Gershon Willinger’s story

I came across Gershon Willinger’s name on the Joods Monument website. It is his 80 birthday today, When I saw his name and his birthday, I also saw that the date and the place of his death were not known. I figured this was going to be an awful tragic and depressing story.

I decided just to a bit of research, but with the thought I wasn’t gong to do a piece about him. I reckoned it was going to break my heart, and I just wasn’t able for that today. However, although his story his sad in many ways, there was another story emerging too, the story of Gershon. The reason why the place and date of death were unknown is because he is still alive.

This is his story in his words.

“My name is Gershon Israel Willinger. Born Gert Israel Willinger, Israel was given by the Nazi regime who was in Holland at the time so that became automatically my middle name or somebody’s last name, but it was my middle name, which is still carried today. I was born in September, 1942 in Amsterdam Holland, where I grew up.

So I I’m the man of many names, Gert Israel. I was born until the age of 18 I was called Fritz. My last name was called Klufter because this was the name of my foster parents/ adoptive parents a year before I left. I didn’t want to be adopted, but it got me quicker out of Holland as well, because I got a Dutch passport. Born Gert Israel Willinger became Klufter. And then, then I had my bar mitzvah Gert Gershon, Gershon is a stranger in foreign lands, he was also the son of Moses. So very apt names for me. I still was called Fritz and the day on my 18th birthday, when I left Holland, I became Gershon.

I grew up in Holland and I left Holland at 18 to immigrate to Israel. I went to the kibbutz. Then I went into the army in 1961. I served two and a half years as a paratrooper in the Israeli defense forces.

Uh, then I studied social work. I became a social worker working with only youth juvenile delinquents and street corner groups. I was in the reserve for about 10 years, uh, fought during the war of attrition in 69, 70 at the Suez canal. I was with the entering to Jerusalem in 1967. I was not in the 73 war because I was studying for a bachelor’s degree and a graduate degree in the United States, uh, with my family. I came back during the 1973 Yom Kippur war, but, the trouble was that I couldn’t find my regiment. So I came with my whole family in the middle of my studies. We had to blackout our apartment, stayed for a number of weeks. And then when I couldn’t find them and things were, things were chaos. I stepped back on the plane and continued my education for the year in the United States with a wife and two small children in tow. And, um, we left Israel in 1984, uh, simply because of economic reasons for social workers is very hard also to not rely on family, but on yourself.

We have been here since in Canada, which is a, quite a good country since December of 1977 and have lived here since raised our children here, our three children who are now 50, 48 and 45 and, seven lovely grandchildren between the ages of 17 and 11. I speak for the Holocaust Center of Toronto and for the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

I have a responsibility to my parents and I have responsibility to my children and, uh, the Holocaust, I have a responsibility and it is, and, um, it’s not all altruism. There’s also an element of self-therapy, which is very good as well. Um, I’m one of the youngest. So from that point of view, I had to research my life most of my life, where you come from, who are you? Because the lack of identity of who you are as a person and many children who were born in between 1935 and 1944, although there’s a vast difference because if you’re a child who grows up with a parent and a child who has got a history of family before the war, I’m still can relate to that. But then the other children who really after second world war, which they don’t realize like myself, and only some chaos, I suppose, in the background of your mind, but without any knowledge, you start starting after the war, which meant, uh, who are you? Where are you? Where are you going to be placed? What are you going to do? And what is your legacy, whether you, who were your parents and how did they die and what happened and then so on.

My father was a, in hospitality industry before the war. And he was Bad Wildungen and I felt first that he was born there, but he wasn’t born there. He worked there, he worked, it was a spa city with natural spas, with special water. He worked there in a Jewish hotel. He was a chef. He lived on the premises, it’s very picturesque between little hills. It’s like the gingerbread houses and beautiful, absolutely gorgeous. I’ve just, there’s nobody of us anymore in Holland, because we were born there. We my sister was there until 11 and left and I at 18, I left and my parents came from Germany. Both of them there. My mother came in 29. She came actually, she had relatives in Holland. I think that she went to my aunt, who I stayed within 29. And she stayed in Holland, but she never naturalized.

My father, I found out was married to a non-Jewish Jewish woman in 1935. He divorced in 35. There became a law also that Aryans were not allowed to be married to Jews that became a law. But I think the marriage couldn’t have been that great either, but they divorced. And a, he came to Holland in 1937, 37 or 38 married my mother 37 I think it was. But he, he still went back and forth to Bad Wildungen because there was a train from Amsterdam to there between 1935 and 1937. He traveled up and down and still stayed at, at the hotel and worked there. And finally, when people thought that he was spy and I found it in the archives, because why do you go back and forth to Holland, the Nazi regime was already there? He stayed away and stayed in Holland, also not naturalized. So they got together, got married and then had my sister in May, 1940.

Now what possessed a couple, unless they had didn’t have birth control to want another child in 1942. So they had me, you know, they must’ve thought that children could stay with parents or whatever happened. When they saw that things were bad, they allowed me at a very early age to be taken by the underground who knew about this baby. And my sister was already shoved underground somewhere else. And I came to this family, the righteous among the nations. The stories that my mother, my birth mother, Edith came to where I stayed and worked as a short-term as a maid at the farm across the brook so that she could have contact, not with me, but find out about me. But she went back to Amsterdam and they went for one day to Westerbork the transit camp. And I think it was the 29th of June that they came to Westerbork and then they were sent straight through to Sobibor where in July and the data I have is the 2nd of July, they were together murdered upon arrival in Sobibor, in Poland.

I was eight years old when I came to permanent foster parents. So what I do know is the time of 1945, 1950, when you are in as many children, displaced children also today in all kinds of countries, uh, you were going from pillar to post. So institutions are fringes, foster homes and not knowing even if you’re a Jewish. So because the concept being Jewish sounds very abstract. When you’re a small child, you don’t realize that at all. So, consequently, I, I was very, very, uh, curious to find out who I really was. And so from an early age, my new foster parents, after those five years have a bookcase full of authentic photographs from the Nazi time, also that they obtained with the bodies in this concentration camps and how the Americans found the camps afterwards.

So I used to leaf through them, and that is a psychologically, a very normal thing because the child looks for his parent. And so things that, the image of the parent. So, so that interests start already at that age. And, um, of course you have a disassociation with people because you have moved around so much. So I, um, very quickly wanting to develop in the beginning of superficial sense of belong to the foster parents that you live with in order to belong and to be somewhere, however, it never succeeded that much. Like many other kids, um, who were privileged, uh, like I was privileged to psychiatric treatment and psychoanalysis after the war for about five years when I came to them from eight to 13, then again from 15 to 17.

So I didn’t know what parents really meant. So, um, they told me that I did have parents, which I didn’t bemoan my fate because it’s very, normally if you don’t even remember parents that you had them, and I remember very hard to call them mom and dad, because, uh, you know, you get there at eight years of age, a very difficult child with lots of problems. And, um, but with a hunger for reading. So to save me because I was read, like a fiend. So, um, and I could read, well, uh, like many other children, my friends also that I have, who are my age, little bit older, little bit younger who, uh, belong to my group. I don’t know if you’ve heard that group of, um, I belong to a group of 50 children who in 1944 were sent from Westerbork in Holland to Bergen Belsen. And we were there a couple of months and then from Bergen Belsen we were transported to Theresienstadt in Czech Republic. We were known as a Gruppe “unbekannte Kinder”, unknown children.

And what I tell usually schools is in order so that they can grasp especially grade seven and eights really like to talk to me because I ask them who tucks you in at night, who’s responsible for your food, who’s responsible for your clothing who’s responsible to take care of you and who loves you unconditionally, well it’s your parents. So now then put yourself in the picture of this and that happening.

I had their name, but never officially. My first name was also different because children went under, we had many names we had to deal with and cope with a lot of chaos and names. So my name was Fritz. Fritz was given to me by the people, the Schonewilles, who I lived with in Northern Holland, in the province called Trenta, who were righteous among the nations. And they took me in and they took care of me. But when my name was given away at the beginning of 1943, the very beginning of 1943, I was taken away by the Dutch police. Plenty many, many, many, many collaborators with the regime. The regime in Holland. Holland has got this wonderful connotation, wooden shoes, gabled rooftops, and it’s all very nice and pretty, but about 80% are either bad or are good people who did nothing. And about 15 to 20% put themselves out. And were treated abominably after the war, didn’t get any recognition, only years, years, and years later. So that those are the kind of people that I was placed with. I was taken away from them and they put themselves really in danger because my foster father went to jail. I was taken away by the Dutch place and placed in Westerbork the transit camp.

We knew it about each other. We never spoke about it. We were getting ready to go to Israel, we were Zionists and even not going to stay in Europe. And I stuck to that. I never went back. I never stayed in Europe. And I left Israel. I said, leave Israel, but not back to Holland or to Germany because actually I’m, uh, I’m Dutch because I was born there and I was raised there. My sister was there until she was 11 years old. My sister’s name is Rita. She was born in May of 1940.

Gershon and Rita in 1947

You are with no nationality and again, no identity. So the memory of that is not that great. I lived with my foster parents and we went to Belgium or France or Italy because they were quite well to do Dutch Jews. Um, I had to also have special dispensation from the courts and I had a different, I remember a passport was pink instead of blue or a solid color … I was on refugee status, although I was born in the country. And there was no adoption. So finally, when I was 17, my foster parents adopted me to give me a name and give me a citizenship.

I am Jewish by religion, by birth first by birth, by religion and by tradition. And by way of life, I would actually put religion and the, and the traditional out of, out of context here and talk about I’m a Jew by birth and way of life. It’s culture, it’s everything. It encompasses everything for me. It’s just, that’s how I live. It is to me, it’s, it’s a way of life and the way of life is in the mind as well. It’s a way of life. It’s very hard to interpret it a little bit is religion, a little bit of this, a little bit as that in your general behavior, uh, your reactions. If you’re not exposed to Judaism at all, there may be a spark somewhere that still has to be developed. It isn’t developed yet, but I do believe there is some, um, you can be a Jew by choice and be really Jewish if you do buy. But if it’s from birth on and of, or even even a little bit later, it’s a way of life and a tradition that you accept with all its positives and negatives.

I think I have a duty as a Jew to tell my story to the world because every story of every Holocaust survivor is unique because they’re different people and different within themselves. Perception. You need to listen to as many stories. And I, a Jew is a normal person like any other person, the soul, two legs, wants to make it in life. We have certain attributes. We live our religion a bit differently, like everybody else does as well. A fight against bigotry, hatred of Jews is the oldest hatred that exists. And that’s why I find it very important, because we need to always have hope. It’s not my little story that I’m going to tell you here is not going to change people, their attitudes, but I want to have an understanding that they can choose what they think. That’s very important for me that people understand what the Holocaust is about. And other reason that I do it, I owe it to my dead parents so that they’re not just ash. So that they, and they don’t have a proper grave. So they don’t just becoming a number. So during my lifetime that I at least bringing them to life through photos, through pictures. There, there is a story attached to me in my background, people who were murdered because they were good people and didn’t do anything. And it’s also very good. And it’s good for my own psyche to talk about it because it gives me a sense of belonging. It gives me a sense of self and validation that I exist.

What happened is somebody in Germany he contacted the Holocaust Center of Toronto, a number of years ago. And says we have this name, we have got this, this, I don’t know how he knew I was in Toronto that I was here. He found out and he contacted the Holocaust Center, said there in Bad Wildungen, where my father worked, there was a Stolpersteine, five Stolpersteine up, uh, at, at a little Stiebel which was once a synagogue. But below there, because didn’t know exactly know where those people lived. And my father lived in the hotel. So what Jane and I did, we made a special trip to Germany for the first time, because I never had a gravestone of my parents. And it was only the gravestone of my father you know, the Stolperstein you know, how they look and what they are.

And I remember we saw it and, uh, we went to see that, and these men took us there. The Bürgermeister the, the mayor of the town came, he brought a little thing and we polished the stone and it was of five other people. And I didn’t cry. It was not even emotional because I, I think I’d cried enough all my life. And had been through all the emotions of first labeled, not a survivor, and being asked by other Holocaust survivors, you call yourself. So, you know, the survivor, you don’t know anything. You don’t remember anything, another slap in the face, you don’t belong anywhere. So anyway, that gives you somewhere to belong. And I cleaned it up very nicely. We stayed a week. We went to the place where my father worked, which doesn’t exist anymore, but it became a spa for people who are sick with asthma breathing. What is unique about it is that it is for me personally unique, it’s the only gravestone I have of my parents. It’s really ridiculous even to think about it, that only, the only gravestone is in Germany, but it’s there. And, uh, that I felt so at home, in Germany with the Stolperstein maybe it’s my culture where I come from. And I say, Hey, I don’t like nasty people, but these people are good people. And, um, I felt this is something that I can touch, it tangible it’s something of my parents. And it was very important to me. And it was a gravestone to me. It was a great, but, and also that the place that you walk, that you did, you walk over, it doesn’t bother me at all, because if it would be on the wall, I would have to turn my head.

What I also felt that if it is on the ground, so they have to put themselves out for half a second, too. I’m certainly not insulted, some people have got this mishagas you walk on. I have no problem. If you walk over it, it means many people go pass it because, uh, it will be more polished. The second time when I went, I said, you know, something that he said, the stone of your father is going to be taken away from here and placed now where he worked and lived on the main street. I said, that’s wonderful. I said, now I have a request. My parents were murdered on the same day in the same concentration camp. My mother is originally from Germany. Although she is not from this town because Stolpersteine are more of a, you worked or where you lived. I pay for it. Please put my parents, they were married, put them together as a Stolpersteine. They say, not only will we do it, it’s not your business to pay for it, we should. So I went again, said Kaddish again with all my Christian Germans around me and for my, and that’s what the Stolperstein does for me. It gives me historically a feeling that I belong and that people still care. Whether it’s out of guilt or not, I don’t care. It’s still it’s there. And my parents were Germans. They were transplants to Holland out of necessity, but they have still were entrenched in the German culture, German society when they lived there, especially the ones that live in small towns.

Reclaiming in a sense that that’s, it’s part of me, it’s part of my history. It’s part of who I represent and it is fine. And I don’t need to make excuses if people don’t like me because of it what can I do. People understand, people do understand, uh, especially Holocaust survivors who I speak with, they understand, uh, especially now that I have a Stolperstein there it’s a Stolpersteine is the, it’s the plural. Yeah. There’s an attachment. It had an impact on me as I … it’s very hard, but you try to visualize that he actually walked there and he lived there in that. And it’s the town. Yes it had spread out, it is modernized a little bit, but it’s still the core. The old city is, it’s all still the same. And, and, and so you like to, you like to transport you back in the past yourself, back in the past and your hunger actually to know and experience, but you can’t experience because you’re in a different day and time, but what he experienced through would have liked to experience.

Yes. And that is the feeling that I had. So yes, it had an impact, but not in a sentimental way. Uh, just, uh, Hey, this is me, this is again, part of the puzzle that needs another little piece of the puzzle that goes in that I. And there’s still pieces of puzzles that I, I, uh, I I’m looking for in my mind, uh, uh, about family, about the security that the history really is the history as it is about myself, because many children who live today who are wartorn deal with search. The search and the always need to develop themselves and be proud of themselves because their identity is so weak because of the displacement and because of where they have had to go to and how their life went. So I’m very, always very interested today in the downtrodden really.

You always were in search of who am I? What am I? So there’s the big difference that the horrors of the concentration camp, you don’t remember, you don’t know anything about, but you also don’t have the memory of who are you as a family. It could equate that to kids from Syria and from wartorn areas from the Rohingyas and Yazidi’s and people get murdered left right and center today. And so it’s really a very similar stories only that this was a very planned because you have to really define what is genocide and what is Holocaust. There are very different things the Holocaust is a planned annihilation of a people over a long period of time. Not necessarily in one geographical area, which happens. Genocide is usually a spontaneous annihilation people, bad.

Everything is bad ,often in one geographical area and a shorter period of time, not planned necessarily spontaneous, more spontaneous annihilation. So that’s that’s really the difference with the Holocaust. The difference is also, of course, that we spoke different languages. We adhered to different laws. We were members of different societies in different countries, who we were involved with in government and in arts and army in whatever way we were involved with. So, so it’s, it’s unique. Yeah, it’s unique because what do we have to do in 2021 almost, with the Holocaust of all those years ago. You have to make it also that it can be understood by children. And as long as we have are alive still, we it’s our duty to to speak. Well, life is very different, but, but what parallel can I draw? Children are children. They’re spontaneous, they ask questions and there are no inhibitions.

And they ask and if some misconceptions, and they know what parents’ tell the right thing or not the right thing, but they are inquisitive. They want to know, but it’s how you transcribe your knowledge, how you, how you get, how you put it in front of the children. Um, children are children. They are the hope of the whole, the future. So the more, if child is indoctrinated to hate somebody at a very early age it’s very hard to get it out of the child’s system. If a child gets indoctrinated at a very early age with goodness and equality, it’s very hard to get out of their system. So that’s what we have to do. So that’s where I see the parallel. It’s all up to the adults to, to guide the children. And then I see a parallel that children can be. Uh, I see also little children, teenagers in Nazi Germany can be also because of society be, um, although there are many Germans who knew the difference between right and wrong. But if you are allowed to go to a sports school and you go to the mountains to have a nice vacation and you belong to the Hitler youth, you’re damn sure you’re going to belong to the Hitler youth otherwise, you’ll get ostracized and you have no good. You haven’t got a good time. So you do that.

So it’s really up to the children to learn, and I, and I think nothing has changed. The child should know the difference between right and wrong and what it means to, to be a bully, what it means to be all-inclusive, but the child has to have it in them as well. But it has to also, uh, it has to be nurtured by parents, by educators and if you got the stuff nurtured the proper way. And then, then, uh, it’s usually the fright with children also of not knowing of what is strange like with adults., oh no we get to know each other suddenly, and yeah, it’s actually quite nice to find out that you have a different, different traditions, different way of life than I have.”

I met my wife, Jane (née Levy), in England, and we were married in Israel in January 1970. We have three children and, to date, seven grandchildren. In December 1977, we immigrated to Canada. For the first number of years I was employed as a youth and camp director for the Hamilton Jewish community. In 1984, I joined the Children’s Aid Society as a social worker, specializing in working with abused and neglected children. I retired in 2003.
I am active in the Jewish community and spend much time lecturing about my past experiences. In June 2006, we moved to Thornhill to be closer to our children and grandchildren.”

Dear Mr. Willinger I wish you a happy 80th birthday and I hope your story will be an inspiration for many.

sources

https://stumblingstones.ca/gershon-willinger

https://memoirs.azrielifoundation.org/exhibits/sustaining-memories/gershon-willinger/

The Barneveld Jews

While all other concentration camps were built or configurated to facilitate mass murder on an industrial scale, there were some exceptions.

Plan-Frederiks was a plan made up by the Dutch politicians K.J. Frederiks and J. van Dam that was meant to protect Jewish people in name of the German people during World War II.

The occupying German forces did not want the Jews to hide away, so they gave certain Jews places in special reservation camps in the Netherlands. Only Jews that had been important to Germany, for such reasons as fighting in World War I or being a famous painter, in case of Jo Spier, were given such treatment. Frederiks and Van Dam wanted other Jews to show up for this plan and try to get a place in one of these camps, instead of hiding away. It would be easy to catch these people.

The reservation camps that were used for this plan were Villa Bouchina,De Schaffelaar, and De Biezen. They were all opened in February 1943 and closed in April of the same year. In all, about 700 people were incarcerated in these camps, after which they were transported to Theresienstadt, where many of them died.

De Schaffelaar was a neo-gothic castle dating from the 1850s., near Barneveld. It was in a derelict state, without heating and sanitary ware. It was surrounded by a large lawn and woods. There was no fence. There were no German guards. The first arrivals brought their own furniture, turning the many empty rooms into small living rooms. Barracks were placed in the gardens in around March 1943 to house the ever-expanding group.

This group of individuals was specially selected to live through the Holocaust since they were regarded as beneficial to their nation. Conversely, an estimated 102,000 Jews living in the Netherlands were expelled from the country and murdered by the Nazis. After a high-ranking Hague bureaucrat chose to intercede in order to assist a confidant, he was able to obtain a pact of sorts, which assured the safety of a pair of notable Jews and their households. When news of the deal became public, the Jewish population throughout the Netherlands wrote letters urging to be added onto the exclusive list. It was ultimately expanded to include hundreds of Jews. The group included renowned educators, artists, doctors and scientists. They came to be identified as the Barneveld group.

Frederiks finally got permission from the Nazi authorities to compose a list of “deserving Dutch Jews.” These, together with their families, were to be exempted from deportation to concentration or work camps. Or rather, it was believed these were concentration or work camps. These aforementioned prominent Dutch Jews included for the most part scientists, artists, physicians and industrialists, but also others were added to the list of the prominent. Hundreds others, however, who sought inclusion in this much sought after list were rejected.

n September 1943, the Barneveld clique was relocated to Westerbork, a Nazi labor camp located in Netherlands. The jolt was tremendous, from living in a mansion to residing in camp quarters. They were compelled by the Germans to take part in the expulsion of their neighbors at the camp. The Barnevelder group observed relatives and acquaintances being transferred form Westerbork to Auschwitz. However, the Barnevelders continued to be untouched. While the environment they lived in constantly worsened, the protection of their lives continued. Ultimately, the Barnevelders were moved to Theresienstadt, where they were forced to witness the death of relatives and friends members, yet their own destinies were secure.

Nearly every Barnevelder survived the Holocaust. Nevertheless the emotional pain lingered on , and for many, the feeling of sorrow due to living through the war ir survivors guilt remained. At every point the chosen group was rescued from murder, although some see their continued existence as a blessing and a burden.

While fellow Jews were systematically and unceremoniously hauled from their homes and deported via Westerbork to the death camps, these Jews, known as the Barneveld Jews , found refuge in castle De Schaffelaar. With the exception of a few elderly people all Barnevelders would survive the war. Albeit, in the end, they too were deported via Westerbork to Theresienstadt. In Theresienstadt, most received the status of prominence once again and a few even were released into the hands of the Red Cross to be transferred to Switzerland. After the war some, not all, surviving Barnevelders understandably felt constrained and remained silent about their time spent in the castle.

The Saved is a Dutch documentary released in 1998. It was directed by Paul Cohen and Oeke Hoogendijk, about the Barneveld Jews. The title is “Een gelukkige tijd – het verhaal van de Barneveldjoden” the English title is “the Saved”

In my opinion these people had nothing to feel guilty about, They survived , that is not a crime, but a blessing.

Steven Frank is one of the survivors. He was born in 1935 into a secular Jewish family in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. His father was a well known Dutch lawyer who was born in Zwolle, the son of a doctor. His mother was the daughter of professional musicians who emigrated to Britain at the turn of the nineteenth century. He has an elder and a younger brother.

In March 1943 the family were taken to Barneveld and in September 1943 the group were sent from there to Westerbork, transit camp. In September 1944 they were sent to Terezín (Theresienstadt) in Czechoslovakia where the whole family survived and were liberated by the Red Army on 9th May 1945. Because of an epidemic of typhus no one left the camp for nearly a month. At the beginning of June 1945 the Dutch survivors were sent by train to the Netherlands. Steven’s mother, fearing that there would be no survivors in the Netherlands, protested and wished to go to Britain.

sources

http://www.musiques-regenerees.fr/Pays-Bas/OlmanIsrael/CampBarneveld_SchaffelaarCastle.html

https://portal.ehri-project.eu/units/il-002798-4019546-3687300?dlid=eng-m_20_eng

https://jck.nl/en/page/barneveld

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0164033/?ref_=nm_flmg_cin_10

https://www.thejc.com/news/features/steven-frank-how-i-survived-the-holocaust-and-why-i-tell-my-story-1.479151

https://www.het.org.uk/survivors-steven-frank

The saved Jewish child in the street where I was born.

The best way to describe this story is a microcosm of the Holocaust history. But before I go into the story I have to explain the wider background, to put it into context.

Although I am fully Dutch, I was seen as a child of a mixed marriage, The Netherlands is a small country, however, that doesn’t mean there are significant cultural differences in the various regions.

My mother was from Friesland in the North West of the Netherlands. Her parents moved with all the kids to Limburg in the South East of the Netherlands, and although my mother was born in Limburg she was always considered Frisian.

My mother’s family ended up in Geleen, my birthplace, in the 1920’s. The coalmines brought employment. The ended up in the part of town called Lindenheuvel, and in the group of streets called ‘Auw Kolonie’ the Old Colony, it was called like that because the street names all had the names of Dutch colonies. My mother married my father in 1960, she was considered a Frisian protestant, whereas my Father was a Roma Catholic, Limburg was and still is a predominantly Roman Catholic, this did cause issues. But in the compound of the Auw Kolonie that was ok. I was born in the Borneo street(named after an Indonesian island) It was mainly Frisian migrants who resided in the Auw Kolonie.

The story I came across is about Sjaak Ketelaar, and his family . Sjaak’s mother, Sietske Kuitert, was born in Drenthe, just like his father. The special thing is that mother Sietske could speak Frisian. She must have learned it from her mother (Antje Kootstra) because she came from Friesland. She honored that language, as witnessed by the fact that she regularly attended evenings organized by the Fryske Kriten. The Ketelaar family lived in Geleen in a neighborhood known as ‘the old colony’. They belonged to the Reformed Church. Father worked as a topsoiler at the Maurits state mine.

Sjaak grew up in Limburg. He lived there during the first twenty years of his life (until about 1963). It is striking that most of the people with whom I reminisce about the post-war period seem to be impressed by the Catholic processions. So is Sjaak:

“What I also remember were the processions. It was a poor neighborhood here, but the streets were covered with colored sand. Beautiful runners were made. When the procession was over, we all took to the streets as children to sweep that sand together. That was wonderful to play with. How they did that, I still don’t get it. And all from the poles along the road with flags on them (…). That was 60 years ago with us. I thought it was beautiful. The people had then opened the front door and placed a table there. They had their own altar, with statues on it. It was something. It was always exciting to see who made the most beautiful altar. I don’t know if prizes were given for that… And during the procession the pastor came by and I remember – I was standing there in front – there were many people standing on the side; everyone knelt, they had to do that when the host came by. I thought I’m protestant, I’m standing still, I don’t have to kneel. And I felt my coat being pulled. Down you! But I didn’t kneel. I stopped. That was in the mayor Lemmensstraat. They weren’t annoying, those Catholics. I always got on well with them.”

How the Ketelaar family became involved in rescuing a Jewish child from the clutches of the Germans is described in the booklet ‘At the foot of the Steenberg’ by Anne Stap (2008/not in the trade). She documented the following story.
‘One day, during the war, the Germans raid the old colony. The Germans enter the Timorstraat early. Father Stap is not at home. He’s on early shift and he’s off to work. The children are still in bed. At Anne Stap’s aunt and uncle in the Curacaostraat, a Jewish child, without papers, is kept hidden. The child was smuggled out of an Amsterdam hospital with his mother, barely six weeks old. A pedigree or birth certificate of the now 10-month-old boy is missing. What now? Uncle and aunt know the Ketelaar family. From their own house they have a view of the house of the Ketelaars on Borneostraat. This way they can see that the raid there is already over. The Ketelaar family has three boys, one of whom is in hiding. They quickly send their daughter to pick up the pedigree certificate. It only takes the eight-year-old child two minutes to make the crossing. She does not stand out in the German bustle. She is back just in time with the pedigree. The Germans are satisfied with the excuse that the boy’s mother is in hospital in Maastricht.
For safety reasons, the daughter has to give up her ‘brother’ in collaboration with the Geleen underground. He is housed elsewhere. Painful of course, but all’s well that ends well: the child, the mother and the father survive the war.’

I don’t know what house number I was born in on the Borneostraat, but it actually gave me the goosebumps when I read the story, it could have been my house. That is how palpable the Holocaust still is.

sources

http://friezeninlimburg.blogspot.com/2018/05/de-duitse-razzia-in-de-ouw-kolonie-in.html

https://www.demijnen.nl/actueel/artikel/swentibold-de-indische-buurt-de-mijnkolonie

Hans and Ruth Abraham-A positive Holocaust story.

There were millions murdered during the Holocaust, and each of these victims represents a tragic and sad story.

However ,although very few, there were some positive Holocaust stories, but even in the positivity there was an underlying negative story. because it tells a story of disrupted lives.

Hans Leo (Henry in later life) Abraham and his sister Ruth Abraham were the children of Siegfried (born in Ehringshausen, 19 July 1899) and Gerda Abraham – Schwarzstein (born in Berlin, 26 February 1911). Hans was born on September 23, 1933. He and his parents came from Hamburg, Germany and fled to Amsterdam in 1935.

Father Siegfried had worked as a stockbroker in Hamburg, but after emigration became an electrician in the Netherlands. Ruth was born on September 24, 1938 in the Netherlands. The family lived on the Amstelkade in Amsterdam. After the German invasion of the Netherlands, their lives were once again put in danger. Wealthy friends from Hamburg sent them Haitian passports in May 1942. As foreigners, the family was deported first to Westerbork and then to Bergen-Belsen in 1944. They were selected to be part of a prisoner swap in January 1945, taking them first to Switzerland and then to Algeria on August 31, 1945. They remained in the UNRRA camp at Jeanne d’Arc in Philippeville until the end of the war. The family eventually emigrated to the United States in 1946.

source.

Liberation of Westerbork

Westerbork was liberated on April 12, 1945, by Canadian forces. At the time there were still 876 inmates there. Something which isn’t widely known is that this liberation nearly was a destruction. The Canadians thought the camp was a Germany military base. They had plans for shelling Weseterbork.

This was published in de Telegraaf on September 14,1998.

“Title: ESCAPED PRISONER SAVED WESTERBORK FROM BEING BOMBARDED
Publication: DE TELEGRAAF
Date of the Publication: 14-09-1993

————————————–Title————————————————

ESCAPED PRISONER SAVED WESTERBORK FROM BOMBARDMENT
————————————Summary———————————————

As now is evident, the last 900 Jewish prisoners held captive by the Germans in concentration camp Westerbork
escaped near death on the 12th of April 1945.
—————————————Text———————————————–

Escaped Jew saved Westerbork from being bombarded.
From our correspondent
WESTERBORK, Tuesday
As now is evident, the last 900 Jewish prisoners held captive by the Germans in concentration camp Westerbork escaped near death on the 12th of April 1945.
The Canadian Army, which liberated the camp that day, were about to destroy the camp by bombarding it. The Allies believed it to be a military camp housing German troops which were determined to fight to the end. A fatal error only averted in the very last moment through the intervention of a Jewish camp inmate from Amsterdam. He managed to escape in the night from the 11th to the 12th after the German SS guards secretly had fled on the 10th.
The man, who recently turned 70 years old (Ed.: in 1993) and now lives in Canada, told his perilous adventure last week for the first time to the Director D. Mulder of the herinneringscentrum – Remembrance Center Westerbork. “We keep his identity for the time being a secret because he still is quite undone by what happened to him during wartime.” according director Mulder.

Oranjekanaal – the Orange canal

In the meantime, this sensational statement has been confirmed by the second principle player in this near-drama, Brigadier-General Allard of the 6th Brigade, 2nd Canadian Division. Allard was promoted to Chief of Staff of the Canadian Army.
The escapee, who hailed from Amsterdam, managed to swim across the Oranjekanaal, in the early hours of the morning of the 12th of April. Next he was apprehended by recently arrived troops under Allard. The Canadians dit not believe the escaped prisoner who told them that only civilians were in the camp and returned him to Westerbork together with a reconnaissance patrol in order to obtain certainty. Although the patrol encountered wandering Germans with whom they exchanged shots, the soldiers managed to bring out report that the man from Amsterdam had been correct. This convinced Allard, resulting in the cancellation of the planned bombardment.
According to Mulder, the statement of the people involved is of significant importance, because very little is known about the circumstances surrounding the events dealing with the liberation of camp Westerbork. “I have arranged with Allard that together we would conduct an investigation into this matter,” according to the director.

It is unfortunate indeed that more that 60 years have gone by without having obtained a crystal clear picture as to what exactly happened on that momentous day, the 12th of April 1945. Various stories have emerged, several have been recorded on this Website. I believe all who were there and lived through the liberation period are sincere men. Each of them sheds a ray of light on an otherwise clouded over bit of history. Somewhere in between rests the truth.”

Westerbork was originally built in 1939 as a refugee camp. Given the increasing number of German Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazi regime.

Jacques Schol, a Dutchman, was commander of the camp from 16 July 1940 and until January 1943. On July 1st 1942, the Germans took over the control of Westerbork and transformed it into a transit camp.

On 1 July 1942, the camp was officially placed under the jurisdiction of the SS; it was no longer a refugee camp, but a transit camp. A fortnight later, the first deportations to the east began, dozens of cattle cars left the camp every week for the death camps of Poland.  Westerbork became the biggest transit point in Western Europe.

Although it was not a death camp, it was a cynical place. The illusion was created that things were not as bad as they seemed, given the inmates a sense of hope. It had a football league, schools and an orchestra and there were regular cabaret performances.

Actress Camilla Spira, who was briefly a member of the cabaret, remembered her disbelief at the enthusiasm of the audience:

“This couldn’t be, they enjoyed themselves so, and they sat there in rags. We were the collection camp, these people were dragged here, and then it was on to Auschwitz or Theresienstadt. These volleys of laughter, this excitement – in the moment when they saw us, the people forgot everything. And it was horrible, for the next morning they went to death … they were only there for a night.”

Etty Hillesum wrote in one of her letters:

“the comic Max Ehrlich and the hit composer Willy Rosen, who looks like a walking corpse. A little while ago he was on the list for transport, but he sang his lungs out a few nights in a row for an enchanted audience including the commander and his followers … the commander, who valued art, found it wonderful and Willy Rosen was spared … and over there is another court jester: Erich Ziegler, the favourite pianist of the commanders. There is a legend that he is so amazing that he can even play Beethoven’s ninth as a jazz piece, and if that isn’t something else…”

The camp even had healthcare services and a Hospital. Again to create this illusion that life would continue as normal as possible and that the accommodation was only temporary . Soon they would be resettled. For 107,000 people this resettlement meant being murdered in Auschwitz, Sobibor and other extermination camps or labour camps.

Abraham Mol ,a former civil servant of the Ministry of Transport and Public Works and former male nurse of camp Westerbork recalled his memories of the liberation in an interview a different liberation story of Transit Camp Westerbork. This camp was located in the moors of the province of Drente, from where Dutch Jews were deported to the extermination centers in Poland.

Abraham Mol a former civil servant of the Ministry of Transport and Public Works and former male nurse of camp Westerbork recalled his memory of the liberation during an interview with ‘De Telegraaf’

“Commandant Gemmeker, together with his SS guard unit, absconded on the 11th of April, 1945, when the Allied forces moved in northern direction. They posted posters which said that the camp was turned over to the Red Cross. For the last Jewish prisoners still in the camp it said that we could remove our Jew stars. Furthermore, we were advised to remain in our barracks, seeing the camp had now become front-line.”

After the liberation, the 876 Jews that were liberated, had to stay in the camp for a few more months longer. This was initially as security measure The entirety of the Netherlands hadn’t been liberated yet. There was still fighting further up north. In addition, the Canadian and Dutch authorities first wanted to investigate why these Jewish prisoners hadn’t been deported: were there people amongst them who had worked with the Nazis and had to be imprisoned (again)? It would take to July 1945 before the last prisoners were allowed to leave Camp Westerbork. In the meantime, most people had received the heartbreaking news that their deported family members, friends, and acquaintances who went to ‘the East’ were murdered there by the Nazis and would never return.

The prisoners had asked civil servant Aad van As to take charge as soon as the SS had left. Van As belonged to one of the few Dutch citizens who held a position in the camp.

Van As issued this statement:

“Since I have accepted the position of leadership for this camp for the time being, I issue the following orders:

1e. The present “Dienstbereiche – Heads of Service” have been changed as follows:

                        Administration .......................  R. Friend
                        Field Service .........................  E. Zielke
                        Technical Service ................... E. Wachsmann
                        Guard Service .......................  A. Pisk
                        Medical Service ..................... Dr. F. Spanier
                        Clothing Repair Shop ............. G. Frank
                        Woodworking Shop ............... H. Beyer

2e. In order to maintain discipline in the camp, the above mentioned services will continue to operate.

3e. The representatives in whom I have placed my trust, and who have promised to work alongside with
me in the interest of camp life are as follows:

                         M. de Jong
                         F. Schiff
                         K. Schlesinger
                         Dr. Speijer
                         A. van Witsen

These men will form together with me the leadership of this camp.

4e. Everyone is advised to carry out his or her task in his own best interest, and to maintain camp
discipline.

5e. I will not hesitate to take corrective action against anyone who, one way or another, attempts to
disturb order and discipline in the camp.

6e. Labor hours will be changed as follows:

  women: from 8 until 12 o'clock, or when required at other times.
  men: from 8 to 12 o'clock and from 14 to 16 hours (2 to 4 in the afternoon).

  No work will be required after Saturday at noon until Monday morning.
  Should it be in the best interest of camp life these hours may be adjusted to a longer work schedule.

The office for the directors of the camp is in Barrack No. 33 as of this afternoon.

                                                                              Signed by Aad van As

     Westerbork, d. 12 April 1945.                            ( A. van As Jr.)

Translation of the Dutch order issued by Aad van As, dated 12 April 1945″

The late Ed van Thijn, former Mayor of Amsterdam and Dutch Minister for Interior affairs, was one of the 876 people who were liberated.

In the spring of 1943, Eddy van Thijn and his mother are taken from home in a raid. They end up in camp Westerbork and after three months they go on the train, not to Auschwitz but back to Amsterdam.

Thanks to a ruse by his father, the family did not have to go to the concentration camps in Eastern Europe.

However, he had to go into hiding as a 10-year-old boy.

He went into hiding in Brunssum, a town in the province of Limburg, and subsequently went to 18 different hiding places in Limburg and Overijssel. The eighteenth address was betrayed and so he ended up in Westerbork again in January 1945

Hidden in a kitchen cupboard, he heard soldiers’ boots on the stairs. He was betrayed and arrested. But because the war was coming to an end, he again avoided transport from Westerbork to the Auschwitz extermination camp. ,,I wasn’t allowed to exist, but I do exist’, said Van Thijn later. Both his parents survived. Ed van Thijn died on December 19,2021

Ed asked himself the following questions most of his life, I think we can ask ourselves some of those questions also.

“Had I not been a child in the war, how bravely would I have behaved? Would I have joined the resistance? Would I have resisted? Would I have been as untouchable as my father? Would I have had the courage to jump out of a moving train? Would I have succeeded in getting my child out of Westerbork?’

sources

https://www.normandy1944.info/blog/liberation-of-camp-westerbork-nl

https://www.annefrank.org/en/timeline/225/westerbork-transit-camp-is-liberated/

https://holocaustmusic.ort.org/places/camps/western-europe/westerbork/

https://www.ushmm.org/learn/timeline-of-events/1942-1945/liberation-of-westerbork

https://kampwesterbork.nl/en/history/second-world-war/durchgangslager/66-history/durchgangslager/268-liberation

https://kampwesterbork.nl/de-stichting/nieuws/item/in-memoriam


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The Holocaust in Thessaloniki, Covid 19 Vaccine and Viagra.

Some people will probably accuse me for using specific words in the title as ‘clickbait’, and to an extend that is true. But anyone who writes a blog, and especially one with an extraordinary story, want readers to click on that link to read that story.

I make no excuse for the use of the title, basically because all the words are linked.

There were an approximate 50,000 Jews in Thessaloniki ,Greece, before World War 2. Only 2000 of them survived.

In the summer of 1942, the persecution of the Jews of Thessaloniki started. All men between the ages of 18 and 45 were conscripted into forced labor, where they stood for hours in the hot summer sun and were beaten and humiliated. The Jewish community was depleted of its wealth and pride. Jews were ordered to wear the yellow Star of David and forced into an enclosed ghetto, called Baron Hirsch, adjacent to the rail lines.

On March 15, 1943, the Nazis began deporting Jews from Thessaloniki. Every three days, freight cars crammed with an average of 2,000 Thessaloniki Jews headed toward Auschwitz-Birkenau. By the summer of 1943, the Nazi regime had deported 46,091 Jews.

Two of the survivors were the parents of Albert Bourla. For many of you the name Albert Bourla will mean very little. However is the CEO of a company which will have made an impact to millions ,and possibly billions, of people across the globe. The company if Pfizer, the first company ,the Pfizer–BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine was the first approved vaccine used to provide protection against infection by the SARS-CoV-2 virus in order to prevent COVID-19. Of Course Pfizer is also known for Viagra, initially used as a treatment for heart-related chest pain. But is now primarily used as a treatment of erectile dysfunction (inability to sustain a satisfactory erection to complete sexual intercourse). Its use is now one of the standard treatments for erectile dysfunction.

Dr. Albert Bourla joined the Sephardic Heritage International on January 28th for International Holocaust Remembrance Day, where he shared his family’s story of tragedy and survival during the Holocaust.

Below is an excerpt of his speech.

“My father’s family, like so many others, had been forced from their homes and taken to a crowded house within one of the Jewish ghettos,” recounted Bourla. “It was a house they had to share with several other Jewish families. They could circulate in and out of the ghetto as long as they were wearing the yellow star.”

“But one day in March 1943, the ghetto was surrounded by occupational forces and the exit was blocked. My father and his brother (my uncle) were outside when it happened. Their father (my grandfather) met them outside, told them what was happening and asked them to leave the ghetto and hide because he had to go back inside as his wife and two other children were home. So later that day, my grandfather, Abraham Bourla, his wife Rachel, his daughter Graziella and his youngest son David were taken to a camp outside the train station and from there, left for Auschwitz. My father and uncle never saw them again,”

“When the Germans had left, they went back to Thessalonki and found that all of their property and belongings have been stolen or sold.”

Bourla’s mother was well known which caused her to hide at home “24 hours a day” out of fear of being recognized on the street and turned over the Nazis . She left the house very rarely, but it was during one of her rare ventures outside that she was captured and taken to a local prison.

“My Christian uncle, my mother’s brother-in-law, Costas de Madis approached a Nazi official and paid him a ransom in exchange for a promise that my mother would be spared,”

“However, my mother’s sister, my aunt, didn’t trust the Germans. So she would go to the prison every day at noon to watch as they loaded the truck of prisoners. One day, her fear had been realized, and my mom was put on the truck. She ran home and told her husband, who then called the Nazi official and reminded him of their agreement – who said he would look into it. That night was the longest night in my aunt and uncle’s life because they knew that next morning, my mom would likely have been executed.”

“The next day, my mom was lined up with other prisoners. And moments before she would have been executed, a German soldier on a motorcycle arrived and handed some papers to the men in charge of the firing squad. They removed my mother from the line. As they rode away, my mom could hear the machine gun slaughtering those that were left behind. Two or three days later, she was released from prison after the Germans left Greece.”

Eight years later Bourla’s parents met by way of matchmaking, through which they agreed to get married.

I fully respect anyone’s decision whether to take or not to take the vaccine, or any vaccine for that matter. Once this decision is based on sound, verified and peer researched information, and not by social media memes or sources which can’t be traced or verified.

However I will never condone the current vaccinations being compared to the Holocaust, it is absolutely vile and disgusting.

Just imagine i

sources

https://www.jpost.com/diaspora/pfizer-ceo-shares-his-familys-tragic-story-during-the-holocaust-658818

https://www.ushmm.org/information/exhibitions/online-exhibitions/special-focus/holocaust-in-greece/thessaloniki

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/my-familys-story-why-we-remember-albert-bourla/

Alexander Zwaap AKA Lex van Delden

Lex

Although he was born as Alexander Zwaap, for most of his life he would be known as Lex van Delden. He was a truly remarkable man, despite hardships he never gave up.

He was born  in Amsterdam on September 10, 1919, as the only child of Wolf Zwaap, a school-teacher, and his wife Sara Olivier-Zwaap, Lex started taking piano-lessons from an early age, initially from  from Martha Zwaga and later from the celebrated pianist, Cor de Groot.

In 1938 he enrolled at the University of Amsterdam to study medicines, he wanted to become a neuro-surgeon, but he did not lose his love for music and composing.

In 1942, two years into German occupation of the Netherlands he was  forced to interrupt his studies,because he was Jewish. He had no other choice then  to go into hiding. Refuge and a hiding place was arranged at the home of a former colleague of his father, who was a headmaster at the penitentiary in Veenhuizen, In 1943, his parents who were also in hiding, were betrayed and deported to Sobibor, where they were murdered. Lex never saw them again. It was only in 1980, when he discovered a  postcard written by his  parents  to him from the Hollandse Schouwburg( a theater which was used as a deportation centre)   while awaiting their deportation.

schouweburg

While in hiding Lex  decided to take the pseudonym “van Delden”

Due to the fact he could not make any noise, leave alone play piano and had to hide under the raised floor of a basement closet.,he became depressed.His hosts eventually included him in their daily family life.

He helped by translating all kinds of literary works and also by helping  his host’s daughter with her homework. Via  a contact with the student resistance movement,  Lex joined the resistance he was sent to the province of Brabant, where he forged identity papers at the Personal Identification Card Centre. On a daily basis he visited, by bicycle, a family with a piano and even managed to give house concerts. Unfortunately his hopes of becoming a neuro-surgeon were dashed during this time due to an exploding carbide lamp, which virtually blinded him in his left eye while in hiding.

When peace came he hurled himself under the name Lex van Delden wholeheartedly into the world of music. Apart from composing he worked as a music journalist for Het Parool; later he was chairman of the Dutch authors’ rights association Buma Stemra.

Buma

He was a prolific composer  and during  the 1950s and 60s he was one of the most frequently played composers of his generation. Van Delden wrote for orchestras such as the Noordhollands Philharmonisch Orkest (North Dutch Philharmonic Orchestra), the Hague Philharmonic Orchestra and the Nederlands Blazers Ensemble (Dutch Wind Ensemble). He has won many prestigious music awards.

2019-09-10

His  music radiates an idealistic longing for life. The structure is tight; he often includes sharp contrasts between dramatic and lyrical passages.

Despite his plans of all his set backs and losing his parents,, he did not give up.He died on July 1, 1988 in Amsterdam.

His son also took the name Lex van Deldden became an actor and starred in movies such as A bridge too far and Soldaat van Oranje(Soldier of Orange).

Finishing up with one of Lex’s compositions.

 

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Sources

Leo Smit

forbiddenmusicregained.org

gramophone.co.uk

YouTube

 

 

Painting for Mengele.

Painting

When you look at some bizarre connections in History, you cannot escape the fact that life sometimes has a ironic way of weaving a tapestry of coincidences.

One of Hitler’s favourite movies was the Walt Disney classic “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” released in 1937.

Disney

One of the main animators of the movie was Art Babbitt. an animator who joined the Disney studio in 1932. He  was born to a Jewish family in Omaha, Nebraska.

But that’s not where this tapestry of coincidences,or even fate, stops.

Dina Gottliebová was born in Brno, Czechoslovakia on January 21, 1923 .She was raised by her Mother, Johanna Schawl, a lone parent . Her mother had left Dina’s father when she was only 4 months old.

When Snow white and the Seven dwarfs was released, Dina must have seen the movie at least 7 times.

In 1939, when the Germans invaded her homeland, Dina was living in Prague, where she had enrolled at the Academy of Fine Arts. In 1942  Dina’s mother received a summons that the Jews were being moved. Dina  left school and volunteered to be shipped out with her mother to , Theresienstadt, in Czechoslovakia.

Thersien

She was actually sent to Theresienstadt on Jan. 21, 1942, her 19th birthday. Dina and her mother stayed there until Sept. 7, 1943 when they were among 5,000 people transferred to Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland.

In 1944, while in Auschwitz, Dina was chosen by Mengele to draw portraits of Roma Gypsy prisoners .Mengele wished to capture the Roma’s skin coloration better than he could with camera and film at that time. Dina agreed if her own mother’s life were spared as well,Mengele agreed.

One of the people she painted was called Celine. Dina says of painting her muse back in 1944.

“She was very sad and I said, ‘Are you sick?’”  “Celine  said, ‘My baby just died.’ It was a 2-month-old baby and she couldn’t get anything to feed the baby and didn’t have any milk. And Celine couldn’t eat anything. We had black bread with something in it—too much bran or something that made people sick—and I said, ‘Well, can I help with something?’ She said, ‘You can get some white bread.’”

Dina asked Mengele for some white bread. He delivered and Dina sneaked it to Celine, but unfortunately Celine did not survive the death camp. (I believe the portrait below is of Celine but I could not verify it, But it is definitely one of Dina’s paintings)

celine portarit

Both Dina and her Mother survived the Holocaust.Dina moved to the US after the war.

However this is not where this tapestry of life stops. There was to be one more twist to Dina’s life. On April 27,1949, Dina married Art Babbitt. The man who was the main animator of the movie she had watched so many times.

Their marriage didn’t last though. They got divorced in 1963. Dina died aged 86 on July 29,2009, in Santa Cruz California

Donation

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Sources

Goodtimes.sc

The Jewish News of Northern California

IMDb.

 

 

 

Desperation and Survival

sonder

I have often wondered how the Sonderkommandos coped with their  work.

Sonderkommandos were  forced labour units made up of  Nazi death camp prisoners. usually Jews.They were forced to help with the disposal of gas chamber victims among other duties. Sometimes even removing family members.

It is not like they had a choice, it was either work and have a chance to survive or get killed themselves. I have heard people call them traitors but I don’t subscribe to that point of view, The basic instinct of any human being is to survive.

How hard it was for these victims, for they to were victims, is illustrated in the testimony of Filip Müller, a Slovak Jewish member of the Sonderkommando.

Muller

Filip had become so desperate that he tried to commit suicide by smuggling himself into the gas chamber.

Below are some excerpts from his testimony taken from his book ‘ Eyewitness Auschwitz: Three Years in the Gas Chambers’

“In the great confusion near the door I managed to mingle with the pushing and shoving crowd of people who were being driven into the gas chamber. Quickly I ran to the back and stood behind one of the concrete pillars. I thought that here I would remain undiscovered until the gas chamber was full, when it would be locked. Until then I must try to remain unnoticed. I was overcome by a feeling of indifference: everything had become meaningless. Even the thought of a painful death from Zyklon B gas, whose effect I of all people knew only too well, no longer filled me with fear and horror. I faced my fate with composure.Eyewitness

Inside the gas chamber the singing had stopped. Now there was only weeping and sobbing. People, their faces smashed and bleeding, were still streaming through the door, driven by blows and goaded by vicious dogs. Desperate children who had become separated from their parents in the scramble were rushing around calling for them. All at once, a small boy was standing before me. He looked at me curiously; perhaps he had noticed me there at the back standing all by myself. Then, his little face puckered with worry, he asked timidly: “Do you know where my mummy and my daddy are hiding?” I tried to comfort him, explaining that his parents were sure to be among all those people milling round in the front part of the room. “You run along there,” I told him, “and they’ll be waiting for you, you’ll see.”

The only reason he survived is because he was approached by a few girls.

“Suddenly a few girls, naked and in the full bloom of youth, came up to me. They stood in front of me without a word, gazing at me deep in thought and shaking their heads uncomprehendingly. At last one of them plucked up courage and spoke to me: “We understand that you have chosen to die with us of your own free will, and we have come to tell you that we think your decision pointless: for it helps no one.” She went on: “We must die, but you still have a chance to save your life. You have to return to the camp, and tell everybody about our last hours,” she commanded. “You have to explain to them that they must free themselves from any illusions. They ought to fight, that’s better than dying here helplessly. It’ll be easier for them, since they have no children. As for you, perhaps you’ll survive this terrible tragedy and then you must tell everybody what happened to you. One more thing,” she went on, “you can do me one last favour: this gold chain around my neck: when I’m dead, take it off and give it to my boyfriend Sasha. He works in the bakery. Remember me to him. Say ‘love from Yana.’ When it’s all over, you’ll find me here.” She pointed at a place next to the concrete pillar where I was standing. Those were her last words.”

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Müller first testified during his recovery in a post-liberation hospital and subsequently in several trials. His testimonies were included in “The Death Factory” written by two fellow Holocaust survivors, Erich Kulka and Ota Kraus. He was also interviewed for the 1985 French documentary Shoah by Claude Lanzmann, who himself had been a Holocaust survivor and French resistance fighter.

Müller died on November 9, 2013. In my opinion there is only one word to describe him. Hero.

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Alive! How far would you go to survive?

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Anyone who has seen the movie ‘Alive’ will be aware of this story.
Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 was a chartered flight carrying 45 people, including a rugby union team, their friends, family and associates, that crashed in the Andes on Friday the 13th  October 1972, in an incident known as the Andes flight disaster and, in the Hispanic world and South America, as the Miracle of the Andes (El Milagro de los Andes). More than a quarter of the passengers died in the crash and several others quickly succumbed to cold and injury. Of the 27 who were alive a few days after the accident, another eight were killed by an avalanche that swept over their shelter in the wreckage. The last 16 survivors were rescued on 23 December 1972, more than two months after the crash.

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The survivors had little food and no source of heat in the harsh conditions at over 3,600 metres (11,800 ft) altitude. Faced with starvation and radio news reports that the search for them had been abandoned, the survivors fed on the bodies of dead passengers that had been preserved in the snow. Rescuers did not learn of the survivors until 72 days after the crash when passengers Nando Parrado and Roberto Canessa, after a 10-day trek across the Andes, found Chilean arriero Sergio Catalán,who gave them food and then alerted the authorities to the existence of the other survivors.

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The survivors had a small amount of food: a few chocolate bars, assorted snacks, and several bottles of wine. During the days following the crash, they divided up this food in very small amounts to make their meager supply last as long as possible. Fito Strauch devised a way to obtain water by using metal from the seats and placing snow on it. The snow melted in the sun and dripped into empty wine bottles..

Even with this strict rationing, their food stock dwindled quickly. There were no natural vegetation or animals on the snow-covered mountain.

The group survived by collectively deciding to eat flesh from the bodies of their dead comrades. This decision was not taken lightly, as most of the dead were classmates, close friends, or even relatives.

All of the passengers were Roman Catholic.  Some rationalized the act of necrotic cannibalism as equivalent to the ritual of Holy Communion,

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or justified it according to a Bible verse (John 15:13): “no man hath greater love than this: that he lay down his life for his friends”). Others initially had reservations, though after realizing that it was their only means of staying alive, changed their minds a few days later. There are reports that the only surviving female passenger, Liliana, although not seriously injured in the crash, was the last survivor to initially refuse eating the human flesh due to her strong religious convictions. She later began eating after being convinced by her husband, Javier, and the other survivors – though she died shortly thereafter in the avalanche.

When first rescued, the survivors initially explained that they had eaten some cheese they had carried with them, planning to discuss the details in private with their families. They were pushed into the public eye when photos were leaked to the press and sensational articles were published.

The survivors held a press conference on 28 December at Stella Maris College in Montevideo, where they recounted the events of the past 72 days.(Over the years, they also participated in the publication of two books, two films, and an official website about the event.)

The rescuers and a Chilean priest later returned to the crash site and buried the bodies of the dead, 80 m (260 ft) from the aircraft. Close to the grave they built a stone pile with an iron cross. They doused the remains of the fuselage in gasoline and set it alight.

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Although it is a horrific story, ultimately it is a great tale of hope,faith and endurance.

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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. Thank you. 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.

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