to stay with them. They already had her baptized during the war and she follows Catholic education just like their children. She’s already part of it. Roosje of her own accord stays with the family who saved her life.

Martijn goes to live with his foster parents in a small working-class house in Amsterdam. Every day he cycles about twenty minutes to his public primary school, the Nicolaas Maess School.

“All that time there are only two Jewish boys in the class, one of which is me. It is after the war, the late 1940s, but nothing seems to have changed. Sometimes when the teacher is not there, the boys from the class hit me. They threw me down and sat on me. I am eleven years old and I feel very well: the hatred against us Jews continues. As if nothing had happened.”

Not long after, Martijn’s life takes a different turn. His foster parents ask him what he thinks about moving to Israel. Going by an alias, like many other Jews. “That saved me. Something had to change. And this was a great turning point for me. My whole life promised to be different. We left on 6 March 1950, after my Bar Mitzvah, which was also our farewell party. We said goodbye to friends and some family and left. I was thirteen years old and very happy to go.”

They settle in the coastal town of Nahariya.

Martijn attends secondary school and then studies electrical engineering at university. He enjoys the lessons and life in a society that is starting up. This period shapes him into who he has become, he says. He performs his military service and while still in the army, he marries Yaira. Martijn meets her when she returns a book to his house with a mutual friend. He immediately falls head over heels for her. Like him, Yaira survived the war.

After his military service, Martijn and Yaira settle in Jerusalem. He works as an engineer at the Hebrew University and becomes interested in projects in medicine and biology. So much so that he wants to get his master’s degree in Biophysics. The University of California at Berkeley gives him the chance and ensures that the young couple move to the United States in 1964. Martin is not yet thirty.

“Israel also became an important place for my sister Roosje. She visited me several times during the years I lived there. Then we would walk along the boulevard with my friends and I would see her perk up. We had discussions about life, about good and evil. Fifteen years after my foster parents and I emigrated, she did the same. She married and had three children. Finally, she too could start her future.”

At the same time, the restoration of rights was in full swing in the Netherlands during those years. From August 1945, the Council for the Restoration of Rights has been committed to returning property wrongly seized by the German occupier to its rightful owners. It is the legal procedure that for minor orphans, the court assigns an administrator to handle this. Martijn cannot remember how this went for Roosje and him. But he knows how it ended. In his personal archive, he has a statement from notary Drion from Breda with the division of their inheritance.

“My family’s houses were returned to me and Roosje after the war. Almost all houses and apartments went to Roosje, but the Mauritssingel 6-7 was for me. That house was a dream. We would all live there. I wanted to keep it and decided to rent it out. That this was taken from us before is bad, but not nearly as serious as what happened to my whole family. I still find it incomprehensible that only I, Roosje, an uncle and an aunt of the family were left. Why did this happen to us? And why did so many Dutch people join Hitler? In receiving the inheritance, I actually had proof that my family had been killed during the war. But believe it, I still didn’t. And accepting history happened much later.”

Martijn and Yaira have three children in the US: Daphne, Daniel and Ariel. After Berkeley, San Diego follows, where Martijn is doing his postgraduate. “Academia gives me a goal, a clear guideline, in my life. And with that many happy years. It made it clear to me what I do, and what I contribute to in life. It’s also a great environment to be in, very progressive. I have always had the pleasure of working with very nice people.”

“Now I’m retired, but I still go to my lab every day to research a cure for prostate cancer. I want to keep doing good, the morality of Judaism. In my case, that’s trying to make a lot of people better. That is what faith brought me.”

For most of his life, Martijn does not want to talk about the war. He can’t stand anyone bringing it up and wants nothing to do with it. Because it won’t bring his family back anyway. In the meantime, he has health problems that general practitioners cannot explain. Later it turns out that they are caused by a specific stress syndrome that Holocaust survivors in particular suffer from.

It was not until the nineties, when he was in his sixties, that he started his search. The reason for this is a call from the Red Cross in which the organization offers next of kin to find out the details of the death of family members. He registers and when Martijn receives the letter with the research result, he sees it for the first time: the dates of death and the extermination camps where they were murdered. Proof that his family is a victim of the Holocaust. In the years that follow, Martijn conducts follow-up research himself. He also travels to the Netherlands a few times for it. It is becoming increasingly clear how it all happened. But the acceptance is not there yet. The 2009 trial of John Demjanjuk, a camp guard at Sobibor Extermination Camp, changes that.

“That process has been very good for me. I was asked to be one of 22 accusers. This was a guard in the camp where my mother, sister, brother and aunt were killed. I didn’t have to think about it. I had to represent their voice, that’s how it felt.”

“During that process, I finally discovered the truth. The way the lawyers discussed the facts, so seriously, made me face it. It really happened. I just never could comprehend it before. During the process, I also met people who had experienced exactly the same thing and in whom I recognized a lot of myself. The trauma never goes away, but you can learn to forget it once in a while. To surround the feeling and not give up, but try to achieve something. Some are like brothers, we have that much in common. We still write to each other every New Year.”

“It is now history for me, but in some situations, it comes up again. After the trial, I also regularly went to the Netherlands. On my own, to do further research, but also with my children and grandchildren. I showed them everything: the Speelhuislaan with the wide sidewalk, the ‘dream house’ on the Mauritssingel with the spiral staircase that I never actually lived in myself. I had to sell it to buy a house for our family in San Diego. We also visited my grandparents’ tombstones at the Jewish cemetery in Oosterhout. Breda never had a Jewish cemetery itself. I wanted to show it to them all because it’s their history too. We all come from somewhere.”

Martijn will never live in the country where he was born. “Not everyone will agree with me, but there is no place for Jews in the Netherlands. The Jewish community there never really got the chance to grow. There is still anti-semitism. I have even heard such views from the grandson of the Hees family, the family that took me in at the risk of their own lives. Which he told in my presence. I can’t reach that with my head. He has never seen a Jew, except me. And he’s such a nice boy. After all these years I still don’t understand where this hatred against us comes from. I’m actually a nice person myself. I don’t get it, why?”

“My sister Roosje suffered a lot, a lot, more than I did in that respect. As a young Jewish girl, hiding among Catholics, she was often told that her people are evil and that she would have killed God. This had a major impact on her life. The doubt that this could be true has never gone away.”


Ashes in Auschwitz

Although the title is Ashes in Auschwitz, it is more about the aftermath of the Holocaust, and I use it more as a metaphor. It is not that well-known that Auschwitz had about 40 sub-camps connected.

This piece is about those who were left behind and had to, and sometimes still do, deal with the aftermath of the horrors. Often, only the ashes of their beloved ones remained.

There was a decision to make—with only two options— “Will I remain a victim or a survivor?” Only they could make that choice. It was and always will be their entitlement, and no one else’s opinion matters. There is no wrong or right to these choices, just a mechanism of how to choose to cope.

There were other questions to answer as, “Do I forgive?” It is their prerogative, and no one should ever tell them if they should/shouldn’t because others didn’t live through it or had been subjected to this unspeakable evil.

“Should I forget?”—another choice which is only theirs. I can fully understand wanting to forget, but I can also appreciate why people choose to remember.

Some other choices they found taken from them were on their journey home. Some found upon their arrival home that it was no longer theirs. The same bureaucratic machine that had looked away when they were in the camps now stopped them from reclaiming their belongings—an entitlement robbed from them.

Today, in 2023, the few still alive have listened to ignorant reporting that spreads lies that it never happened or told it wasn’t as bad as they say it was. Even educators say, “These stories are no longer to be shared and leave the past in the past.”

They say, “Let the ashes of Auschwitz settle.”

As Long as a Name is Mentioned, Someone is Not Forgotten

“As long as a name is mentioned, someone is not forgotten,” meaning if you mention the name of one person, that person is remembered. I know it sounds quite obvious, but when you think about it for a minute, it is the essential first step to ensure that the Holocaust will not happen again.

I will be mentioning more than one name, I will be mentioning all the names of the Jews of Heerlen who were murdered in the Holocaust. To give a context to it, Heerlen is a city in the province of Limburg in the Netherlands. It is only a stone’s throw away from Germany, and it is also very near to my home town of Geleen. I would have often visited Heerlen. I also have family living there.

On 5 May 1998, a monument was revealed in Heerlen to remember all the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, who were from Heerlen or who had lived there.

The text on the monument says


The names.



(It appears the Weiss family all escaped Germany and settled in Heerlen before the war, they thought they were safe, but all of them were murdered)


Let them always be remembered.


Remembering Berthold Mendel Judenfreund

Who is Berthold Mendel Judenfreund? He was just a farm labourer, not a man of violence or a criminal, just a farm labourer.

On April 10, 1943, 25 years before I was born, the Nazis murdered him at Auschwitz.

What makes his story so sad is that he could have survived.

His nephew said the following about Berthold Mendel Judenfreund:

“My father emigrated from Nazi Germany to the United States in 1939, shortly after Kristallnacht. He grew up in a Jewish orphanage in Frankfurt with his younger brother, Berthold. My father, Georg, was five when taken to the orphanage. His brother was three. After completing Gymnasium in 1933, my father went to the only Jewish Teacher Seminary still operating in Nazi Germany. After spending a couple of years teaching in a Jewish Day School, my father came to the United States and enrolled as an undergraduate at Yeshiva University. His brother chose to remain behind in Germany, becoming a Youth Aliyah Hachsharah training-camp director in Nazi-occupied Holland. In 1943, the Gestapo closed the camp and deported Berthold to Auschwitz.”

He was 27 when he was murdered.


How Ruben Baer Saved His Mother’s Life

It is quite hard to describe this story because it is a tragedy and a miracle at the same time.

It isn’t clear when baby Ruben was born, some sources say he was born on 6 April 1943, while other sources say it was 9 April 1943. On his grave’s headstone, it says 9 April. The one thing we do know for certain is that he only lived for 4 days. However, most sources give April 9th as the date of birth.

Ruben Simon Hendrik Baer (aka Ruben Sally Hendrik Baer), was born on 9 April 1943. He did not grow old died four days later, on 13 April.

He was the son of the Jewish couple Leo Baer and Flora Baer-Salomon. They fled Germany after the rise of Hitler and settled in Roermond, the Netherlands, at the end of 1939.

Ruben’s brother Rolf Helmut Baer and his father Leo Baer were summoned to report on 9 April 1943, and then deported to Westerbork. From there Rolf and his father were deported to Auschwitz, where they were gassed on 26 October 1944.

His mother Flora Baer-Salomon was, at the time of their deportation, in the Laurentius Hospital in Roermond, to give birth to her son Ruben Sally Hendrik he died four days after birth.

His early death indicates that little Ruben may have been born too early. That seems to have saved his mother’s life.

Although Flora Baer lost her baby, she remained alive. Hospital staff kept Flora out of the hands of the Germans by taking her to a hiding place in the nearby village of Wessem. She was safe with the Van Rosendaal family until an NSB (Dutch Nazi party) member gave the address to the Germans in 1944.

On 8 August 1944, around 11 a.m., the German Sicherheitsdienst raided the house in Wessem. There was a pounding on the front door, after which Mrs Rosendaal opened the door and saw that the house was surrounded by German soldiers with rifles and machine guns at the ready. An NSB member from Roermond, named Gerrit Holla, was also involved in the robbery, he had forcefully entered through the back door and ran through the house with a gun drawn in his hand. Mother Rosendaal, her daughter Ria and Flora Baer-Salomon were present in the kitchen, among others. Mrs Rosendaal was then interrogated by Holla and a German officer in a brutal manner and at gunpoint. During this penetrating interrogation, she continued to deny that any other Jewish people in hiding were housed in the building. Flora Baer-Salomon was arrested on 17 August 1944, together with the Roermond couple Herz-Löb, who also stayed at this hiding place. She was then transferred to Westerbork and deported to Theresienstadt on 4 September 1944. Her husband and her son were there too at that time. However, she survived the hardships suffered and, after the liberation, returned nearly emaciated to her ‘Mietchen’, as she called Mrs Rosendaal.

In 1947 she moved to her mother in New York where she married Siegfried Schild on 11 December 1948, and died in March 1987. Whether Flora saw her husband and son Rolf in Theresienstadt is not known.