It is just a photo of a soldier with his family. One could easily dismiss this photograph as someone’s memory. A father who loved to smoke, a mother all dressed up and two well-dressed children—a boy and a girl.
This photo could have easily been a picture of my grandfather with his family. Like the man in the picture, my grandfather had something in common. The man pictured is Philip Silbernberg, and it was 1939. The year the Dutch army was mobilized for fear of war. My grandfather was sent his notification to report that year, as well.
War did come to the Netherlands on 10 May 1940 as German troops invaded the Netherlands. The fighting continued for four days, and on 14 May, the Dutch army capitulated.
In a way, Philip and my grandfather may have been relieved that the fighting only lasted four days. They realised things would change. The Germans set up a new government, a Nazi regime composed of German and Dutch members. But in general, things would not change all that much, and for a short time, that held true.
On 12 May 1942, there was a notification in the newspaper, Het dagblad van het Zuiden!, the daily newspaper of the south, that all men who served in the Dutch army on 10 May 1940, the day the Germans invaded the Netherlands, and who were 55 or younger, had to report to the occupying authorities by 15 May 1942. It had been the second notification.
On that same day, 12 May, my grandfather died. For years, I thought he was executed, but now I believe there is a possibility he committed suicide.
I do not know if Philip Silbernberg saw that notification, but he probably did because he lived in the same area as my grandfather, only a short cycle distance away. Philip’s outcome was completely different.
Philip was born in Ophoven-Sittard. His father owned a shop in draperies and colonial goods there since 1890 and later it was known for men’s fashions. His father died in 1934. Philip and his brother Les took over the family business in 1929.
In August 1929, Philip married Jenetta (Jettie) van der Stam from Rotterdam. They settled in Sittard, where their daughter Roosje was born in 1930, and their son, Herman, was born in 1934. Les married in 1937 and started his own shop in Geleen, my hometown, while Philip continued the family business.
Mother Rosalie, affectionately called den Engel, (The Angel), moved in 1939 with daughter Else and her family to Nieuwer-Amstel near Amsterdam. She passed away in November 1941.
In the spring of 1939, Rosalie’s brother Albert and his wife Hedwig Schwarz-Wihl emigrated from Dortmund to the Netherlands. Upon their arrival, they moved in with Philip’s family.
When the Nazis forced the Jews to wear the yellow star, Philip purposely went to the city photographer, Wulms in Sittard, to be photographed in his suit with the Star of David. He told his son, Herman, “Boy…you should be proud of it.”
In August 1942, the Silbernbergs escaped the first major deportation round in Limburg because Philip had recently registered as an employee of the Jewish Council. Nevertheless, Philip and Jettie decided to have their children go into hiding in Heerlen, and in October, they went into hiding. Philip’s brother in Geleen, and his sisters in Amsterdam and Nieuwer-Amstel, also went into hiding with their families.
The mayor of Sittard issued an arrest warrant for Philip and his wife to have them detained for trial. There was also a request for the location of the two Silbernbergs children. The charge— they changed their residence on 20 October 1942 without having the required authorization. This description referred to Jews who had gone into hiding.
Betrayed when hiding in Heerlen on 6 March 1944, they were arrested and deported from Westerbork to Auschwitz on 23 March. The exact date their murdered is not known. The camp wrote it as 31 August 1944.
The two children had escaped to Belgium and were in hiding until the end of the war. After the war, they were taken care of by Nathan and Else Wijnperle-Silbernberg.
The more I do research on the victims, the more I realise, it could have easily been my family. Sittard used to be the neighbouring town of my hometown Geleen, but in 2001 the two towns merged together and are now known as the city of Sittard-Geleen.
A few weeks ago, a grandson of Philip sent me a few more pictures:
Philip and Jenetta’s honeymoon in Bruxelles.
Philip’s brother Les (Isidore) with his wife, Greta and the children of Philip and Jenetta—Herman and Roos. (This photo, we think, was taken in Liège at the end of the war.)
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