The Organ attic-A secret hiding place

A good Church has an organ, it is not just a musical instrument but sometimes also a statement of grandeur.

During WWII one of these organs also became a hiding place for 3 Jewish families, well more the attic above the organ.

During the Second World War, the Breeplein Church in Rotterdam harboured a secret: three Jewish families were in hiding in the two attics high on both sides of the organ. What began, as was envisaged , as a temporary shelter for six weeks became a refuge for three years. The story of the Breeplein Church is one of courage, hope and trust, a story full of wonders and even the birth of a perfectly healthy baby.

On May 29, 1942, Maurice Kool and Rebecca Andriessen knocked on the door of the sexton of the Breepleinkerk in South Rotterdam. After they both had received a letter from the Nazi authorities telling them to report for ’employment in Germany’, they decided to go into hiding.

The seventeen-year-old Rebecca Andriesse and her 25-year-old fiancé Maurice Kool thought that they could stay together if they were married, so they did so as soon as possible. Rebecca’s grandfather arranged for them to go into hiding in the Breeplein Church. The sexton, Jacobus de Mars, created a hiding place in the attic behind the organ, which could be accessed by a ladder and an “invisible” trapdoor.

Three weeks later, Maurice’s parents called to the church . They too had received a letter and wanted to go into hiding. Shortly afterwards, the pharmacist De Zoete and his wife were hidden in the second attic behind the organ. It became their hiding for 34 months.

The organ will have been quite loud, when it was played. Which probably gave the hiding families some chance to make some noise of their own. However this would only be the case on Sunday mornings, the other days they would have to remain very quiet.

Meijer and Ida Kool, Maurice’s parents, owned a textile shop on the in Rotterdam. Because they were Jewish ,they were not allowed to run a business anymore. Because they had received a letter from the Nazi authorities they also decided to go into hiding. After an unsuccessful attempt elsewhere, they also ended up in the organ attic.

During the day the refugees sometimes left the attic an would go downstairs, but for most of the time they were in their hiding place , where it was very cold in the winter and unbearably hot in the summer.

Six months after the arrival of Meijer and Ida, two more people sought refuge in the attic . The sexton built one one on the other side of the organ, for the pharmacist Chaim and his wife Fifi de Zoete. Their three daughters were placed in other safe houses. Hadassah, one of the girls, was placed with the Van der Leer family, who attended the Breeplein Church services every Sunday. The Brillenburg Wurth family ,Reverend and his wife, made sure that Fifi and Chaim could see their daughter after the service, without Hadassah knowing that this was happening. I think because they may have been afraid that she would say something to others in her enthusiasm.

Thanks to the Resistance in Rotterdam, there was enough to eat for all the refugees as also for all the people helping and protecting them.

Rebecca became pregnant in spring 1943. This may sound like a strange thought but they must have been anxious having sex, to make sure they didn’t make too much sounds .Early January 1944 Rebecca had a baby boy . The Surinamese ophthalmologist Dr. Leo Lashley, the reverend’s wife Gerda Brillenburg Wurth and nurse Riet Dekkers assisted Rebecca during the childbirth. This too must have been nerve wrecking because this also had to be done in silence or at least as silent as possible.

The baby son was named after his grandfather and the sexton but was generally called Emile. The stays with the sexton and his wife.

Their adult daughter came to live with them with her newborn baby. To ensure that the crying baby would not attract attention.

April 14,1945 just three weeks before liberation , Nazi troops raided the church. Someone had told them that there were weapons in the church. The soldiers searched, but found nothing. At that time one of the refugees was playing a game with the sexton and quickly hid under the sexton’s bed. However, the soldiers were so fixated on weapons that they overlooked the rest. The people in hiding were therefore not found.

However the sexton was arrested “Even if they beat him to death, my husband would never betray you” said the sexton’s wife determinedly; and indeed, he did not.

Each person involved in this would definitely been sentenced to death, if they had been caught, luckily they weren’t and they all survived the war

I just want to mention Dr. Leo Lashley the ophthalmologist, who quickly had to become gynecologist, by reading a book on the subject.

He was born on March 24, 1903 in Nieuw-Nickerie, Surinam. He moved to the Netherlands, studied medicine in Utrecht, and obtained his doctorate in 1930 as an ophthalmologist. A little later he married and settled with his family in Rotterdam as an ophthalmologist.

During the war, he joined the resistance and helped a number of people go into hiding in Rotterdam; he also collected food for people in hiding. He successfully delivered baby Emile , the son of Rebecca and Maurice Kool . He went into obstetrics because no other doctor wanted to help Rebecca. Dr. Lashley had eventually go into hiding himself

After the War, he briefly remained active in Rotterdam and in Surinamese associations, but disappointed by racism and discrimination, he moved to Curaçao in 1948. He passed away in 1980.

A report of the Dutch Homeland security stated.

“Immediately after the liberation he fulfilled a very prominent function in the construction of the municipal council here. Being colored, he would have been forced out of this position to a certain extent, which has deeply hurt him,”

A book titled “Invisible Years” was written about this forgotten event. Currently a documentary for the Dutch public broadcaster is also made.

sources

The story of the Organ Attics

https://www.theblackarchives.nl/blog/leo-lashley-een-surinaamse-verzetsheld-die-joodse-mensen-hielp-onderduiken-maar-vervolgens-zelf-werd-gediscrimineerd

https://eenvandaag.avrotros.nl/item/de-orgelzolders-zijn-het-achterhuis-van-rotterdam-drie-joodse-gezinnen-zaten-bijna-3-jaar-achter-he/

http://www.breepleinkerk.nl/orgelzolder

Donation

I am passionate about my site and I know you all like reading my blogs. I have been doing this at no cost and will continue to do so. All I ask is for a voluntary donation of $2 ,however if you are not in a position to do so I can fully understand, maybe next time then. Thanks To donate click on the credit/debit card icon of the card you will use. If you want to donate more then $2 just add a higher number in the box left from the paypal link. Many thanks

$2.00

Helmut Machemer caught between love and hate.

This is a story which must have been repeated many times in Nazi Germany, German men married to Jewish women and the anxiety and fear they must have gone through, However there is also a uniqueness to the Machemer’s family situation. And in a bizarre way this is also directly connected to me.

Helmut Machemer was a German ophthalmologist who served as “Truppenarzt” with the rank of “Unterarzt”, corresponding to the rank of sergeant with the wehrmacht in the USSR.

He worked with Professor Aurel von Szily in Münster during the 1930s and, with him, pioneered an electrical treatment for retinal detachment, to form a chorioretinal scar , that’s where my connection comes in. The retina in both my eyes became detached several years ago., one eye could not be saved.

Machemer dated Erna Schwalbe, who studied medicine at the university of Kiel.

In 1932 Erna found out her mother was Jewish. The couple were aware that this could become an issue due to the rise of the Nazi Party. Erna’s father wrote her a letter which confirmed her mother’s ancestry, which he had tried to keep hidden. Erna immediately offered to separate from Machemer, but he refused to do so on the grounds that he loved her. They married in October 1932. Erna’s mother divorced her father and moved to the Netherlands the following year, after the Nazis came to power.

The couple had 3 children. When the war broke out in 1939,Machemer decided to volunteer. He knew that due to his age he would not be drafted. He was born on May 7,1903 so he was 36 at the start of the war. Now one might think it odd that he volunteered. He could have stayed at home with his wife and children, but because of the Nuremberg laws he knew that his half Jewish wife and quarter Jewish children would not be safe.

He therefore volunteered in an attempt to make use of a little-known exception in the Nazi racial laws: that the “non-Aryan” family of an Aryan could be classified as being of “German blood”, if the man made a significant contribution to the Nazi state. Machemer became convinced that if he was awarded the Iron Cross, first class for bravery on the battlefield then he could secure the reclassification of his family.

Machemer served during the 1940 invasion of France and the 1941 invasion of Russia, in which he served as an Unterarzt (medical officer aspirant) of the reconnaissance unit of the 16th Panzer Division.

For his part in the latter operation he was awarded the second class Iron Cross. At one point he worked in a captured Soviet hospital, operating on captured Russian soldiers.

Whilst in action Machemer was shot in the neck, but after checking it was not serious, returned to duty treating soldiers who had been shot through the lungs.

He noted this in a letter home to his wife and Erna’s reply was that he “shouldn’t consciously put yourself in danger again, it seems to me like a challenge to fate”. Helmut also wrote to Erna of his concern that he might be withdrawn from the front line and placed in a field hospital where he would be unlikely to be recommended for a bravery award.

In a letter dated December 12,1941 he wrote:

“My place is at the front here, and the front line, which suits me perfectly. Therefore do not think that I am reckless and put myself in unnecessary danger”

To his 3 sons he writes:

“Daddy is not yet allowed to leave here, because not all Russians have been shot dead or captured yet. But it won’t be long now.”

He was also a enthusiastic photographer and took many pictures on the battlefield and even filmed it. Some of his film footage can be see in the BBC documentary “Lost Home Movies of Nazi Germany” especially in the 2nd part.

He describes the horrors of the battlefield.

“An unforgettable picture presents itself here. The whole height is thickly covered with dead Russians. I count around 200 corpses, and there could be more than that. The Russian came here in numerous waves throughout the night, but each new wave was mowed down like the previous one. (…) Such a harvest of death, said an experienced tank commander, he had never seen in France or Russia during the entire war. This is the picture of the Russian war with its unheard of cruelty.”

On May 14,1942 he receives his coveted Iron Cross. He hopes that this will reclassify his wife and kids as of ‘German Blood’. He tells his wife:

“Since I also receive the wounded badge in addition to the EK II and I as well as the assault badge, I now have all the medals and badges that can be bestowed to me.” He also records that he celebrated this decision with sparkling wine and, the next day had a hangover.

Four days after receiving the Iron Cross ,Machener was killed at mid-day , while on a trip to screen the battlefield for wounded soldiers. He was hit in head by shrapnel from a grenade during the Second Battle of Kharkov. He was travelling in a car at the time, his companion was heavily wounded, but survived.

Machemer, who was 39 when he died, in his final diary entry of 18 May he says that he had slept well and was awaiting orders. In March 1943 Erna and her children were granted “German-blood” status, in what is believed to be the only known case of such an exemption.

As a scientist, he wished to document his and his company’s way through wartime. His partly critical writings would have been unacceptable for promotion by the Nazi party and may have placed him at risk of arrest and he would not have been able to accomplish his mission. His collection included more than 160 letters, 2,000 photographs and five hours of film footage.Some of the records included depictions of dead German soldiers, dead civilians, burnt houses and dead horses. The majority of Machemer’s reports and private letters were sent via “Feldpost” through the postal service.

Machener did not go to war for hate, but for love. Undoubtedly he will have killed too, but as the saying goes ‘All is fair in love and war’ He was a husband and a father whose only aim was to safe his family.

sources

https://www.spiegel.de/geschichte/helmut-machemer-aus-liebe-freiwillig-an-die-weltkriegsfront-a-1195017.html

https://www.medizin.uni-muenster.de/fakultaet/news/das-eiserne-kreuz-als-letzter-ausweg-arte-doku-ueber-den-wwu-augenarzt-helmut-machemer.html

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000crdh

Donation

I am passionate about my site and I know you all like reading my blogs. I have been doing this at no cost and will continue to do so. All I ask is for a voluntary donation of $2 ,however if you are not in a position to do so I can fully understand, maybe next time then. Thanks To donate click on the credit/debit card icon of the card you will use. If you want to donate more then $2 just add a higher number in the box left from the paypal link. Many thanks

$2.00

The World War 2 hero who saved my sight.

Charles

Just before Christmas 2011 I lost the sight in my right eye. The retina had become detached but after 2 operations the sight could not be saved, in fact my eye shrunk, dramatically  and I have now a glass shell with  an eye painted on it in front of the remainder of my eye.

In November 2014 the retina in my left eye also became detached, so I was facing going blind. I had to undergo an emergency operation in a Hospital in Cork which is 100 km away from my home in Limerick.

In Cork the consultant surgeon advised me he would be putting a scleral buckle in place to re-attach my retina and to save my eye and sight. The operation was a success this time and my eye was saved.

buckle

The man who pioneered this technology was Dr Charles L. Schepens. He was born in Mouscron, Belgium, in 1912  He initially studied mathematics before graduating from medical school in 1935 at State University of Ghent in Belgium.In 1937 he served as assistant to Dr. L. Hambresin in Brussels.

In 1940, he was appointed as a Captain in the Medical Corps of the Belgian Air Force, where he served until the country was invaded by the Nazis in May 1940. He escaped to France and worked with the French and Belgian resistance,  In 1942, under the nom de guerre “Jacques Pérot,” he spearheaded a secret information and evacuation pipeline in the Pyrenees, under the cover of a country lumber mill near the village of Mendive. He was arrested several times by the Gestapo.

He was first arrested by the Gestapo in October 1940 while he still was in Belgium  on false accusations  of using a bus to transport Allied pilots out of Belgium. Although he was released 10 days later, this experience turned the previously apolitical doctor into an activist, and he allowed his office to be used as a post office for underground agents, arranging for the transfer of maps and such information as troop movement.

In 1942, a spy in Gestapo headquarters alerted him that he was about to be arrested, and he escaped to Paris.

In an of the mill  effort to find  an escape route to Spain, he and a group of fellow resistance members came across  an abandoned sawmill near the town of Mandive in the Pyrenees on the Spanish border.

One of the key features was a 12-mile-long cable-car system extending up the mountain and ending near the border.

Dr. Schepens, bought the mill in July 1942 with backing from a wealthy French patriot and had it in full operation by the end of the year. The site became a functioning lumber enterprise, taking orders, delivering wood and meeting a payroll. Not to cause any suspicion Dr. Schepens(aka Jacques Perot)  developed relationships with the occupying Germans, leading his Basque neighbors to think that he was a Nazi collaborator.

Men, mainly men he helped to escape, who did manual labor around the mill could secretly ride the cable-car system to the top of the mountain and slip into Spain, often with the assistance of a shepherd named Jean Sarochar.

MILL

More than 100 Allied pilots, prisoners of war, Belgian government officials and others made their way out of France over the cable railway. The system also was used to move documents, currency, propaganda and other materials into and out of France.

Everything went according to plan until 1943: That year, a captured resistance agent exposed him. The Gestapo came for him a second time. He escaped before they could arrest him. He had told the Gestapo “it is now 10 o’clock. I have 150 workers idle, because they have not been given their orders this morning. Give me 10 minutes with them. I’ll give the orders and come back.”. He then just walked out.

He spent 16 days in the forest before reaching Spain and, eventually, England, where he resumed his medical career.

In the mean time the Nazis held Dr. Schepens wife and children as bait to lure him out of hiding. However eventually his wife and children  made their own daring escape, hiking through the mountains to reach Spain, and were reunited with Dr. Schepens nine months later in England.

After the war, Schepens resumed his medical career at Moorfields.In 1947, he immigrated to the United States and became a fellow at the Harvard Medical School.

harvard

He became famous in the ophthalmic community for his work in creating the first binocular, stereoscopic indirect ophthalmoscope (1946) and in treating retinal detachment with an encircling scleral buckle (1953).

If the Gestapo had arrested him the second time, he more then likely would have been executed. Amazing to think of what could have happened to my eye in that case.

Donation

I am passionate about my site and I know you all like reading my blogs. I have been doing this at no cost and will continue to do so. All I ask is for a voluntary donation of $2 ,however if you are not in a position to do so I can fully understand, maybe next time then. Thanks To donate click on the credit/debit card icon of the card you will use. If you want to donate more then $2 just add a higher number in the box left from the paypal link. Many thanks

$2.00

Sources

https://eye.hms.harvard.edu/news/charles-schepens-featured-in-eyeworld

https://eye.hms.harvard.edu/charlesschepens

Washington Post

https://www.eyeworld.org/article-ophthalmologist-who-created-vitreoretinal-subspecialty-lived-double-life-as-wwii-resistance-fighter-and

https://www.aao.org/biographies-detail/charles-schepens-md