The forgotten Kindertransport.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The German shepherds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

sources

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

The prayer book that survived Theresienstadt

I am probably the most a-technical person on the planet. Fixing things is just something I am not equipped to do, that’s why I admire people that can repair things. I love a show on the BBC called the Repair Shop. It is a British television show that aired on BBC Two for series 1 to 3 and on BBC One for series 4 onwards, in which family heirlooms are restored for their owners by numerous experts with a broad range of specialisms.

Last night they had Gary Fisher as a guest who brought in the prayer book he inherited from his grandparents Emanuel and Gisela Fisher.

They had been unable to leave Austria after it was annexed by Germany in 1938 and were eventually sent to Theresienstadt concentration camp. They had been able to put their son, Gary’s father Harry, on the Kindertransport to England. Though many of Gary’s family didn’t survive the camps, at the end of the war Emanuel and Gisela were liberated along with the book. Signed by many of the camp’s other residents, it’s an important record of the era and a treasured family possession.

The book was in some disrepair when it was first brought to Jay Blades and his team at The Repair Shop, with the pages falling apart and faded and torn in some places. Repair Shop’s book binder Chris Shaw was tasked with fixing the item, brought in by Gary Fisher.

“My grandparents, they were in a concentration camp and they never knew when their time was going to be up, but they had their religion, they had their faith and that must have been a real comfort to them to never give up,” said Gary.

In 1942, Emanuel and Gisela Fisher and other family members were taken to Theresienstadt concentration camp in Czechoslovakia . Gary Fisher explained that Theresienstadt was a “show” camp, often shown to foreigners as proof of fair treatment of Jewish people. Because of this, his grandparents were allowed to keep the prayer book with them rather than have it confiscated, as would have happened in other concentration camps.

But it was only a mile and a half up the road where people were murdered in a gas chamber, like there were in many other Nazi death camps. Mr. Fischer was clearly very emotional and his eyes filled as he described how his great-grandparents, his grandfather’s sister and a 10-year-old nephew were all murdered in the gas chamber. “My grandparents were very lucky,” he added.

Mr. Fisher wanted to get the book fixed so it could be shared in a proper place for others to see it too. While at the camp, Mr. Fischer’s grandfather wrote a poem and drew a picture of the Jewish star hidden behind a drawing of the camp. He read the poem to the experts at The Repair Shop, stopping halfway as emotion got to him.

Below is an extract of the poem read by Mr Fischer that his grandfather wrote in his treasured prayer book, translated into English:

” Do you know we were also there,

We stood together through summer and winter,

Bind our arms and legs together and ease the pain of sleepless hours,

And soon a new day will come when we will part from one another,

But you will be prepared for when we see each other again,

And on that day we will all be free from tyranny.”

Bookbinder Shaw got to work fixing the book. He was clearly nervous because it was such an important book, Shaw said it was the most important book he ever repaired. When the final reveal was made, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Mr Fischer said, ahead of the unveiling: “I feel like my grandparents are here with me.” Once the beautiful, renewed cover was revealed, Mr. Fischer broke down in tears. “Welcome back,” he said, adding, “It’s amazing – it’s just a complete work of art.”

Uniquely, the prayer book was signed by the other survivors who were liberated at the same time, with over fifty signatures immortalised in the book’s pages,including a German phrase from one prisoner: ” So it’s finally over.”

It is stories like this that indicate that the Holocaust is still near to so many people, and will be for years to come. It is still living history for many.

sources.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m0017g52/the-repair-shop-series-10-episode-2

https://www.hellomagazine.com/film/20220519140673/the-repair-shop-viewers-sobbing-emotional-guest-fix/

https://www.geni.com/people/Emanuel-Fischer/6000000080814212826

https://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/uk-news/bbc-repair-shop-viewers-applaud-23999510

Remembering Josef Strauss

This is not the famous composer Joseph Strauss as a young man. This is actually another young man called Josef Strauss. Technically he never became a man because he was murdered in Auschwitz on August 17,1942. He was aged 17.

Unlike his famous name bearer there is very little known about Josef, yet from the little data we have a picture can be painted about his life.

He was born October 6 1924 in Darmstadt, Germany. His mother was Helene Rothschild. his father was Henry Strauss.

His mother’s birth date was August 6,1891. His father’s birth date was December 20,1875.

Josef was a refugee from Germany: he arrived in the Netherlands on December 7th, 1938. First he stayed in the quarantine facility in Amsterdam, in December 1938 he went to live in Arnhem (Huize Sonsbeek), and from there in February 1940 to Wieringen.

Notes upon arrival in the Netherlands:
Parents on their way to Rhodesia. Will probably go with Kindertransport to USA.

He was only 14 when he arrived in the Netherlands.

He had either a cousin or uncle, but I assume cousin because of a different surname, there is no difference in the Dutch language for cousin or nephew. However. lets assume it was a cousin, his name was Paul Schirling. There is only one reference I can find on Paul, on a site I often use for research. He was also murdered in Auschwitz on March 31.1944.

On July 20,1939 Paul sent a request to the Dutch ministry of internal affairs, asking if his cousin Josef Strauss, could holiday with him for 2 weeks. The request was approved on July 29,1939.

On 27 February 1940, Josef was sent to Werkdorp Wieringen, Nieuwesluizerweg 42, Slootdorp (Wieringen), this was set up for young German Jews to learn a trade before emigration. The werkdorp was officially opened on October 3, 1934.

On May 22,1942 Josef was sent to Amsterdam

From there he was sent to Auschwitz, presumably via Westerbork, where he was murdered on August 17,1942.

Josef was sent away as a refugee by his parents, because an evil regime had taken power in their country. I am a parent, and one of my sons is traveling abroad soon, not as a refugee but as a student and to the country where I was born. Despite that I am having panic attacks, I can only imagine what Josef parents went through.

sources

https://www.joodsmonument.nl/nl/page/226300/josef-strauss

Heinz Sommerfeld-Transport Ek no. 1458 (28. 09. 1944, Terezín -> Auschwitz)

Heinz

Around this time of year many 17 year old kids are getting ready for school exams. And although they may think it is unfair that they have to sit for hours and hours, to do their exams(I know I thought it was unfair). They don’t actually realize how lucky they are.

Education, even though it is a basic human right.it is not a certainty and it should be seen as a privilege when it is given to you.

I am sure Heinz Sommerfeld would have loved to have done his exams when he was 17, but he never got the chance. His biggest worry was staying alive, and because of an evil regime he did not succeed in that either.

He was born in Berlin on March 26th, 1927. On January 5th, 1939, aged 11, he  came to the Netherlands as a refugee without his parents on a  Kindertransport. (children’s transport)

Kinder

When he arrived in the Netherlands he was first in an orphanage in Amsterdam, but in November 1939 he was put in foster care with the Lipschits family in Maastricht . However a few months after the Nazis invaded the Netherlands he was moved again to an orphanage, this time in Utrecht.

In February 1942 he was deported to Westerbork. On January 20th, 1944 he was put on the train to Theresienstadt, from where he was deported to Auschwitz on September 28th, 1944 on transport 1458. A total of 2499 persons were registered on that transport. Heinz was one of them.

The train arrived in Auschwitz on September 29th,1944. What happened to the other 2498 I don’t know, but Heinz was murdered in the gas chambers upon arrival.

He was murdered not because he was bad but because he was perceived to be different, He was Jewish that was enough for the Nazis to kill him.

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Truus Wijsmuller Meijer: Auntie Truus-Unsung Hero.

wijsmuller-pasfoto

WWII saw so much evil but also so much bravery. People with disregard of their own lives would defy the Nazi authorities to save lives of others, often complete strangers whom they’d never met before prior to saving them. These people are not always recognized enough for what they have done.Geertruida (Truus) Wijsmuller-Meijer aka Auntie Truus(Tante Truus) was one of these people.

Geertruida (Truus) Wijsmuller-Meijer (Alkmaar, 21 April 1896 – Amsterdam, 30 August 1978) was a Dutch war hero, resistance fighter, and probably afterRaoul Wallenberg and Aristides de Sousa Mendes the greatest savior of Jews. She was recognized as Righteous among the Nations by Yad Vashem. In all likelihood, she, together with others involved with Kindertransport, saved more than 10,000 Jewish children

In December 1938, a 42-year-old Dutchwoman met with Nazi lieutenant Adolf Eichmann to negotiate the transport of Jewish children out of Vienna. Her name was Truus Wijsmuller Meijer, but to thousands of children she would be known as “Tante Truus” – Auntie Truus.

Truus Meijer was born into a wealthy banking family and was working in the bank when she met her husband, Joop Wijsmuller. She and Joop loved children and were saddened when they couldn’t have their own. Truus left the bank and started doing social work in Amsterdam. This brought her in touch with the Committee for Special Jewish Interests, who alerted her to the desperate situation of German and Austrian Jews.

By 1938, following the attacks of Kristallnacht in Austria and Germany, the Jewish population feared for their lives.

Many tried to get asylum abroad, but few countries were willing to take large numbers of refugees. An exception was Britain, which allowed for the temporary entry of unaccompanied children. So began a rescue effort called the Kindertransport, in which Truus was a pivotal figure.

She was a friend of resistance fighter Mies Boissevain-van Lennep, whom she knew from the Association for Women’s Interests and Equal Citizenship (VVGS).

mies

From the thirties onwards “Auntie Truus” (as they soon called her) arranged, with Mies Boissevain and others, children’s transports for the Committee for Special Jewish Interests. These transports saved 10,000 Jewish children from Germany and Austria, on a route via the Netherlands to the UK.

In Germany she worked with Recha Freier, the wife of a Berlin rabbi. She was not intimidated easily, made a fuss if necessary, bribed railroad men with gifts and German officers with charm. She negotiated with the man who would later organize the transports of Jews to Auschwitz and other concentration camps, Adolf Eichmann, who was working in Vienna at the time. Eichmann joked with her: no negotiation, she could take 600 Viennese Jewish children immediately

-In case you are wondering, you did read it right. She did meet Eichmann as in Adolf Eichmann , one of the most evil men of the Nazi regime.-

eichmann_adolf

He thought she would never be able to accomplish this undertaking. He didn’t know Auntie Truus! She gathered the children, organized the paperwork and the trains, and had a welcoming committee meet them with apples and chocolate when they reached the Netherlands. 500 children sailed immediately for England, with the remaining 100 leaving on later boats.

The later transports were smaller and more orderly. Truus travelled to Germany several times a week and helped to arrange 49 transports. She used charm, stubbornness, and occasional bribery to get the children through.

Transport from central Europe became more restricted with the outbreak of war in September 1939. Many Jewish children remained in the Netherlands, which was still neutral. The orphanage in Amsterdam had become a refugee camp, and Auntie Truus was a popular figure there. She and Joop visited regularly, entertained the children at home, and brought them to the zoo on Sundays.

 

In May 1940, Germany invaded the Netherlands. Truus was in Paris, but she crossed troop lines to return to Amsterdam. There she collected Jewish children from the orphanage and foster homes, and arranged for coaches to get them on the last boat for England. The children hoped that Auntie Truus would come with them, but she didn’t want to leave Joop and so she waved them goodbye from the dock.

In all, 10,000 children entered Britain on the Kindertransport. Some would eventually be reunited with their parents, but sadly many were the only survivors from their families.

During the occupation of the Netherlands, Truus continued to smuggle Jewish people into Spain and Switzerland. She was arrested by the Gestapo in 1942, but released through lack of evidence. She sent thousands of food packages to Westerbork transit camp, where Jews and other prisoners were held before being sent to other concentration camps.

In 1944, she found out that a group of young children were to be sent from Westerbork to Auschwitz, where they would be killed immediately. Truus persuaded the guards that these were not Jewish children, but the Aryan offspring of German soldiers and Dutch women! The children were sent to a different camp, Theresienstadt, and almost all of them survived the war.

stadt

As the war progressed, she devoted herself to obtaining and distributing food. She sent thousands of packages to camps like Westerbork and Theresienstadt, and delivered duck eggs to elderly houses in Amsterdam every week. During the Dutch famine of 1944 (the Hongerwinter or “Hunger winter”) she took care of malnourished children in the Randstad.(Amsterdam,Rotterdam,The Hague and Utrecht) She took many across the IJsselmeer to more rural areas like Groningen, Friesland, Overijssel and Drenthe to recuperate.

After the war, Truus Wijsmuller Meijer was recognized by Israel as one of the Righteous Among the Nations, a title given to non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews from the Holocaust. Her obituary in 1978 read: “Mother of 1001 children, who made rescuing Jewish children her life’s work.” An asteroid was named “Tantetruus” (Auntie Truus) in her honour.

A sculpture of her, made by Herman Diederik Janzen , was unveiled in 1965 in Beatrixoord in Oosterpark in Amsterdam. When Beatrixoord was redeveloped “Auntie Truus” took the statue home. After her death in 1978 it was reinstated on the Bachplein in Amsterdam.

afbeelding4b

This courageous woman embodied the best spirit of aunthood, loving and risking her life for children who were not her own. She deserves to be more widely known.

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