The Return of a Hero

Sometimes, because of my criticism of my fellow Dutchmen and women, I do forget that there were a great number of heroes too. Men and women who risked their lives to speak out against the Nazi regime and help others in need. The last few days, I have tried to get a bit of a balance. This post is about another one of those heroes.

Dean Jozef Teulings was already negative about National Socialism in the 1930s, and he remained so during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. In his sermons, he advised his parishioners to try to get out of compulsory labour. On 22 April 1942, Teulings was arrested by the SD because he had taken propaganda posters for the Youth Storm, the Dutch equivalent of the Hitler Youth, off the wall of a school.

The arrest was photographed from the window of the rectory

On 28 April 1942, the Sicherheitsdienst arrested Teulings. He was sent to Dachau Concentration Camp and imprisoned for three years. In the camp, he celebrated his twenty-fifth year of priesthood in the presence of a large audience of other interned priests.

In August 1944, his Nijmegen parish received the last sign of life.

After the liberation, on 5 May 1945, Chaplain Schellekens, Chaplain Wim van Helden and border guard officer Van der Krabben decided to travel to Dachau to see if they could find Dean Teulings and also Rector Rooyackers from Den Bosch. They arranged for a car, papers, materials and petrol and arrived in Dachau after the two-day journey.

The Allies did not allow them entrance to the camp because of typhus. The next day they manage to enter. They came across a French priest who told them he had seen Dean Teulings that morning. They also meet a Dutch resistance fighter named Pim Boellaard.

When they pass Barrack 20, to their amazement, they encountered—a seriously weakened but still mentally strong—Dean Teulings, who they manage to smuggle out with a ruse, together with Pim Boellard and Rector Rooyackers. On Sunday, 13 May 1945, around seven o’clock in the evening, the message arrived in Nijmegen that Dean had returned to town.

He was welcomed home festively in his church on Groenestraat in the Hazenkamp district of Nijmegen. Still wearing his prison uniform, he climbed onto the pulpit and addressed the parishioners.


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.


Singling Out the Dutch Jews

On 29 April 29, 1942, the Nazis announced a new law to further humiliate the Dutch Jews. From 3 May, they had to wear an identification mark—a six-pointed yellow Star of David with the word Jood [Jew] in its centre. The star made it possible to recognize people as Jews on the street. The Nazis wanted to further isolate and single out Jews from the non-Jewish Dutch. Failure to wear the star was severely penalized. Non-compliance could lead to being sent to a concentration camp.

The majority of the Dutch Jews considered themselves primarily Dutch, and only secondarily Jewish, Judaism was their religion, other than that they were Dutch.

The Jewish Council was instructed to distribute the stars among the Dutch Jews within three days. They were obliged to buy four stars per person for four cents each and were also to be worn by children aged six years and up. A total of 569,355 Stars of David were distributed. In today’s terms that means that the Nazis would have earned $218,969, and this is only in the Netherlands, you can multiply this roughly by anywhere between 50-80 or so across the rest of Europe. That’s just my estimate based on the amount of Jews living in Europe at the time.

Singling out Jews wasn’t something new in Europe. In medieval Europe, the Fourth Lateran Council under Pope Innocent III of 1215 decreed that Jews and Saracens should wear distinctive clothing. Its implementation was left to the local authorities. This was not immediately adhered to everywhere, however, in the following forty years, the position was repeated 29 times by popes and councils. This had a clear effect and as early as 1218 Henry III of England decreed that Jews had to wear a sign, while from 1221 Frederick II in Sicily had ordered them to wear a blue sign. Similar measures were also announced in the rest of Europe, although it would take until 1270 before the Jewish hat was made compulsory in the Holy Roman Empire. Over time, it became not only a sign of distinction but also of inferiority.

After the new law in May 1942, some Jews wore the star with pride, others experience it as a humiliation.

The brothers Abraham and Hartog Benjamins wear the Star of David. Woudrichem, 1942

The new measure is also causing a stir among non-Jewish Dutch people. Some people protest by wearing a self-made star with Catholic or Aryan. Others greeted Jews in the street or gave up their seats on the tram. After a while the outrage subsides and the gap between Jews and non-Jews grows.

They were made by the Enschede textile factory De Nijverheid. This Jewish family business, as it was then, worked under an Aryan Verwalter, a non-Jewish agent, in this case, a German. Incidentally, the origin of the stars only came to light in 1997, during an investigation set up by the Jewish Historical Museum. They were previously assumed to have been produced in Poland.


On Sunday, 3 May, it became clear that the Nazis had gotten their way. Checking compliance was easy, after all, Jews had the J stamp on their identity card. Some Jews wore the star ‘with pride’. Others joked about it; the Jodenbreestraat in Amsterdam was briefly called the Milky Way because of all those stars.

On 1 May (Labour Day) 1942, the group around the revolutionary, socialist resistance newspaper De Vonk carried out a daring protest in Amsterdam, they distributed 300,000 notes bearing a star and the text Jew and non-Jew in battle!

A lot of those notes were dropped from the Bijenkorf (department store) building onto the Damrak.

In the beginning, to the anger of Nazi supporters, there were quite a few expressions of sympathy for the Jews. In Deventer, for example, on Monday morning, 4 May 1942, large groups of students came to school with counterfeit Stars of David on their clothing. Twenty students from the Agricultural School were arrested; they then spent two weeks in concentration camp Amersfoort, where they emerged emaciated and exhausted.

A female diarist from the province of Gelderland, noted on Sunday, 3 May 1942:
“Joop entered the church this morning with a so-called Star of David. I was afraid that there was too much at stake. Will go to jail if necessary for my conviction…If everyone did it, it could make an impression, but there are few. In the evening he already told me that he had taken off that star in the afternoon because a granddaughter of Dr Lugtenburg had already been arrested for it. It’s hard to know what to do.”


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.”


Pastor Abraham Rutger Rutgers—Forgotten Hero

I do despair at times when I see how many of my fellow Dutch citizens, were so willing to help the Nazi regime. I know it is easy for me to judge because I was never put in a similar situation. But it is still a puzzle to me that a nation known for its tolerance had so many intolerant citizens.

However, there were also a great number of Dutch men and women who did defy the Nazi occupiers and paid for it with their lives, Pastor Abraham Rutger Rutgers was one of them.

Abraham worked successively as assistant pastor in Düsseldorf in the period 1908-1909. Works as a minister in Tubbergen from 1910, in Lochem 1914-1919, followed by an honourable emeritus status of two years. Later, he worked as a preacher in Usselo in 1921 and Rotterdam during the period from 1932 to 1942. Already his work as a reformed assistant preacher in Düsseldorf (1908-1909), Abraham turned out to have a militant character. His actions against the injustice that some Dutch workers suffered there resulted in his expulsion from Germany. At an early age, Abraham was a convinced anti-militarist, but after a visit to Spain in 1938, he returned to his anti-militarist convictions. As early as 1933, he protested – with other theologians – against the persecution of the Jews in Germany. After the German invasion in May 1940, he fiercely and fearlessly denounced all the injustices of the occupiers from the pulpit. He considered himself called, there and in his catechism, to speak without any restriction and did so. He called Germany a purely imperialist power and Seyss-Inquart a traitor.

Arthur Seyss-Inquart, Reich Commissioner for the Netherlands

On Sunday, September 1, 1940, the day after Queen’s Day, he held a formal Orange (Dutch Royal family are the House of Orange) service, where the entire municipality under his leadership sang the Dutch National anthem with open doors. Fortunately, it ended well. After being called to account several times by the Sicherheitsdienst was arrested on Wednesday, 11 June 1941, after his sermon of Sunday, June 1, 1941 (Whit Monday), and after interrogation in the Oranjehotel in Scheveningen. It was a difficult time for him there. The loneliness, the and uncertainty, the powerlessness drove him to despair. It was only after almost three months that his wife was allowed to visit him for the first time. He stood behind bars like a predator in his cage and burst into tears when he saw his wife, Josephine. Fellow prisoners said that he was of great support to them. After four months of solitary confinement in Scheveningen, he was transferred to camp Amersfoort on Tuesday, October 28, 1941. In Amersfoort, he preached clandestinely on two Sundays. After 14 days, Abraham went to the Dachau Concentration Camp, where he arrived on Friday, 28 November 1941.

On 2 April 1942, they tortured him to death in Dachau.

His resistance wasn’t by using violence or weapons but by using words, uttering his opinion. His words were deemed offensive, even offensive enough to be tortured to death. Let this be a warning.


Remembering Two Dutch Heroes

An estimated 1,800 Dutch citizens attempted to escape to England during World War II. The majority chose to travel via neighbouring countries, while a minority went straight across the North Sea. Many different vessels were used and at least 204 people made the crossing successfully. Most of the attempts were made in 1941 when the Dutch coast was still somewhat accessible. One crossing from Scheveningen was undertaken on 16 March 1941: seven young fishermen from Scheveningen journeyed to England on the shrimp barge Anna KW 96. All of them subsequently enlisted in the Royal Netherlands Navy and survived the war. Four Engelandvaarders (Erik Hazelhoff Roelfzema-aka Soldier of Orange, Chris Krediet, Peter Tazalaar and Bob van der Stok) started Contact Holland as a way of improving contact between London and the Dutch resistance. Reliable radio communications were crucial. Dutchmen who had previously ventured across the North Sea as Engelandvaarders were trained as secret agents, ready to return to the Netherlands armed with instructions and Morse code equipment. These secret agents then had to be dropped off on the coast of Scheveningen along with radio gear. Hazelhoff Roelfzema, Krediet and Tazelaar carried out two landings off the coast of Scheveningen during the winter of 1941-42. A number of agents were arrested in the spring of 1942; Anton van der Waals, the most significant Dutch traitor in World War Two, played an important role in this. The Allied secret agents were captured and forced to continue to communicate with England through messages written by the Germans. This was the start of the Englandspiel. Not realising that the agents were sending their messages while in the enemy’s clutches, the British continued sending secret agents to the continent. Upon arrival in the Netherlands, they were immediately captured by the Germans. At the end of the war, most of the secret agents were deported from the Netherlands; 54 did not survive the Englandspiel.

Two of these men were captured respectively 80 and 81 years ago today on 9 March 1942 and 9 March 1943.

Thijs Taconis born in Rotterdam, on 28 March 28, 1914—Mauthausen, was a secret agent with the Special Operations Executive (SOE) during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. On 15 May 1940, he arrived in England on a fishing boat. In January 1941 he travelled to Canada to enlist. On his return to England, he started his training with the SOE on 28 May 1941. After he was parachuted into the Netherlands on 7 November 1941, he was arrested on 9 March 1942. He was deported to Mauthausen via internment in Kamp Haaren. Here he was executed on 6 September 1944.

Pieter Arnoldus Arendse,

Born: 14 February 1912 The Hague. Dutch agent of the SOE/Plan-Holland. Parachuted into the South of Ermelo and was arrested the same day 9 March 1943. He was executed on 6 or 7 September 1944, in Mauthausen.

The aforementioned Antonius van der Waals (Rotterdam, 11 October was a traitor and a spy for the German Sicherheitsdienst (SD). He played a leading role in the Englandspiel, in which at least 83 resistance members were arrested, thanks to him. After the war, he was sentenced to death for this betrayal. Van der Waals was executed on 26 January 1950 on the Waalsdorpervlakte.


Heroes of the February Strike

The news of the 22 February 1941 raid of 427 Amsterdam Jews made a deep impression on the Amsterdam population. Out of solidarity with fellow-Jewish citizens and resentment of the Nazis’ actions in the capitol, a general strike, was announced for 25 February 1941.

The call, which came from several members of the illegally operating Communist Party of the Netherlands (CPN), was spontaneously and massively heard. The strike spread to the Zaanstreek, Haarlem, Weesp, Hilversum and Utrecht.

The February Strike was the most extensive, open mass protest against the persecution of Jews in Europe. In total, at least 4,400 civil servants and work men from the municipality of Amsterdam took to the streets on 25-26 February in solidarity with the persecuted Jews in their city. The trams were standing still, and municipal services were not working. The strike spread to surrounding towns and other parts of the country, but then violence erupted from the Nazis.

Wille, Kraan

Willem Kraan worked in the Amsterdam Municipal Street Building Department, and his friend Piet Nak, who worked for the Sanitation Department, were active members of the Communist Party. On Sunday, 23 February 1941, they initiated a strike in protest against the Germans for the inhuman manner they treated the Jews. They approached as many working people as possible and asked them to strike on behalf of the Jews. The strike did not come off immediately. However, on a Monday evening, Piet made an inspiring speech at the Noordermarkt, and the next day all the services in Amsterdam and some in the neighbouring towns went on strike. It was the first time that non-Jews openly showed their concern for the plight of the Jews. The strike lasted two days before being put down by the Germans. Following the strike, the Germans made a supreme effort to apprehend the organizers, but their identities were never discovered. After a while, Piet was caught in connection with other illegal activities and brutally mistreated. Piet did not break, and when the Germans finally let him go he went temporarily into hiding. On 15 November 1941, Piet, Willem, and their friends were caught. Willem and 17 others were executed, but Piet was released and once again went into hiding. In May 1943, he was arrested and jailed for the third time. In June, he was freed, once again. However, the Germans had treated him so brutally that he was declared unfit for work and could never again hold a regular job. After the war, a bust of Willem Kraan was placed in a street that bore his name. On 31 May 1966, Yad Vashem recognized Wilhelmus Johannes Kraan and Piet Nak as Righteous Among the Nations.

Piet Nak

After the war, Piet Nak started a career as a magician and illusionist under the stage name Pietro Nakaro, also known as Nakaro the Magician. He also remained politically active and was involved in the establishment of the Amsterdam Vietnam Committee (later the Vietnam National Committee) and the Dutch Palestine Committee. In the 1950s, it came to a break with the Communist Party of the Netherlands, which, in his opinion, used the annual commemoration of the February strike for its political gain.

Eduard Carel Frederik Hellendoorn was a painter and Dutch resistance fighter. He was born on 29 November 1912 in Amsterdam. He studied the Koninklijke Academie van Beeldende Kunsten (Den Haag) (Royal Academy of Art, The Hague). In 1931 Hellendoorn married Johanna Maria Drayton Lee, with whom he had three children. The couple divorced in 1939. The 1939 exhibition at Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum included Hellendoorn’s Onze Kunst van Heden (Our Art of Today).

In 1940 Hellendoorn joined the communist artists’ resistance. In 1941 he took part in the February strike. Subsequently, he was arrested and imprisoned in the Oranjehotel in Scheveningen Hellendoorn and executed on 13 March 1941 at Waalsdorpervlakte.

These were just a few of the heroes of the February strike. They make me proud to be a Dutchman.


February Raids Amsterdam

On 19 February 1941, the German Grüne Polizei stormed into the Koco ice cream salon in the Van Woustraat. In the fight that ensued, several police officers were wounded. The Nazi authorities did not put up with the attack on their police officers. To put an end to the unrest, they decided to hold a raid the weekend of 22 and 23 February. Revenge for that and other fights came and a large-scale pogrom was undertaken by the Germans. 425 Jewish men, ages 20–35 were taken hostage and imprisoned in Kamp Schoorl and eventually sent to the Buchenwald and Mauthausen concentration camps.

The February raids were only a prelude to much worse to come. These men were only the first of some 102,000 Jews from the Netherlands murdered during the Holocaust, a figure that represents 75 per cent of the Dutch Jewish population. Himmler, Seyss-Inquart and Rauter decided to set an example: the first raid on Jews became a fact. On Saturday afternoon, 22 February 1941, a column of German trucks appeared near Waterlooplein. The area was cordoned off, and men were seized in Amsterdam. February 1941 were the first Nazi raid on Jews in Western Europe.

Something that recently became known is that most of the Dutch prisoners, were taken to the Hartheim gas chamber for killing. Their families received false causes of death. Assumptions surfaced that the men had died of lead poisoning in the mines.

Historian Wally de Lang reported 108 murders at Hartheim Castle, a nearby Mauthausen Concentration Camp. Hartheim was also one of the T4 euthanasia centres.

Wally de Lang made it her mission in 2017 to discover the fates of each and every one of the men taken that day. “It was impossible for me to comprehend that 400 people of this town just disappeared without anyone knowing who they were,” said de Lang, who has spent several decades writing about Jewish history in the Netherlands.

The owners of the Koco Ice Cream Parlour were severely punished. Ernst Cahn was executed by the Nazis on the Waalsdorpervlakte, in the dunes near The Hague, on 3 March 1941. Alfred Kohn died in Auschwitz.

The arrests and brutal treatment shocked the population of Amsterdam. To respond, Communist activists organized a general strike on 25 February and were joined by many other worker organizations. Major factories, the transportation system, and most public services came to a standstill. After three days, the Germans brutally suppressed the strike, crippling the Dutch resistance organization.

The February strike was considered the first public protest against the Nazis in occupied Europe and the only mass protest against the deportation of Jews to be organized by non-Jews.