Rosalina Zilverberg was born in Oss, the Netherlands, on October 5,1942. She was murdered in Vught concentration camp Vught on April 17, 1943. She lived for 194 days.
In those 194 she will have only experienced her parents anxiety. She will have only experienced a life in captivity. She never got a chance to learn to walk or talk.
I said murdered in concentration camp Vught, some will argue that, They will say she died but wasn’t murdered because Vught wasn’t an extermination camp. But she was murdered, no one had the right to put her in any camp in the first place. Aside from that all concentration camps only served one purpose, the extermination of Jews and other groups the Nazis deemed sub human.
Dear Rosanna .1 Angel , 9 prayers, 4 blessings a day is what I wish for you.
Today 80 years ago my hometown, Geleen, was bombed by the RAF by mistake. Originally the target was the German city of Aachen. 84 were killed.
This is the story of that day:
England, October 5, 1942:
The weather at 9:15 am: rain and low clouds; at 12:15 p.m.: clearings extending south; 4.10 pm: further clearing up to the Felixtowe-Lizard line. North of this, the Allied Air Force expects clear skies well past midnight, important for returning aircraft. It is decided to carry out a bombing flight on Aachen. Due to expected clouds over the target area, the attack should be brought forward slightly. Between 19.09 and 19.40 hours, 257 aircraft take off from various airports for the flight. Leading the way are the pathfinders who will mark the target with flares. But bad weather makes the flight more difficult and some pathfinders do not reach the target area. The planes spread out over a large area.
Geleen: At 9.42 pm the command post of Staatsmijn Maurits of the air surveillance center / Luftschutzcentrale receives the air danger signal. A warning signal is given: aircraft approaching. No more coke ovens should be emptied to prevent glowing embers from emitting light. At 10.10 pm, dozens of flares suddenly hang in the sky over Geleen to the west and northwest. Shortly after the air raid siren of 22.15, bombs fall down whistling. The explosions become more and more numerous and more violent. Fire breaks out in several places. Again and again planes turn over Geleen and drop new loads of bombs.
Geleen turns into hell. Houses collapse. Debris is thrown around and clouds of dust hang over the burning city like a thick fog. Finally, around 11:10 pm, the violence subsides. The planes fly off again, leaving behind death and destruction. Miners are locked up underground in the Maurits. Shaft lifts no longer work. They are forced to embark on a long climb to the top. Miraculously, they accomplish it without accident. The last miner does not see daylight again until 10:30 the next morning.
About thirty aircraft were involved in the bombing of Geleen. 36 high-explosive bombs were dropped*. Five of them are direct hits in the Eindstraat, Vuling, Minister Ruysstraat, Nachtegaalstraat and Romaniestraat. The other bombs fell in the open field and some bombs failed to explode. Spread over the entire municipality, approximately twelve thousand incendiary bombs and three hundred phosphorus bombs were also dropped.
Fire brigades from all major Limburg places, even from Den Bosch, Tilburg, Breda, Nijmegen, Rotterdam and Aachen, provide assistance in Geleen and at the Maurits State Mine. Due to the poor visibility, the attackers have become so dispersed that there are casualties throughout South Limburg. When one of the pathfinders returns to base, he declares: We had no idea where we were.
The action has claimed about a hundred lives in South Limburg, of which 83(an 84th victim was later added) in Geleen. Among them was a twelve-year-old boy, probably Jewish, who was buried as an unknown victim. There is no death certificate for him. There were also fatalities in Beek (1), Schimmert (3), Heerlen (7) and the hamlet of Aalbeek (2).
Geleen counted 22 seriously injured. 59 homes were completely destroyed, 227 were heavily damaged, 103 of which had to be demolished. 528 homes suffered serious or minor damage. And 1728 homes had roof and glass damage. In addition to the streets already mentioned, the Groenstraat, Rijksweg-Zuid, Geenstraat and Annastraat were heavily affected. Three thousand inhabitants were homeless, about twenty percent of the population. Only one plane dropped its bombs over Aachen, the actual target of the attack. Near Maastricht a Wellington bomber crashed and five crew members were killed and one was taken prisoner wounded. A bomber exploded during a firefight over Brunssum. The wreckage and corpses of the crew landed scattered across that municipality. In all places in South Limburg there was damage from high-explosive and incendiary bombs. What came to be called the bombing of Geleen was a night of terror for all of South Limburg. “A night that haunts you like a nightmare,” a resident of Geleen noted. Geleen experienced the darkest day in its history.
When I saw this photograph I was reminded of another photograph. It was a picture of my colleagues and I in 1993/1994. It was taken at work on the day of the retirement of one of my colleagues at the time. We had a small party afterwards at the cafeteria of Philips Sittard. The picture was much dissimilar to the picture above.
However the circumstances could not be more different. The photograph is of a group of men who were all interned at the labor camp ‘de Fledder’ in Drenthe in the north east of the Netherlands.
On January 7, 1942, the Jewish Council in Amsterdam was pressured and held responsible for supplying 1,402 Jewish unemployed people. In the end, 1075 unemployed were identified and more than 900 men gathered at the Amstel station on 10 January. They were sent to the labor camps in the northern provinces, in particular to perform reclamation work for the Heidemij company Of these men, 120 in total, were in Camp De Fledders near Norg in Drenthe. On October 3, Yom Kippur, 1942, the Jewish men we were deported by train to camp Westerbork. None of them survived the war.
When you look at the expression of the men’s faces, you can see all emotions from joy to sadness, and hope to despair. One man even has a bunch of flowers, possibly with the hope he will be able to give them to his wife.
The Heidemij company is now known as Arcadis NV , a global design, engineering and management consulting company. I don’t have any current figures but in 2019 the company had a revenue of 3.5 Billion Euro. Thier current stock price is € 33.50 per share. Their tagline is “Improving Quality of Life” it doesn’t appear to me that they improved the life of those who worked for them in 1942.
As for the men who were murdered in various camps after the labor camp closed, all that remains is this monument with these words by Jacqueline van der Waals:
‘EEN MONUMENT VOOR GISTEREN, VANDAAG EN MORGEN. IN 1942 VERBLEVEN IN HET NABIJGELEGEN WERKKAMP “DE FLEDDERS” 120 JOODSE MEDEBURGERS. ZIJ KWAMEN NIET MEER TERUG.’
“A MONUMENT FOR YESTERDAY, TODAY AND TOMORROW. STAYED IN THE NEARBY WORK CAMP . IN 1942 “THE FLEDDERS” 120 JEWISH FRIENDSHIPS. THEY DID NOT COME BACK.”
I sincerely hope that Arcadis paid for the monument. Somehow I doubt it though.
There is no denying that the Dutch should have done more, to protect their Jewish neighbours during World War 2. But I am looking at this from a retrospective point of view, hindsight always comes with a 20/20 vision. That’s why I am not able to judge because I really don’t know what I would or would not have done.
However there were some brave men and women who defied the Nazi regime, often at the cost of their own lives.
On October 2, 1944, two Waffen-SS men were shot dead by a resistance group of Baarlo, in the North of Limburg. The SS men had volunteered for the resistance group[ because they were tired of the war. They were exposed by betrayal and killed by the resistance for security reasons.
The execution of Derk Jan Jonker took place on October 2, 1943 in Epe. Jonker was a member of the NSB and was suspected of treason. He was shot dead behind De Koekenberg farm. Jonker was buried with much NSB and WA ceremonial in Epe. No reprisals followed, which was a surprise.
On September 27, 1944, resistance members from Baarlo got into a firefight with German soldiers who wanted to investigate the Boekenderhof ,which was the base of the resistance group.. Three soldiers were shot but the fourth escaped. The farm was immediately evacuated and the resistance hid in the woods. Shortly afterwards, a group of SS men burned the farm to the ground.
In the summer of 1944, Hitler decreed that criminal trials against illegal workers could no longer take place. From then on terror had to be answered with counter-terror. From now on, resistance fighters who turned out to be armed when they were arrested had to be shot on the spot or handed over to the Sicherheitspolizei. They then decided which detainees were eligible for firing. The executions were usually linked to acts of sabotage and attacks by illegal immigrants. From the autumn of 1944, the shootings no longer took place in remote places, such as the dunes, but in public, along the roads and in squares. Passers-by were forced to witness the macabre display. After Major Tetenburg, a major of the Ordnungpolizei was liquidated in Rotterdam, on 31-3-1945 at 11.15 am, by the resistance. It was followed up on the Tuesday after Easter. with the execution of 20 civilians by the Nazis.
Simon Walvisch was born in Amsterdam, 1 on 9 March 1882.He was murdered in Auschwitz, on 1 October 1942. Reached the age of 60 years
He was a son of Jacobus Mozes Walvisch and Schoontje Zeeman. He married Rosette Abram, a daughter of Simon Abram and Judith Presser, on 29 June 1904 in Amsterdam. About four months later, on October 23, 1904, twins were born: Judith and Jacob Walvisch. However, both children died soon after birth: Judith died on November 13, 1904 and Jacob three days earlier, on November 10, 1904. After the twins, two more children followed: on April 12, 1906, Schoontje was born and on July 21, 1907 Judith. She was called Jute.
Simon’s wife Rosette Abram, however, died on December 30, 1923, and she is buried at the Jewish Cemetery in Diemen.
Less than a year later, on September 18, 1924, Simon Walvisch married Nathan Melkman’s widow, Susanna Swart, a daughter of Jeremias Swart and Saartje Leuw.
In her first marriage to Nathan Melkman, Susanna had a daughter, Flora Melkman, who was born on September 21, 1919 and who was adopted as a stepdaughter into Simon’s family after the marriage of Simon Walvisch and Susanna Swart. On October 22, 1925, another daughter was born from Simon Walvisch’s second marriage to Susanna Swart, viz. Sophia Walvis.
Flora’s father, Nathan Melkman, died on August 21, 1920, aged just 27. He is buried in the Jewish Cemetery in Diemen.
Simon Walvisch was murdered on 1 October 1942 in Auschwitz together with his second wife Susanna Swart and their joint daughter Sopiha Walvisch.
Simon’s children from his first marriage to Rosette Abram also did not survive the Holocaust either ; Schoontje was married to Samuel Sluijser and had two children with him, viz. Maurice and Rosette. The entire Sluijser-Walvisch family was murdered on 9 July 1943 in Sobibor.
The youngest daughter from Simon and Rosette’s first marriage was Judith Walvisch, called Juutje. She was married to Jeremias Swart and had two children with him: Ronny and Alfred. Ronny was murdered on 11 June 1943 in Sobibor together with her mother via the Kindertransport from Vught. Her husband Jeremias eventually ended up in Bergen Belsen where he died on December 17, 1944.
Flora Melkman, the daughter of Susanna Swart and Nathan Melkman, married Dorus Abraham in 1941. Both were murdered on September 30, 1942 in Auschwitz.
Three generations of one family murdered. Why??
I could have taken any name of the 559 Dutch Jewish citizens who were murdered on October 1,1942 in Auschwitz, but the fact that Simon’s whole family was murdered just got to me.
On September 29, 1943, Amsterdam was declared ‘Judenrein’. (Free of Jews) This happened after a major raid, in which 5,000 people, including the board and employees of the Jewish Council, were arrested and transported via Amstel station to camp Westerbork.
Those who were able to avoid the raids ended up in hiding places. A countrywide hunt for Jews in hiding was conducted. Several additional deportation trains left in late 1943 and early 1944. The solution of the Jewish ‘problem’ in the Netherlands was almost final. Against this background, and as Germany’s overall situation deteriorated, Arthur Seyss-Inquart wrote a summarizing report of the anti-Jewish campaign in the Netherlands.
“Reich Committee for the Occupied Netherlands Territories, The Hague to Party Chancellery Chief Bormann copies to General Commissars in Netherlands and Plenipotentiary Dr. Schroeder
February 28, 1944
Dear Party Comrade Bormann,
We have cleaned up the Jewish question in the Netherlands, insofar as now we only have to carry out decisions that have already been formulated. The Jews have been eliminated from the body of the Dutch people and, insofar as they have not been transported to the East for labor, they are enclosed in a camp. We are dealing here first of all with some 1,500 persons who have not been transported to the East for special reasons such as interventions by churches or by personalities who are close to us. In the main I have warded off the interference of the churches in the whole Jewish question in that I held back the Christian Jews in a closed camp where they can be visited weekly by clergy. About 8-9,000 Jews have avoided transport by submerging [in hiding]. By and by they are being seized and sent to the East; at the moment, the rate of seizures is 5-600 a week. The Jewish property has been confiscated and is undergoing liquidation.
With the exception of a few enterprises which have not yet been Aryanized, but which have been placed under trusteeship, the liquidation is finished and the property converted into financial papers of the Reich. I count on a yield of ca. 500 million Guilders [more than $250,000,000]. At some appropriate time the future utilization of this money is to be decided on in concert with the Reich Finance Minister; however, the Reich Finance Minister agrees in principle to the use of these funds for purposes in the Netherlands.
The question of Jews in mixed marriages is still open. Here we went further than the Reich and obliged also these Jews to wear the star. I had also ordered that the Jewish partner in a childless mixed marriage should likewise be brought to the East for labor. Our Security Police processed a few hundred such cases, but then received instructions from Berlin not to go on, so that a few thousand of these Jews have remained in the country. Finally, Berlin expressed the wish that the Jews in mixed marriages be concentrated in the Jewish camp Westerbork, to be employed here in labor for the moment. Herewith we raise the problem of mixed marriages. Since this matter is basic I turn to you. The following is to be considered with respect to marriages in which there are children: if one parent is brought to a concentration camp and then probably to labor in the East, the children will always be under the impression that we took the parent away from them. As a matter of fact, the offspring of mixed marriages are more troublesome than full Jews. In political trials, for example, we can determine that it is precisely these offspring who start or carry out most of the assassination attempts or sabotage. If we now introduced a measure that is sure to release the hatred of these people, then we will have a group in our midst with which we will hardly be able to deal in any way save separation. If, in short, there is a plan which is aimed at the removal of Jewish partners from mixed marriages with children, then the children of these marriages will sooner or later have to travel the same road. Hence I believe that it may be more appropriate not to start on this course, but to decide in each instance whether to remove the whole family or—with due regard to security police precautions—to permit the Jewish member to remain in the family. In the first case, the couple, complete with children, will have to be segregated, possibly like the Jews in Theresienstadt. But in that case one must remember that the offspring will get together to have more children, so that practically the Jewish problem will not be solved lest we take some opportunity to remove this whole society from the Reich’s sphere of interest. We are [now] trying the other way in that we free the Jewish partner who is no longer to have children, or who allows himself to be sterilized, from wearing the star and permit him to stay with his family. These Jews—at the moment there must be 4-5,000 in the Netherlands—remain under a certain amount of security police control with respect to residence and employability. For example, they are not permitted to direct an enterprise which has employees or occupy a leading position in such an enterprise. There are quite a few volunteers for sterilization. I believe also that we have nothing to fear any more from these people, since their decision indicates a willingness to accept conditions as they are. The situation with the Jewish women is not so simple, since the surgical procedure is known to be difficult. All the same I believe in time this way will yield results, provided one does not decide on the radical method of removing the whole family. For the Netherlands, then, I would consider the following for a conclusion of the Jewish problem:
The male Jewish partner in a mixed marriage—so far as he has not been freed from the star for reasons mentioned above—is taken for enclosed labor to Westerbork. This measure would signify no permanent separation, but action of a security police nature for the duration of exceptional conditions. These Jews will be employed accordingly and will also receive appropriate wages with which they can support their families who will remain behind. They will also receive a few days leave about once in three months. One can proceed with childless female partners in mixed marriages in the same way. We have here in the Netherlands 834 male Jews in childless mixed marriages, 2,775 [male] Jews in mixed marriages with children, and 574 Jewesses in childless mixed marriages. Under certain circumstances these Jews can return to their families, for example, if they submit to sterilization, or if the reasons for separation become less weighty in some other way, or if other precautions are taken or conditions develop which make separation no longer seem necessary.
The Jewish women in mixed marriages with children—the number involved is 1,448—should be freed from the star. The following considerations apply here: it is impossible to take these Jewish women from their families—the Reich Security Main Office agrees—if there are children under 14. On the other hand the women with children over 14 would in most cases have reached an age which would entitle them to request freedom from the star because it is hardly likely that they will have more children.
I am now going to carry out the Law for the Protection of Blood [prohibition of intermarriage and extramarital relations between Aryans and non-Aryans] in the Netherlands, and
make possible divorce in mixed marriages by reason of race difference. These four measures together will constitute a final cleanup of the Jewish question in the Netherlands. Since this regulation could in a certain sense produce a precedent for the Reich, even while in the long run the regulation of mixed marriages in the Reich will also apply in the Netherlands, I am informing you, Mr. Party Director, of my intentions in the hope that I may have your reactions. I wrote in the same vein to the Reichsfuehrer-SS [Himmler].
These are just a few random bits of World War 2 history.
The above picture is of Reich Commissioner Dr. Seyss-Inquart receiving a group of BDM girls: demonstration of gymnastics exercises. Netherlands, location unknown, September 29, 1941. What puzzles me is why would a 39 year old man be interested in a group of teenage girls, doing gymnastics? I can’t help but wonder if this was just the desire of a dirty old man gawking at young girls.
Germany. A submachine gun, a helmet and a Leica camera, the attributes for a war reporter/war photographers. September 29, 1941 location unknown. Ernst Leitz II was the owner of the Leica company during WW2, unlike some of the other big German companies to help his Jewish workers and colleagues, Leitz quietly established what has become known among historians of the Holocaust as the “Leica Freedom Train,” a covert means of allowing Jews to leave Germany in the guise of Leitz employees being assigned overseas. Employees, retailers, family members, even friends of family members were “assigned” to Leitz sales offices in France, Britain, Hong Kong and the United States. Leitz’s activities intensified after the Kristallnacht of November 1938, during which synagogues and Jewish shops were burned across Germany.
In October 1941, John F. Kennedy was appointed an ensign in the United States Naval Reserve, joining the staff of the Office of Naval Intelligence. After entering the Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron Training Center in Melville, Rhode Island, he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant (junior grade) in October 1942, and shortly thereafter ordered to report for duty as commanding officer of a motor torpedo boat in Panama. Prior to his departure, playwright Clare Boothe Luce, a close friend of the Kennedy family, sent the young naval officer a good luck coin that once belonged to her mother. On September 29, 1942, Kennedy wrote to Luce thanking her for sharing such an important token with him.
“I came home yesterday and Dad gave me your letter with the gold coin. The coin is now fastened to my identification tag and will be there, I hope, for the duration. I couldn’t have been more pleased. Good luck is a commodity in rather large demand these days and I feel you have given me a particularly potent bit of it.”
The picture is of a page in a poetry album which belonged to a friend if Hedi Metzger
The text is in German and it says. “Forget me not, trust in G-d. Speaking is silver, silence is gold. This from your memories ,Hedi Metzger, Amsterdam 19-4,1939.”
Less then 2.5 years later she would be murdered in Auschwitz.
Hedi was born on Berlichingen, 24 December 1926 . She was murdered 80 years ago in Auschwitz, on 26 September 1942, she reached the age of 15.
Hedy and herbrother Lothar came to the Netherlands in January 1939. They first stayed in the Zeehuis in Bergen aan Zee, then in the Burgerweeshuis in Amsterdam, and in January 1940 moved in with a foster family in Amsterdam. Their parents were Lylli Gutmann, born in 1900 in Ohlhausen, and Simon, born in 1892 in Berlinchingen. Both perished in Riga in 1943.
In the orphanage she wrote the few lines in the poetry album of a girl friend, who like her came from Germany.
In the 1960s, a collector bought a batch of books at an auction in Maastricht. Hedi’s little poem was also included in the books.
Twenty of those books had an ex-libris with the name Alex Heumann pasted on the inside of the cover. Presumably this concerns Alex Heumann (Maastricht, 29 August 1885). His birthplace could be an explanation for his language skills. (Maastricht and the south of Limburg is close to Belgium and Germany, most people would speak German and/or French aside from their native Dutch)The collection contains Dutch, German and French authors, including Poelhekke (about Alberdingk Thijm), Boutens, Veth, Rilke, Tollens, Sternheim and Molière’s Oeuvres complètes. In addition to being a proprietary mark, an ex libris is also a way in which the owner expresses something of himself.
Handwritten Notes Very personal are the books in which the owner has made a note, although it is usually no more than his own name, sometimes supplemented with an address or a date. They are often religious books that have been preserved as special keepsakes. Such as the prayer book that Rachel Groenstad (Amsterdam, 14 July 1900) received on the occasion of her wedding on 6 September 1925. Her new name is printed on the cover: ‘Rachel Drilsma, geb. Green City’. Johanna van Thijn-Goldsmid (Oss, 20 May 1905) owned a somewhat more luxurious version, whose name shone in gold letters on the cover. Sometimes only the giver of a book is known, as is the case with the prayer book ‘Tephillah Wetachanoenim’, which Ruben Velleman (Groningen, January 11, 1894) donated to his nephew Joop in 1936 for his bar mitzvah. A sticker in the book shows that the book was obtained from the ‘Hebrew and Alg. bookstore’ by J.L. Joachimsthal in Amsterdam. Remarkably many children have left a handwritten note in a book. It usually concerns gifts that they received on a special occasion. Edith Kahn (Wermelskirchen, November 10, 1924) had come to the Netherlands from Germany in the 1930s with her mother and two sisters. The family lived in Zaltbommel, where the mother started a business in embroidered baby clothes. In December 1932 Edith had been given a Haggadah for Passover as a ‘memorial of my visit to the Jewish School’. In the prayer book Shabbos-Tefillo by Kurt Cahn (Wesseling, April 10, 1929) there is a cryptic, but significant text: ‘Kurt Cahn, B.6-21. Camp Westerbork, Hooghalen East’. Judging by his age, he may well have celebrated his bar mitzvah in camp Westerbork. Kurt had fled to the Netherlands in 1939 together with his brother Josef (Wesseling, 25 August 1925) and sister Hannelore (Wesseling, 31 May 1935). The three children stayed for some time in the Central Israelite Orphanage in Utrecht, before they were transferred to Westerbork. In Westerbork, which first served as a refugee camp and later was used as an internment and transit camp, the small theater hall in barrack 9 was used as a synagogue. Later, the central hall of the orphanage, barrack 35, was also used as a youth shul. Religious life was simply continued the Nazis turned a blind eye initially.
Poetry albums A third category of life signs in books is found in poetry albums. This kind of touching children’s prose has been popping up more and more lately. Former girlfriends are often only too happy that they still have something tangible from their deported classmates. For example, ‘Thea’ found two poems from former girlfriends in her carefully preserved album. One is by Frieda Mathilde Kattenburg (Amsterdam, March 27, 1932). She wrote: “Dear Thea, Even though you are not my sister; and you don’t get a kiss either; mine every day too; still as a girlfriend; I write a sentence; that I like you.” The other poem is by Anita Maria Grünewald (Duisburg, December 15, 1931), written in March 1941: ‘It is of little value; what I offer you; pick roses on earth; but don’t forget me.”
Several writers made good use of the double meaning of forget-me-nots. Klaartje Fresco (Rotterdam, 26 March 1934) wrote a poem in June 1941: ‘Sprinkle flowers in your path. Roses and daisies. But in between all those flowers! A few forget-me-nots for me.” Hedy Metzger (Berlichingen, December 24, 1926) used the literal meaning a few years earlier. In a heart-shaped template she wrote to a friend from Germany just like herself: ‘Ver-giß-mich-nicht! Vertrau auf G.tt!!’ For her 13th birthday, in 1940, Geertruida (Truus) Spanjer (Amsterdam, 26 November 1927) had been given a poetry album. The album has been preserved and contains, among other things, a poem by her niece Selma Spanjer (Amsterdam, 19 May 1931) from May 1942: ‘Dear Truus, Een hart klein, full of sunshine. A big smile, every day. That makes your body fat and round. Dear Truus, stay healthy.” Jiska Pinkhof (Den Helder, December 9, 1931) was a daughter of the painter Leonard Pinkhof (Amsterdam, June 19, 1898). She wrote in a friend’s album: ‘Always be a ray of sunshine to everyone you meet. Then you bring joy to others, and you are well off yourself.” Bertha Augurkiesman (Antwerp, 18 May 1930) left the following rhyme to a girl next door: ‘Dear Hennie, I am sitting here sighing; I bite my pen; what a pity I am not a poet; but oh dear Hennie; I don’t know anymore; then my best wishes; and I’ll never rhyme again.” Finally, a heartfelt wish from Frijda Goudsmit (Amsterdam, 28 March 1927). At the end of the thirties she and other children from the Middenweg in Amsterdam were part of the club ‘The cheerful Achttal’. In a preserved poetry album, Frijda wrote in 1939: ‘An angel comes flying. See how kindly she smiles. It’s not a lie. Happiness is what she brought.”
Mara Ginic (now Kraus) was born in Zagreb, Yugoslavia in 1925. At the age of 3 or 4 she moved with her grandparents to Osijek, Slavonia(Nowadays in Croatia). When she was five years old her parents divorced and her mother moved to Belgrade, but she stayed with her father and grand parents in Osijek. When she was 8 they moved to Belgrade. After her father re-married, Mara lived with him and her step-mother.
—In April 1941, a few weeks after Hitler’s troops occupied Belgrade my father and I escaped with the help of my Catholic and ethnic German mother to the Dalmatian island Hvar. But Hvar occupied by the Croat Ustashi turned out to be a quite unsafe place. So we escaped once more under the nose of the authorities, this time to Split, occupied by the Italians. In December of the same year, the Italians deported us to a small town in Piedmont, Castellamonte, in northern Italy, where we were interned as civil prisoners of war.
In September 1943 the Germans occupied northern Italy. My father, some friends and I fled to the mountains with the intention to cross over to Switzerland. After an adventurous, dangerously unsuccessful try we were able to find a guide in Breuil (Cervinia). He descended from a line of famous mountaineers: his grandfather Jean Antoine Carrel was the first Italian to climb the Matterhorn.
Breuil lies at the foot of Matterhorn and our aim was Zermatt which lies on the other side of the Matterhorn in Switzerland. Accompanied by Carrel and wearing our backpacks and low shoes, we left at dusk. On the way another mountain guide joined us. We plodded single file into the night up a path which became steeper and steeper. We were a party of five refugees, two men and three women. Carrel headed the line and carried a thick rope rolled over his shoulder, while his colleague closed the line.
After a time Carrel stopped and gave us all a small pill. A drug for endurance that pilots take before difficult assignments, he explained. My backpack suddenly became light as feather, and it seemed as though my feet barely touched the ground. For about three or four hours we went uphill on paths that weren’t too difficult. The bright night was turning cooler and I put on my mittens. Father wasn’t so well equipped, and he constantly held his city hat with one hand because the wind threatened to blow it off his head. I gave him one of my mittens since his hands were freezing, as the cold became more biting.
We wandered uphill without much effort until daybreak, but the worst still lay ahead. The path became more stony and narrow, and we now had to step carefully sideways, leaning against a steep rock face. Then our taciturn guide fastened one after the other to the rope and let us slide down several yards over the step-like cliffs. After this difficult passage was behind us, Carrel stopped and pointed straight ahead. A glacier spread out before us, and far below, meadows and houses were veiled in the morning mist. “That’s the direction”, pointed Carrel. ” Now you have to go alone. It’s the border and I can’t go any farther”.
There he was given the gold coins as it has been agreed before by my father’s friend, Hinko Salz, who was a dentist and had gold coins. Luckily for us, because my father didn’t have any.
The two men turned around and disappeared from our sight in an instant. For a few moments we stood there, helpless, then got hold of ourselves and stepped onto the glacier. Its icy breath beat against us. It was smooth and crossing it wouldn’t have been difficult if we had worn mountain shoes, and if there hadn’t been crevasses every couples of yards which we sometimes easily stepped over, but more often were forced to jump. We had been on our way for twelve hours and the pills had lost their effect. The high had passed now into a great weariness. Every step became an effort of will, not to mention jumping, when our backpacks yanked us to the ground every time.
My throat was parched, the wind blew my hair in my face and obstructed my vision. My knees buckled and the glacier never seemed to end. Every time now when I jumped I fell on the ice, until I no longer had the strength to get up. Father was bushed too, but spurred me on and helped me again and again to get up. My limbs were stiff from the cold, my fingers and tows were numb. Enough was enough! Not another inch! I am staying here!
As father tried to help me I started to scream. At 11.500 feet this was exactly the right time to have a nervous breakdown. At Dr. Salc’s sign, my father gave me a slap in the face, and I began to cry, but gradually quieted down, pulled myself together and dragged myself along like a good girl. Soon we made it over the glacier. Now before us lay a lake, and not far from there we saw a house: the border guard.
The guards had been observing us with binoculars for some time and came to meet us. We dropped exhausted on the benches in front of the small guard house. They gave us water and let us have a breather before we were politely, but resolutely informed that we couldn’t remain there in Switzerland but had to turn back. We hadn’t expected that. At that time we still didn’t know anything about the many refugees who were not only refused entry to the country, but were even immediately handed over to the Germans.
At first my father and Dr. Salc tried to persuade the border guards. My father said his sister lived in Switzerland, and since he had her address — she was interned in a camp near Lugano — he asked to be allowed to call her there. Over the telephone he inquired if she had any contacts who could help us be admitted to Switzerland. “My poor brother, I’m a refugee, how can I help you?” Since nothing could be expected from that side, the negotiations turned to imploring and begging for entry — and when even tears were of no avail the two adult women threw themselves at the feet of the officials, pulled their hair and made such a scene that I had to look away in shame.
After this terrible exhibition the top official went to the phone, spoke for a long time with distant superiors and finally informed us he couldn’t decide anything on his own and had to bring us to Zermatt. We hoped then we were saved. We believed once in the country we wouldn’t be expelled any more. We were lucky, because as I heard later, many refugees who already were inside the country have been handed over by Swiss police to the Germans.
So we started on our way, traipsing along with our remaining strength behind the border guard through this wonderful, free country where there was no war and no SS.
Even the air seemed to me particularly fragrant, like honey, or was it my imagination? Was I hallucinating smells? In my exhaustion and ecstasy I hadn’t noticed that our escort was smoking a pipe, out of which small honey-scented clouds floated over us. How we came to Zermatt, to whom our guard handed us, where we spent the night: all this went unperceived by my sleepwalking senses. The twenty-four hours of marching, climbing, jumping over crevasses, agitation, despair and ensuing deliverance had completely emptied my mind. I believe we stayed in a hotel. All I see is the staircase we went down the following morning which caused us immense strain because of our sore muscles.
In Zermatt we became famous overnight. We were treated like heroes. People felt admiration for our accomplishment and compassion for our lot. On our way to the train station from where we were to leave for a camp, men and women on the streets congratulated us and offered us fruits and chocolate. Even as we sat in our compartment, they passed us apples and cigarettes through the windows.
We remained in Switzerland until the end of the war. Meanwhile I had married Ivo Kraus and we decided not to return to Yugoslavia, but go to Italy. From Italy we emigrated to Argentina. My father did return to Yugoslavia, only to escape from the Tito regime 2 years later. Some month before he had married in Belgrade an Auschwitz survivor, Silvia Drucker. They emigrated to Venezuela where their daughter Nicole was born.
My husband and me had two children and we lived later again in Italy, and in France, in Venezuela and finally in São Paulo, Brazil, where we divorced. In São Paulo I met Joe J. Heydecker with whom I lived until his death in Vienna, Austria.—–
Daniel Falkner was born in Poland in 1912 and grew up in the city of Rzeszow. Daniel hoped to become a doctor but was unable to attend medical school because of restrictions placed on the number of Jewish students. As he neared the age of compulsory military service in Poland, he was sent to a military academy. After completing military service he moved to Warsaw and shortly before September 1939, he was called up.
Daniel’s division eventually surrendered and he became a prisoner of war. After escaping, he returned to Warsaw. In the autumn of 1940, Warsaw’s Jewish population was forced into the ghetto. Daniel and his wife escaped the ghetto and lived in hiding until discovered in 1943. Later, hiding amongst a group of non-Jewish Polish political prisoners, Daniel was taken to Sachsenhausen camp in Germany.
As Allied troops advanced in April 1945, the Germans evacuated those prisoners deemed fit for forced labour and left the rest behind to die. Daniel avoided deportation by hiding under floorboards and was liberated. After the war, Daniel joined the British Army as an interpreter and was reunited with his wife in 1946.
And of course then came the ghetto, and this was a terrible upheaval. Thousands and thousands of people had to move in and out, those Poles who lived among the Jews had to move out from this designated area and the designated area was only a small corner of Warsaw, the most dilapidated part of Warsaw and the Jews who lived throughout Warsaw had to move in. And this was a period which is imprinted on my mind, people with, with all sorts of chattel moving in and out. And of course the living conditions were impossible, every, every cellar, every corridor was full, filled with people. And many couldn’t find even this and they slept in the street. The result was that every morning the undertakers had to collect bodies from the streets. In July 1942 the German authorities announced that to ease up your loss, you can volunteer to go to the East and there you will be provided with work and food and clothing and so forth. They were not specific to say where to the East, what is the name of the place where you are going, and what sort of work you are going to, to have to perform. And many thousands of volunteers came forward to be sent to the East.
Every day about six thousand volunteers were sent off, not to be seen or heard of again. And then when these volunteers started to become thin on the ground, the Germans made traps in the, arranged traps in the street, and whoever was caught in the trap was sent off. And among those were old people, disabled people, blind people or children, and they were packed to capacity in those cattle trains and sent off. And one or two of those who were sent off came back and said ‘this is all a lie, this, we are, they are being sent only a few tens of kilometres away from, from Warsaw to a place called Treblinka and there they are being exterminated completely’. You see the human nature is such that this is a thing that is incomprehensible, no one, no one can take it in that someone is planning a complete annihilation or murder of a whole people, this is inconceivable.
Pieter Kohnstam was born in Amsterdam in 1936. His parents, Hans and Ruth Kohnstam, were forced to flee from the Nuremberg/Fuerth area in Germany to Amsterdam, The Netherlands during the early days of the Nazi regime. Coming from a well-known upper middle class family, they left behind a lucrative toy merchandising company with sales offices and warehouses in cities throughout Germany and Europe.
It was by chance that the Kohnstam’s apartment in Amsterdam was downstairs from the family of Anne Frank. Ruth became a close friend of Edith Frank, and Anne, the youngest daughter, became Pieter’s babysitter. Both children attended the local schools in the neighborhood.
“In the morning of July 6, 1942, Anne Frank came to say good-bye to us. The Franks were about to go into hiding in their secret annex. It was a sad and difficult parting for everyone. As things had deteriorated, Anne had come down every day to play with Pieter (age 6). Ruth (Pieter’s mother, age 31) and Clara (Ruth’s mother/Pieter’s grandmother) had become very fond of her. We hugged and kissed each other good-bye. Remembering that moment still brings tears to my eyes.
We watched from our living room window as the Franks left for their hiding place. It was raining outside. Margot had gone ahead earlier. Otto was dressed rather formally, as if he were going to work. He wore a dark suit and tie, an overcoat, and a hat. He was carrying a satchel under one arm and holding onto Edith with the other. Edith was also wearing a hat and carried a shopping bag. Anne had put on a scarf against the rain. She looked back one more time as we waved good-bye to them. We were crying and praying for their safety.
Two days later, the Nazis conducted a Razzia in our neighborhood. We heard their sirens and car horns blaring from far away. As the black lead motorcycle turned into our street followed by the passenger car and the large truck packed with Nazi soldiers, I was filled with foreboding. Pieter was standing on the sofa with his nose pressed against the lower part of the window, looking towards the street while holding on to Clara’s waist. Ruth and I looked at each other with apprehension.
The convoy stopped in front of our building, and soldiers poured from the back of the truck. They rushed up to our apartment and hammered their rifle butts against our front door, shouting, “Open up, or we will break down the door.”
While Clara let them in, I saw Ruth slipping a small piece of paper into Pieter’s pocket.
The soldiers burst into the room, led by a Nazi officer who waved his pistol at us and shouted, “Be still, or you will be shot.” Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Pieter dig for the paper in his pocket, sneak it into his mouth, and carefully chew and swallow it. I held my breath, praying that no one else had noticed. Fortunately, the soldiers were too busy putting tags with the SS insignia on our furniture and belongings, and paid no attention to us. The officer explained that, because we were being deported, they were claiming possession and ownership of everything we had. We would be committing a crime if we removed so much as a toothpick from our apartment.
When they finally left, we all heaved a sigh of relief. Ruth praised Pieter for his quick thinking in disposing of the paper slip. She smiled at him and said, “Don’t worry; it won’t harm you. It all comes out eventually.” The slip had been filled with telephone numbers, including one for Gerda Leske. (Gerda and Ad Leske were close friends of the Kohnstams, frequently coming to Sunday brunch before the German occupation. They continued to come over on Sundays following the occupation, making sure to supply food for the family and toys for Pieter, an only child. Both Christian; Gerda was originally from Berlin and Ad was Dutch. They owned stores in Amsterdam and Maastricht). Ruth had taken a big risk, figuring that the Gestapo would not think to search a small child. We had been very lucky indeed.
When we received notice for our departure date, Ruth called Gerda, who devised a brilliant, but dangerous plan.
Nothing further happened until the day when we were to report to the freight depot in the eastern section of Amsterdam for transport to Westerbork. Ruth and Clara spent the morning sewing cash — large bank notes — and jewelry into the shoulder pads of our coats. Ruth also hid some money in the shoulder pads of her blouse. We buried the rest of her jewelry in the garden behind our apartment. We never saw any of it again. The day before, I had bought two knapsacks — the kind hikers use — and we packed them with enough food for two days. We stored them in the back bedroom, so they would not be visible if somebody looked through our living room window from the street. I had also obtained strong, waterproof hiking boots with nailed rubber soles for Ruth, Pieter, and me. In addition, I had forged travel permits and identity cards for the three of us.
The hours crawled along at an interminable snail’s pace. We were too nervous to eat anything for lunch. Pieter kept asking questions of Grandma Clara: Why do we have to leave? Why can’t you come with us? Will I ever see you again? She answered every one of them patiently, reassuring him that everything would be all right. I realized, with surprise, that he was voicing the same concerns that were going round and round in my mind. I, too, was wondering if we were ever going to see Clara again, if we would ever return to Amsterdam. As my thoughts turned to the previous time when I fled from the Nazis, I wondered if I would ever set foot on German soil again, and if I would ever regain any of what my family had lost.
(Ruth and I had fled Nuremberg for the Netherlands in September 1932. My work as an artist was considered “degenerate” by the powerful, fanatic followers of Hitler in Nuremberg; and, not only our possessions, but quite possibly our lives were in danger. Though the Nazis were not yet “officially” in power, on the advice of my father, a judge, we quickly fled the country. This was one year after our marriage and I was thirty years old.)
Finally it was time to go, and it was hard to tear ourselves away. The apartment at Merwedeplein 17 had been our home for nearly eight years; and, once again, we were leaving everything behind, except for our lives, our memories, our hopes and our faith. We had agreed that I would start off alone, and Ruth would follow with Pieter. If she was stopped by a Nazi patrol, she would claim that he was sick, and that she was taking him to the hospital. I drank half a bottle of French Armagnac, put on my black beret, and, with a final goodbye to Clara, left our apartment through the back door. The gate at the rear of our garden opened onto a small passage that ran along the back of our apartment buildings. Emerging from the alley into the main street, I saw an SS patrol taking a cigarette break in the park. I prayed that Ruth and Pieter would get away without any trouble.
Fortunately, we all made it safely to Gerda’s salon. Since we did not look like shoppers, we entered through the back door, so as not to arouse suspicions. The first thing we did was to remove the Stars of David from our garments. It was a cumbersome process, but critical for our survival. We rubbed dye into the areas where the yellow patches had covered the fabric, so they would match the rest of the coat where the material looked more worn.
Gerda had come up with a clever cover story: She was taking her staff to a fashion show in Maastricht. Since Ruth was a young and beautiful woman, she would go as her fashion model. I was the artist and would act as the company’s fashion designer. And Pieter would come along as Gerda’s son. We impressed on Pieter that he would have to be absolutely quiet for the duration of the train ride, and that he would have to act as if Ruth were a stranger. Knowing what a challenge it would be for a gregarious child who liked to talk to anybody, and who was, no doubt, as scared as we were, worried me. How would he behave under these tense circumstances? Would he be able to keep silent and deny his own mother?
By the time we finished with our coats, there was not much time left. We quickly agreed on a meeting place in case we got separated. Then we headed to the Hauptbahnhof, the main railroad station, to take the train to Maastricht. We took separate trolleys. My ride went without a hitch, although there were a number of Nazi troops patrolling the streets, stopping, kicking, clubbing, and frisking people at random. When I arrived at the great hall of the railroad station, Ad Leske was waiting for me under a large round clock that was suspended from the ceiling. He greeted me formally like a business acquaintance, shook my hand and said, “Good afternoon, how are you?” In the process, he pressed a railroad ticket into my palm.
Then he accompanied me to the platform where a commuter train was waiting. We passed an Amsterdam City Council member I knew well coming from the train. He winked at me and gave me a quick nod, letting me know that Ruth, Gerda and Pieter were safe in the railroad car. Ad took me to my seat, quietly wished me luck, shook my hand again, and left. After all the years of a close friendship, it was difficult to part so abruptly, but we had no choice.
The train was filled with Dutch workers heading home for the day. Ruth was sitting two seats ahead of me on the other side of the aisle. Gerda and Pieter were several rows farther down, facing us. Pieter looked serious but content, nestled inside Gerda’s arms. We had agreed that if any one of us was stopped or apprehended, the others were not to look or give any sign of recognition. Pieter tried once to make eye contact with Ruth, who forced herself to look away. For a moment he looked stricken, and I was afraid that he would start to cry; but, Gerda had noticed the exchange and drew him closer to her, hugging him to her breast as if he were her own son. As he slowly relaxed into her body, I also felt myself calming down.
But we still had to wait. It seemed to take forever until the conductor finally walked along the train cars, slamming all the doors shut. His shrill whistle signaling departure was music to my ears. With a sudden jolt, the train lurched into motion and slowly pulled out of the station. We were finally on our way.
Throughout the ride, Nazi soldiers patrolled and spot checked the identity cards of various passengers. We tried to act unconcerned, but it made me nervous every time they walked down the aisle. Sure enough, one of them asked to see my papers. I handed him my ticket and the identity card I had forged, and held my breath. They looked them over and handed them back to me without comment. A wave of immense relief swept over me, followed by a warm feeling of pride that my handiwork had passed the test.
By the time we reached Maastricht, the sun had set and it was getting dark. We met at the end of the railroad platform, and Pieter gave Ruth a tight hug, burrowing into her as if to seek extra reassurance.
Outside the station, the managing director of Gerda’s salon in Maastricht was waiting for us, a thin man with a pinched face. His eyes kept darting all over the place. As we started to walk to his car, he asked to speak to Gerda in private. They stepped to the other side of his Peugeot, and I heard him murmur in a low, insistent voice while glancing nervously in our direction. Gerda stared at him, and her face became tight with anger. She did not raise her voice, but she must have said something to him that permitted no argument, because he looked down at the cobblestone street and then nodded in acquiescence.
He stood back as we said good-bye to Gerda. It was a long, emotional, tearful parting. How could we ever thank this extraordinary woman enough? How could we repay her for her generosity and courage? Gerda had risked her life for us. She had made arrangements with the underground in Amsterdam to take us across the Belgian border. She had accompanied us to Maastricht herself. If the Nazis had apprehended her, they would have killed her and her family. We did not want to let her go, but after yet another embrace, Gerda finally tore herself away and headed back into the railroad station, wiping her teary eyes, to wait for the next train back to Amsterdam.
As I watched her leave, I realized that our lives were never going to be the same. We had crossed a line and could no longer turn back. We were committed. Our journey to freedom had begun. It was July 14, 1942. By coincidence it was also Bastille Day in France; a good omen, I hoped.”
In 1963, Pieter immigrated to the United States where he pursued a career in the specialty chemical industry, focusing on pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. He became a U.S. citizen in 1968. He and his wife, Susan, married in 1965 and have two children and three grandchildren. Now retired in Venice, Florida, Kohnstam is active in community affairs. He is the past President of the Jewish Congregation of Venice. He is frequently invited to schools and various organizations to speak about his experiences as a Holocaust survivor, his book, and matters relating to Jewish and interfaith topics.
Maria Ossowski was a Polish civilian living in Zakopane, Poland when the Second World War began. During the war, non-Jewish Poles were conscripted into forced labour in Germany and Maria’s parents sent her to live with family in Warsaw in an attempt to save her from being called up. In Warsaw, Maria and her aunt helped Jewish children by providing them with whatever food and clothing they could. She was suspected of being part of the Polish Resistance and arrested in 1943. She was deported to Auschwitz in May later that year.
“Eventually we were herded into what was to be our washing room. It was a huge barrack, with the water running, cold water I must add, from the, from the, from the, the top, there were men in already prison garb, which we never seen before. We were made to strip, we were made to go in front – each one of us – in front of that man, that man or the other one, they were all standing in the line, and we were shaven – we were shaven – our heads were shaven, our private parts were shaven and we were pushed then under that water. And after a while we were pushed out of it into another part of that big block, where the huge amount of terrible-looking – and already smelling terrible – clothes were prepared for us.
What we actually got was one dress which you had to put over your head. The dress had sleeves, but not long, like three-quarter sleeves, and when we have had this on, we were marched again to another part, where the girls this time – prisoners obviously – were sitting by the little tables, and that, and then where we were getting our numbers tattooed on our arms. It was done with simply – Biros were not invented then – so it was just implement with which you write letters in those days, and it was put into the ink and the point was made on your arm ‘til it had the shape of the number. You actually are asking me what, what made me survive, or what helped me survive. And this answer is the one which actually brings you pain all your next life, this normal life, because you never know why. So the easiest thing is to say, yes, God wanted it, that was supposed to be that way, but there were more human factors in it.
The fact that I was not, that I was young, that I was not ravaged by the long term imprisonment in prison…I told myself very quickly that I don’t want to die there, and the, this psychical attitude help you enormously. You were never to feel sorry for yourself. If you started to feel sorry for yourself you were a goner, you, you, you, you were Muselmann, as we were calling those who were physically and mentally broken. When we came, of course, we knew nothing. I, I knew nothing. I didn’t know about the extermination policy or – we knew that the ghettos were, were burning and the people were killed in the ghettos…
To see it with my own eyes was really a terrible shock and I can tell you one thing, that there is point in your life where your heart is no heart anymore, it’s a piece of ice. I had the feeling that my heart was hard, and not because I didn’t have feeling for my fellow prisoners – no, that I always had – but there was this hand, this iced hand which kept hold my heart like this. And my heart were not alive any more, it was – the sheer terror of it made my, part of my body almost turn into the ice.”
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.
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.