I came across an excerpt from the book Wiswassebeesjes by author Dieta Kalk. I can’t think of a proper translation for the word, but that doesn’t really matter.
In the book the writer, recalls the removal of the Wallage family from Aprikozenweg 21 in Apeldoorn, the Netherlands, a day after seeing the Star of David. The wearing of the Star of David had compulsory starting at the beginning of May 1942. It is almost certain that the Wallage family was temporarily interned on the grounds of the Apeldoornsche Bosch in mid-January 1943 and sent to the transit camp Westerbork and then on to Auschwitz.
This excerpt gives a good illustration of the perception of the treatment of Jews, as seen from the vantage point of a child.
The neighbours next to us (the Wallage family) have two children. They have beautiful dark hair and brown eyes. “They are Jews,” says Mom. “What are Jews?” asks Dieta. Mom doesn’t answer. She looks very serious. One day Dieta sees that the children are wearing a star on their jackets. And their father and mother too. “I want a star like that too,” says Dieta. “Mommy, can I also have a star on my jacket?”. “Only Jewish people should wear a star on their coat,” says Mama. “They don’t like that at all.” Dieta doesn’t understand it. The next day a truck comes onto the street. The entire Wallage family climbs into the car. Soldiers are there. “Where are they going?” asks Jopie. “They are going on ajourney, but we don’t know where to.” But no one looks happy, and Mom is crying. “Is that because it’s war?” Dieta asks. “Are they coming back?” “Nobody knows,” says Mom. The house is empty. We never saw them again.
Levie Wallage started work as a qualified nurse at Apeldoornse Bos on 1 June 1925 to support his family. The piece mentions their two children. However, Levie Wallage and his wife Matthea Wallage-Halverstad, did have a third child. Renate Wallage was born 22 May 1943 in Westerbork.
This clearly indicates that the Nazis had no regard for the life of the Jews, born or yet to be born. They pushed a pregnant woman on a truck.
Matthea and her children were all murdered on 3 September 1943 at Auschwitz. Levie was murdered a few months later on 31 March 1944.
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.
When I do posts on the Holocaust, I always try to do them with as little emotion as possible. I try to be objective as humanly possible. The reasoning I use to write without emotions is if I didn’t, I think I would get mental problems down the line.
However, sometimes, I let my emotions get the better of me on purpose. It works as a relief valve, especially when it is about children, As was the case when I was researching the two brothers, Nico and Lodewijk Bonnewit. I cried before I sat down with my keyboard to write about these two angels.
Nico was born on 30 July 1936, and Lodewijk, his brother, was born on 28 February 1940, both in Amsterdam. Their parents hid the boys to keep them safe from deportation. They were found and deported. The Nazis murdered them in Sobibor on 21 May 1943. Nico was six years old, and Lodewijk was three.
Due to a maid’s carelessness, the boys were caught by the Nazis. Their parents, Ben and Eva Bonnewit-Fresco had been hiding at the Jonker family home at the Bloemendaalsestraatweg in Velsen. When their host heard about the arrest of the children, Mr Jonker went to Amsterdam and tried to get them released. At that same time, Lodewijk and Nico transferred to a children’s home in The Hague. A day later, Mr Jonker tried to get the boys, but they were on a list, and their disappearance would not have gone unnoticed. The management of the home did not dare to let them go. A plan emerged for the next day. They would take the children for a walk in a park, and Mr Jonker would kidnap them. He agreed, but when he arrived in The Hague the next day, the children had been transferred to Westerbork early that morning.
The boys’ mother Eva Bonnewit-Fresco wanted to volunteer to be able to come to Westerbork with her children, but her people in hiding managed to talk her out of that.
The parents survived the war and searched for their children for years after the liberation, but in vain because the boys had met their fate at Sobibor on 21 May 1943.
I am a parent, and I can’t imagine how Benedictus Bonnewit and his wife Eva Bonnewit-Fresco felt. It must have been the ultimate nightmare, which repeated itself in their minds every night as they slept. They may have survived physically—but mentally—they probably died.
Martin Haas was born Martijn Haas, at the end of 1936 in Breda, a small city in the south of the Netherlands. Just before the war started, about two hundred Jews lived in Breda. Martin survived because his parents kept him safe in hiding. His parents and 2 of his siblings did not survive. His sister Elizabeth and his brother Izaak, together with their mother Margaretha were murdered in Sobibor on 23 April 1943. His father, Jacob Richel was murdered on 28 February 1943 at Auschwitz.
Martijn Haas cries as quietly as he can at night in the dark attic of his hiding place. It is 1942 and World War II is in full swing. Martijn is five years old and he is alone. He does not know where his family is. Martijn nowadays goes through life as Martin, 83+ years old and the only one of his family still alive. Researchers found his family name in a research expropriated homes of Jews. They discovered nine properties belonging to Martin’s family in Breda were all taken away by the Nazis.
Most people in Breda know the Haas family. Jacob, Martijn’s father, has a large network of Jewish, but also non-Jewish friends and acquaintances. This is partly due to the family business Haas Manufacturen, where he sold textiles and delivered them to farmer families in the Breda area by car. A gap in the market, because many people do not yet have a car.
The business is going so well that Jacob invests in real estate with his two sisters Adele and Céline and rents them out. All family possessions are taken away during the occupation years. More houses were taken from other Jewish families in Breda. We discover this in the Verkaufsbücher, the administration of expropriations of Jewish property, which is managed by the National Archives in The Hague. Through post-war documents about the Jewish community of Breda, we know how to trace Martijn in the US. He now lives in San Diego and works as a professor at the University of California, where he has been addressed as ‘Martin’ for years.
Martijn does not find out exactly what happened to his family until the nineties. He tells us why and how he lives until then with all his questions. They pile up from October 1942, when he goes into hiding as a five-year-old.
“Just before my sister Rosa and I are taken to a hiding place, my mother puts me on the dining table. It’s a dark and rainy night. She expressly tells me to shut up. I must never reveal that I am a Jewish boy. Although I am, I have to forget about that for a while. And I do, more or less.”
Martijn says goodbye to his mother in the house of his grandfather’s brother at 42 Speelhuislaan, where they temporarily live. The bomb that the Germans dropped on Terheijdenstraat on Sunday 12 May 1940 destroyed their house. The actual target is the station around the corner, an important strategic point, but the bombers miss their target. Everything is gone, and no one is hurt. Breda was evacuated at that time because the mayor fears a fight between French and German soldiers in his city. However, the Germans advance so quickly that Breda is taken without too much resistance.
Because of that bomb, Martijn’s family lost all their belongings at the start of the war. Martin is then three years old. He is the youngest child of his father and mother, Jacob and Greet. He has two sisters, Elisabeth and Rosa, and a brother, Izaak. His grandmother Elisabeth is also part of the family.
“We move in with my grandfather’s brother right behind the station. On the wide sidewalk opposite the house, I learned to cycle with the boys from the street. And I remember one Friday night, the beginning of Shabbat. My two unmarried aunts Adele and Céline are visiting, as they often do. After dinner, we all sit together at the table and they talk about the situation. It is now war and it is very bad for us Jews. I don’t understand what they say. But after that, I don’t dare go into the hallway to go to the toilet. It’s dark, I think it’s too scary.”
“While we live there, my father has a new house built on the Mauritssingel. Another semi-detached house is in the centre. Our family is in one house number, where my father will also run his business, and my aunts in the other number, where they will start a boarding house. How my father did this in the middle of the war is not entirely clear. Because those ‘dirty dirty rotten Jews’ were not allowed to have a bank account. He must have had gold or a lot of cash. Anyway, the house came off. Once we went there with the whole family. And I remember well that there was a spiral staircase behind the house. This allowed you to go to the kitchen from the outside. Without having to enter the house. For the grocer, or anyone. I loved that so much. And that staircase, it is still there.”
The Haas family never lived in that house. During his search for what happened to his family, Martijn finds a handwritten letter dated 13 July 1942, from his father. In it, he writes to the municipality of Breda that he cannot declare the house completed because it is forbidden for him as a Jewish man to come there. It is an attempt to keep the house out of the hands of the occupier.
At that time, Jews had been banned from owning land and real estate for almost a year. The Dutch Property Administration registers Jewish property and outsources the expropriation and sale of Jewish properties to private individuals. In Breda, the ANBO does that, the abbreviation for General Dutch Property Management. NSB members lead this organization. In the Verkaufsbücher we see that nine properties of the Haas family have been expropriated, five of which are in the name of Martijn’s father and his two aunts Adele and Céline.
The homes at Bavelschelaan 112 and Rozenlaan 48 are the first to be listed as ‘provisionally sold’. That is in the summer of 1942. For 6,708.20 guilders C.v. Meant to buy both properties. This practically turns out to be a neighbour of the family. We see that this person is currently registered at the address Pastoor Pottersplein 39, two streets next to the Speelhuislaan where Martijn and his family live at that time.
It is also diagonally opposite another building of Martijn’s father: Pastoor Pottersplein 31. That house is also sold by the NSB members a few months later. Exactly the same is happening with the buildings at Prins Hendrikstraat 73 and Rozenlaan 40-42. The new owners pay no more than a few thousand guilders, a bargain
Around the same time as the expropriation of the houses, Martijn’s father is arrested. As a member of the Jewish Council of Breda, he managed to get a postponement a few times, but on September 29, 1942, that was no longer possible. He is forcibly taken to a Dutch labour camp in Doetinchem. Three days later, all men from the Dutch labour camps are transported to Westerbork. Martin’s father is there.
Martijn, his mother Greet Vleeschouwer-Haas, and his brother and sisters are also called up a few days later. They have to board the train to Westerbork on October 6 and will be reunited with their father there. However, his mother acts differently and thus changes the fate of Martijn and his sister Rosa.
“The evening before we were to be transported to Westerbork, Mrs Hees comes to our house. It is early evening, six o’clock, half past six. It’s raining and it’s dark. Mrs Hees wears a large black cape when she enters. My mother tells me that the two smallest children go with this lady. That’s me and my sister Rosa, whom I call Roosje. Two children could come along and the mother thought, ‘the smaller they are, the greater the chance that the surroundings of the hiding place will not get suspicious.’ And she was right about that.”
“We hide under Mrs Hees’s black cape and walk to the station together. There we take the train to Bergen op Zoom, about 40 kilometres from Breda. There is a lady waiting for my sister. Roosje goes with her to the Baars family, where she was supposed to stay. I continue with Mrs Hees to her house. It was then thought that we would only stay for a few months.”
“The first thing that needs to be done with the Hees family is choosing a name. I will be the seventh child in the family and will have a few options. I choose ‘Brother’, then a very common name. Because I’m blonde, I could easily pass for one of the Hees’ kids, but I don’t go to the same Catholic primary school. No matter how risky it is, Mrs Hees arranges a place for me at the public school in our street, the Coehoornstraat.”
“A heroic act, I later learned. Because I had no papers, my teacher had to be involved in the plot. And especially because Mrs Hees prevents Roosje and me from accidentally betraying ourselves when we meet in the schoolyard. She goes to a Catholic primary school.
Martijn leads a fairly normal life during the war. He learns to read, write and count, likes his teacher, and plays in front of the house of the Hees family with his friends. No one knows that he is a Jewish boy. He acts just like the rest. But at night it is different. Then Martijn can’t distract himself with schoolwork or focus on being a good boy. And he is overcome by loneliness, fear and uncertainty.
“I was still young, but to a certain extent, I knew what was going on. At night, in the dark attic where I sleep, I wonder how my family is doing. I’m very concerned. Where are they, what would happen to them? I cry as quietly as I can. I still carry that feeling with me. That is not going away.”
It will be years before Martijn gets answers to his questions. On the night he flees, his mother goes into hiding with Martijn’s sister Elisabeth and brother Izaak at a bakery in Princenhage, another part of Breda. His aunt, Rosa Vleeschouwer, goes with them. They are good there until the wave of betrayal in February and March 1943. The Sicherheitspolizei (SD) raids the bakery on 11 March 1943, at 11 a.m. His mother and his aunt just manage to get away with the children through the back door, but just before they reach the Bredase forest, the SD agents catch up with them.
The agents pick them up, interrogate them and take them to the detention house. They are then deported via Vught to Sobibor. Aunt Rosa is murdered there less than a month later. The same thing happened to Martijn’s mother, sister and brother a few weeks later. Elisabeth and Izaak are then 10 and 9 years old, Greet is 36. Martijn’s father has been deceased for two months. After Westerbork, he was transported to the labour camp in Auschwitz. He is 42 when he dies.
Before the end of 1943, Martijn has lost almost all of his relatives. Aunt Céline dies in the summer due to illness at her hiding place in Breda. And his aunt Adele dies a month and a half later in Auschwitz. His nephews, nieces and their families do not survive the war either. Martijn’s grandmother did not have to experience the worst part of the war, she died in the summer of 1940. She was already gone when the war really started. Martijn will only find out about all this much later.
Despite the fact that they are both in hiding in Bergen op Zoom, Martijn and Roosje do not see each other during the war. They do send each other letters, which the underground brings back and forth. “I also occasionally receive a letter from the underground itself. From a lady who made contact for my hiding place. She helped both my mother and Mrs Hees during and after the pregnancy and uses her network to help Jewish children. I always cry when I read her letter. And it doesn’t even say anything important, not even her real name.”
Bergen op Zoom is liberated on October 27, 1944.
The north of the country has to wait until after the hungry winter. On 5 May 1945, the whole country is free. Martijn then went into hiding with the Hees family for almost three years. It is waiting for a family member to pick him up.
“I dreamed, hallucinated, that my parents came to get me. Even when none of my family returned, it remained that way. Because no one told me what really happened to my family. That I and Roosje were entitled to the property that had been taken from us, all the homes that had been expropriated, was not my concern. I was too young and focused on catching up on my schoolwork. Meanwhile, I kept hoping that a mistake had been made. That one day my family suddenly walked into the street. That it was all a big misunderstanding.”
There appears to be an uncle on his mother’s side who also survived the war with his wife and two sons. His name is Dick Vleeschhouwer. Martijn goes to Amsterdam to become the third child in the family.
“They had also been in hiding, but the war was so terrible for them that they decided not to be Jews anymore. When I came to them, they were already Christian. They sent me to a strict Christian private school because they thought it was best. But for me, that was a very bad year. It did not work. They couldn’t handle having me, a deeply traumatized child, there.”
“I returned to the Hees family, but staying with them was not an option either. Mrs Hees wanted me to grow up as a Jewish boy, with my ‘own people’. I had to get a good education, also in my own religion. I shook that off then, remembering what my mother had impressed upon me just before I left. But Mrs Hees turned out to be the smartest of the two of us.”
A grandniece of his mother, Beppie Kogel, eventually finds Martijn. She and her husband Ben Oudkerk decide to adopt him. They do not have children of their own yet and would also like to take care of Roosje so that the brother and sister can grow up together. The hiding family Baars would like Roosje to stay with them. They already had her baptized during the war and she follows Catholic education just like their children. She’s already part of it. Roosje of her own accord stays with the family who saved her life.
Martijn goes to live with his foster parents in a small working-class house in Amsterdam. Every day he cycles about twenty minutes to his public primary school, the Nicolaas Maess School.
“All that time there are only two Jewish boys in the class, one of which is me. It is after the war, the late 1940s, but nothing seems to have changed. Sometimes when the teacher is not there, the boys from the class hit me. They threw me down and sat on me. I am eleven years old and I feel very well: the hatred against us Jews continues. As if nothing had happened.”
Not long after, Martijn’s life takes a different turn. His foster parents ask him what he thinks about moving to Israel. Going by an alias, like many other Jews. “That saved me. Something had to change. And this was a great turning point for me. My whole life promised to be different. We left on 6 March 1950, after my Bar Mitzvah, which was also our farewell party. We said goodbye to friends and some family and left. I was thirteen years old and very happy to go.”
They settle in the coastal town of Nahariya.
Martijn attends secondary school and then studies electrical engineering at university. He enjoys the lessons and life in a society that is starting up. This period shapes him into who he has become, he says. He performs his military service and while still in the army, he marries Yaira. Martijn meets her when she returns a book to his house with a mutual friend. He immediately falls head over heels for her. Like him, Yaira survived the war.
After his military service, Martijn and Yaira settle in Jerusalem. He works as an engineer at the Hebrew University and becomes interested in projects in medicine and biology. So much so that he wants to get his master’s degree in Biophysics. The University of California at Berkeley gives him the chance and ensures that the young couple move to the United States in 1964. Martin is not yet thirty.
“Israel also became an important place for my sister Roosje. She visited me several times during the years I lived there. Then we would walk along the boulevard with my friends and I would see her perk up. We had discussions about life, about good and evil. Fifteen years after my foster parents and I emigrated, she did the same. She married and had three children. Finally, she too could start her future.”
At the same time, the restoration of rights was in full swing in the Netherlands during those years. From August 1945, the Council for the Restoration of Rights has been committed to returning property wrongly seized by the German occupier to its rightful owners. It is the legal procedure that for minor orphans, the court assigns an administrator to handle this. Martijn cannot remember how this went for Roosje and him. But he knows how it ended. In his personal archive, he has a statement from notary Drion from Breda with the division of their inheritance.
“My family’s houses were returned to me and Roosje after the war. Almost all houses and apartments went to Roosje, but the Mauritssingel 6-7 was for me. That house was a dream. We would all live there. I wanted to keep it and decided to rent it out. That this was taken from us before is bad, but not nearly as serious as what happened to my whole family. I still find it incomprehensible that only I, Roosje, an uncle and an aunt of the family were left. Why did this happen to us? And why did so many Dutch people join Hitler? In receiving the inheritance, I actually had proof that my family had been killed during the war. But believe it, I still didn’t. And accepting history happened much later.”
Martijn and Yaira have three children in the US: Daphne, Daniel and Ariel. After Berkeley, San Diego follows, where Martijn is doing his postgraduate. “Academia gives me a goal, a clear guideline, in my life. And with that many happy years. It made it clear to me what I do, and what I contribute to in life. It’s also a great environment to be in, very progressive. I have always had the pleasure of working with very nice people.”
“Now I’m retired, but I still go to my lab every day to research a cure for prostate cancer. I want to keep doing good, the morality of Judaism. In my case, that’s trying to make a lot of people better. That is what faith brought me.”
For most of his life, Martijn does not want to talk about the war. He can’t stand anyone bringing it up and wants nothing to do with it. Because it won’t bring his family back anyway. In the meantime, he has health problems that general practitioners cannot explain. Later it turns out that they are caused by a specific stress syndrome that Holocaust survivors in particular suffer from.
It was not until the nineties, when he was in his sixties, that he started his search. The reason for this is a call from the Red Cross in which the organization offers next of kin to find out the details of the death of family members. He registers and when Martijn receives the letter with the research result, he sees it for the first time: the dates of death and the extermination camps where they were murdered. Proof that his family is a victim of the Holocaust. In the years that follow, Martijn conducts follow-up research himself. He also travels to the Netherlands a few times for it. It is becoming increasingly clear how it all happened. But the acceptance is not there yet. The 2009 trial of John Demjanjuk, a camp guard at Sobibor Extermination Camp, changes that.
“That process has been very good for me. I was asked to be one of 22 accusers. This was a guard in the camp where my mother, sister, brother and aunt were killed. I didn’t have to think about it. I had to represent their voice, that’s how it felt.”
“During that process, I finally discovered the truth. The way the lawyers discussed the facts, so seriously, made me face it. It really happened. I just never could comprehend it before. During the process, I also met people who had experienced exactly the same thing and in whom I recognized a lot of myself. The trauma never goes away, but you can learn to forget it once in a while. To surround the feeling and not give up, but try to achieve something. Some are like brothers, we have that much in common. We still write to each other every New Year.”
“It is now history for me, but in some situations, it comes up again. After the trial, I also regularly went to the Netherlands. On my own, to do further research, but also with my children and grandchildren. I showed them everything: the Speelhuislaan with the wide sidewalk, the ‘dream house’ on the Mauritssingel with the spiral staircase that I never actually lived in myself. I had to sell it to buy a house for our family in San Diego. We also visited my grandparents’ tombstones at the Jewish cemetery in Oosterhout. Breda never had a Jewish cemetery itself. I wanted to show it to them all because it’s their history too. We all come from somewhere.”
Martijn will never live in the country where he was born. “Not everyone will agree with me, but there is no place for Jews in the Netherlands. The Jewish community there never really got the chance to grow. There is still anti-semitism. I have even heard such views from the grandson of the Hees family, the family that took me in at the risk of their own lives. Which he told in my presence. I can’t reach that with my head. He has never seen a Jew, except me. And he’s such a nice boy. After all these years I still don’t understand where this hatred against us comes from. I’m actually a nice person myself. I don’t get it, why?”
“My sister Roosje suffered a lot, a lot, more than I did in that respect. As a young Jewish girl, hiding among Catholics, she was often told that her people are evil and that she would have killed God. This had a major impact on her life. The doubt that this could be true has never gone away.”
Westerbork may not have been an extermination camp, but that didn’t mean it was less evil. In a way, it may have been eviler because it created an illusion that life wasn’t that bad and gave the people a false hope that their endurance of camp life would be temporary.
The 261 couples married at Camp Westerbork did so without knowing their fates.
Rosalie Norden married Max Wieselmann at the Westerbork camp on 22 October 1943. He later died at Buchenwald Camp in the first months of 1945, and she survived the war and moved to Australia in 1951. She died in 2002.
Saskia Aukema devoted a book to the marriages of Camp Westerbork, Tot de dood ons scheidt (Til Death Do We Part).
Aukema became interested in the camp marriages when she learned that a great-aunt had married at the camp—Annie Preger married Hans van Witsen on 28 January 1943 at the Westerbork Transit Camp. He was a nurse, and she was a student nurse. The marriage lasted 36 days. On 5 March 1943, in Sobibor they were murdered.
The camp management facilitated the marriages. A special barrack became the registry office where a wedding official would appear regularly to perform the ceremony. The administration kept careful records of the unions.
There was even room for intimacy. Max Vlessing bribed someone on his wedding night with a loaf of bread and butter for privacy. “After transport in the upper beds of the barracks was also an option,” his wife Mientje Vomberg added. Max and his wife survived the Holocaust.
That led to Westerbork babies being born. Robert Falk, for example, was born on 28 March 1943—nine months after his parents’ Westerbork wedding.
His father, Max Falk, was murdered in the Langenstein-Zwieberg Concentration Camp in Austria, a subcamp of Buchenwald, on 19 March 1945. Robert and his mother, Franscisca Falk-Grün’s date or place of death is unknown.
Approximately 60 of the 261 couples that Westerbork married survived.
I never met you, yet your story has moved me. I am not the only one who has never met you. How could they, you were murdered when you were 6 days old.
There are no baby pictures.
There are no baby footprints.
There are no baby shoes.
Six days were all that you were allowed to live. The only evidence that you ever existed is a registration card, which tells us you were born on 12 March 1943, in Westerbork and that you died six days later on 18 March, also in Westerbork. You were cremated the same day.
You did not just die, you were murdered.
A cruel regime did not care for you, you were not seen as a human being. even though your hands had 10 fingers and your feet had 10 toes. You were a human being just like me or those who killed you. It was their sick and twisted ideology that only allowed you to live for six days.
You were born on a Friday and murdered on a Thursday.
Rudolf Breslauer was born on 4 July 1903, in Leipzig, German Empire. He was a German Jewish director and cinematographer. He died on 28 February, 1945, in Auschwitz, a month after liberation.
Westerbork Film is the title of a film made in 1944 at the Westerbork Transit Camp in the Netherlands. It was a transfer point set up by the Germans for Jews transported to other concentration camps.
In 1938, Breslauer fled with his family to the Netherlands. Four years later, he was arrested by the Germans and sent to Westerbork. The camp commandant at the time, Albert Gemmeker, had an idea to make a documentary about the camp to show how civilized things were there, and Bresllauer took on the task to shoot the movie. Very similar to what Kurt Gerron, known from The Blue Angel, was told to do at Theresienstadt, in 1944. The film Der Führer gives the Jews a city made from Gerron’s pictures.
In contrast to Gerron’s work, Breslauer’s film is hardly known to a broader public because it was never officially completed. Filming stopped after a few months. Breslauer’s colleague Wim Loeb processed the raw material into two versions—an official and a residual. The latter was eventually smuggled out of the camp and used primarily as a research object. It was only recently restored and compiled into a final film after UNESCO included the contemporary document in 2017 in the list of world memories that —must never be forgotten. It shows how perfidious the propaganda and lying machine portraying the everyday life in the transit camp was to look like something thoroughly normal, almost as a gesture of good nature towards those people.
Aside from shooting the film, he also snapped a great number of photos at the camp of the supposedly normal daily life in Westerbork.
The most iconic image is of Anna Maria (Settela) Steinbach, a Dutch girl, gassed at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Initially identified as a Dutch Jewish girl, her personal identity and association with the Sinti group of the Romani people were discovered in 1994.
The Westerbork Film was never completed, but much of its raw footage was preserved.
The Westerbork Film is regarded as an irreplaceable, unique visual document that occupies a special place among all sources on the Second World War. The historian Jacques Presser called it “unsurpassable” in this respect, and rightly so because such film material was not known from any National Socialist Concentration Camp. In 2017, the film, and production documents, were included in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register. The unique footage was then examined, selected and painstakingly restored.
The edited version of the Westerbork Film is now online in colour with background music on YouTube.
Below is a press cutting from the 1928 Amsterdam Olympic Games.
“Everything was taken care of down to the last detail. Nice practice material—not too heavy—logically composed, neatly executed in class, wonderful order and leadership, in one word sublime. …The jury was also enthusiastic and awarded the Kleerekoper corps a total score of 316.75 points, leaving the other teams far behind. With their well-deserved success, the gymnasts were the first female Olympic champions in the Netherlands. At a quarter past five, the Dutch flag fluttered above the Olympic Stadium and the National Anthem sounded over the central area. However, the cheers rose when HRH Prince Hendrik stepped forward and shook hands with each of the participants. …and then they, our ladies, to whom we owe the first victory, disappeared under the grandstand to their dressing rooms”
In 1928, Amsterdam hosted the Olympic Games. This was the first time that women were competing in the field of gymnastics. Five women on the Dutch Olympic gymnastics team were Jewish: Helena-Lea Nordheim, Ans Polak, Estella-Stella Agsteribbe, Judikje-Judik Simons and Elka de Levie. The team’s trainer, Gerrit Kleerekoper, was also Jewish. The team won the gold medal for women’s gymnastics at the Amsterdam Olympics, and the women became national heroines. In just over 16 years later all but one would be murdered. Elka de Levie survived the Holocaust and died in 1979.
Kleerekoper’s team scored 316.75 points, defeating Italy and the United Kingdom.
Gerrit Kleerekoper was born in Amsterdam on 15 February 1897 was originally a diamond cutter, by trade, but earned his money as a gymnastics teacher at the Jewish Lyceum at the Amsterdam Stadstimmertuinen. In his spare time, he was a trainer at the gymnastics association Bato, which consisted almost entirely of Jewish members. In 1926 he organized the first women’s gymnastics championship in Amsterdam.
On 28 May 1919, Gerrit Kleerekoper married Kaatje Ossedrijver, together they had two children: Leendert on 15 January 1923, and Elisabeth on 14 October 1928, the year in which the gymnasts trained by Kleerekoper won gold at the Olympic Games. In preparation for the Olympic Games, from June 1928 he had his pupils conduct outdoor training sessions on Wednesday evenings and Sunday mornings to get used to the changing weather conditions.
A few years after the games, Gerrit Kleerekoper provided a daily gymnastics session on the radio. Early in the morning, at a quarter to seven, the VARA broadcasted its program with physical exercises. The session started with the question, “Listeners, are you all ready?” accompanied by a piano from the studio. He then had his audience perform bending and stretching exercises in their living rooms.
At the beginning of the war, a drama took place in the Kleerekoper family. After the Dutch capitulation on May 15, 1940, Gerrit’s sister Mina and her husband Louis Judels decided, together with their children Mia and Bert, to take their own lives on this day. In July, Gerrit wrote a letter about this to his brother Herman, who was a biologist in Sao Paolo:
“Dear Herman, Co and Children, On behalf of Dad and Mom and the family, I have the difficult task of informing you of the difficult days we have spent here and the great sadness we have to deal with. Under the circumstances, you must not have dared to hope for good news. However, the blow that has struck us all is heavier than we and you will have expected. In the first days of the war and immediately after the surrender, many people experienced great fear. Our dear sister Mina with Louis and both children preferred a gentle death to life in fear of the future. During the nights of 15–16 May, they left us. You understand that much writing is not possible at this time. The condition of all of us and Pa and Ma is pretty good considering the circumstances. We must now hold our heads together. We also wish you strength and health. You Gerrit.£
In November 1942 Gerrit, Kaatje and Elisabeth were forced to leave their house at 94 Rivierenlaan. In the last months before their deportation, the family lived at Transvaalstraat 136. On 20 June 1943, at nine o’clock in the evening, they were taken from their home. With their luggage, they walked to Krugerplein from where an overcrowded tram took them to Muiderpoort station. Because of the crowds, they struggled in the tunnel for about an hour to get into the hall. By now it was midnight. On the platform, they had to hand in their house keys to an official. After another hour of waiting, the train appeared and at 2 a.m. they were crammed into a boxcar with 53 others. Fresh air came in through a small crack. In the utterly dark Kaatje wrote a message with a pencil to her sister-in-law, “We are in a freight car and have not left yet. The mood here is perfect. I hope you can read this. We are sitting on the floor with Z. It’s probably a quarter past two. We’re sitting with a candle and I can’t see what I’m writing. Now Trien and Leo, a bunch of Ger, Ka, Elly”.
At five o’clock the train arrived at Zwolle and Gerrit wrote another postcard: “We hope to see each other again soon”. Before they could be registered in Westerbork, it was eight o’clock in the morning and the “scorching hot sun” was already burning above their heads.
Ten days later, on 30 June 1943, the names of Gerrit, Kaatje and Elly Kleerekoper were on the transport list. Daughter Elisabeth wrote to her Aunt Trien, “We have already packed everything for the transport. You can take a bread bag, blanket and handbag with you. The train is already there, almost cleaned. We don’t know where we are going. Maybe we won’t go at all tonight. At least I’m not afraid of it. But if something happens, you have to be strong. I saved the oatmeal cookies and rye bread to eat on the train”. Just before folding the letter, Elisabeth added a quick note to the bottom of the letter, “Left on Tuesday.”
On 2 July 1943, Gerrit Kleerekoper, along with his wife Kaatje and their fourteen-year-old daughter Elisabeth, were murdered by the Nazis at the Sobibór extermination camp. Leendert Kleerekoper had arrived in camp Westerbork more than two months before his parents and sister, that was on 13 April 1943. His registration card states that he had no religion. Leendert was an electrical engineer. His profession ensured that he was sent to camp Vught on 17 May 1943, and was placed with the Philips command. He was murdered in Auschwitz in July 1944 by exhaustion.
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.
Sometimes I struggle with finding a suitable title for a post. As it was for this post, but then he thought using just the raw data as the title is probably the best tribute for this family.
The Family is the Chaim family Julius Chaim moved to Nijmegen on 15 October 1940, from Amsterdam. He was married to Esther Tannenhaus and was the father of three daughters, Renate, Elfride and Brigitte. The family originally came from Germany. In 1939, two daughters had already been sent to the Netherlands and taken care of in children’s homes or with families. At the end of the 1930s, German Jews often did not get permission to emigrate to the Netherlands. To be able to flee Germany, some parents saw no other option other than to send their children to the Netherlands on their own, which may mean, that the parents were given permission at a later date and allowed to enter the Netherlands. The parents and the youngest daughter arrived in the Netherlands in 1940.
Elfride and Renate Chaim were sent to the Netherlands ahead of their parents and younger sibling in 1939, as was often the case in those days. The Netherlands hardly let any Jews in, but children who arrived alone were taken care of by families or placed in children’s homes. The idea was that the children would be safe in the Netherlands and there was hope that the rest of the family would also be able to settle in the Netherlands.
On 9 October 1940, the parents Julius Chaim and Esther Chaim-Tannenhaus and their three daughters settled in Nijmegen, coming from Haarlem. The family originally came from Duisburg. Brigitte was the youngest of the daughters and in 1940 she arrived in the Netherlands with her parents.
The Chaim-Tannenhaus family was arrested and on December 31, 1942, they were deported to Westerbork. From there they were put on Transport #46 to Auschwitz. The transport consisted of all Jews, including 42 children. The majority were murdered in the gas chambers, and only two men survived.
Julius Chaim was born in Tarnow, Poland on 21 March 1892, and murdered at Auschwitz on 1 February 1943 at 50 years of age.
Esther Chaim-Tannenhaus was born in Bajazesty, Romania on 14 May 1897. She was murdered at Auschwitz on 1 February 1943. She was 45 years old.
Renate Chaim was born in Kaiserslautern, Germany on February 16, 1928. She was murdered in Auschwitz on February 1, 1943, at the age of 14.
Elfride Chaim was born in Kaiserslautern, Germany on 17 February 1930. She was 12 years old when she was murdered in Auschwitz on 1 February 1943.
Brigitte Brigithe Chaim was born in Duisburg, Germany on 19 January 1935. She was eight years old when murdered in Auschwitz on 1 February 1943.
The one I can’t get to terms with, and even refuse to get to terms with, is the murder of babies during the Holocaust.
I know one of the reasons behind it was the purification of the Aryan race. But, how pure are you as a race when you murder babies? Another reason was that they were afraid that when these babies grew up, they would possibly look for revenge for the death of their families. The only time you expect revenge is when you know you did something wrong.
The picture above is of Roosje van der Hal. She was born in Groningen on 17 March 1942 and murdered in Sobibor on 21 May 1943. She reached the age of one.
Nehemia Levy Cohen was born in Amsterdam on 20 December 1940. She was murdered in Sobibor on 7 May 1943. She had reached two years of age.
Both babies had been deported to Westerbork on 25 January 1943. From there they were deported to Sobibor where they both were killed. These were only two of the 1.5 million children. The scary thing is that there have been genocides, albeit on a smaller scale, after the Holocaust where babies once again were victims.
I want you all to look into the faces of these two sweet angels and ask yourself, “What can I do to stop this from happening again?”
Starting in May 1942, wearing a yellow fabric star in the Netherlands, called the “Star of David,” was made compulsory by the Nazis. This measure made it easy to identify Jewish people and was designed to stigmatize and dehumanize them. This was not a new idea; since medieval times many other societies had forced their Jewish citizens to wear badges to identify themselves. With the coming of the French Revolution in the 18th century and Jewish emancipation in the 19th century, the “Jewish badge” disappeared in Western Europe.
However, in the 1930s the Nazis brought it back to Germany, and in May 1942 in the Netherlands. During the war, it was compulsory in all occupied countries. The one thing that puzzles me today is the eagerness of so many people and groups to put ‘badges’ on themselves. In my opinion, the only badge that matters is that of a Human Being, and the only rule that should apply is mutual respect for each other.
Behind every star was a life, a story.
The picture at the start of this post is of the admin team in Westerbork.
Group photo of the De Miranda and Lachmann families in the garden of De Miranda’s house on Sterrelaan in Hilversum, 1942.
From left to right: Alexander (Lex) de Miranda, 7-year-old Michael (Max) Lachmann, Heinz (Hans) Lachmann, standing 12-year-old Frank de Miranda, Anny de Miranda-Meijler and Tea Lachmann-Warszawski on the beach chair. The photo was probably taken by the other son Hugo de Miranda. Both sons tried to flee to Switzerland via France but were arrested. None of the family survived the war. The Lachmann family went into hiding in Limburg with the help of Pastor Henri Vullinghs and survived the war. Henri Vullinghs was a pastor in Grashoek and Grubbenvorst in Limburg and a Dutch resistance fighter during World War II. He was one of the largest organizers of pilot aid and hiding in the entire province of Limburg.
On 1 May 1944 sexton Stappers in Grubbenvorst was warned that the Sicherheitspolizei was on its way from Venlo to arrest the pastor. Stappers hurried to the monastery where Vullinghs lived because his own parsonage had been hit by a bomb. Unfortunately, he did not find him at home because the pastor had already left for the church on his bicycle. Just before the church on the street, Vullinghs was arrested and imprisoned. On 1 June 1944, he was transferred to Camp Vught where he was severely mistreated. On September 6, 1944, he was deported to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp and from there he went to the Bergen-Belsen camp, where he arrived at the end of March 1945, critically ill. Two weeks later he died there of dysentery.
Camp Westerbork. Outgoing transport, with a converted freight train, April 1943. Nearly 107,000 people were deported from camp Westerbork in the 97 transports. On 15 July 1942, the first transport left for Auschwitz-Birkenau. From 2 March 1943–16 November 1943, there was a weekly rhythm: every Tuesday a train departed with a thousand to sometimes more than three thousand people. The last transport left on 13 September 1944.
Sander Waterman in boxing position. The Star of David is visible on his shorts. He was born in London on 10 June 1914, He was a boxer and boxed at Joop Cosman’s boxing school at the Jodenhouttuinen.
Because of his birth, he had a British passport despite his parents being Dutch. Sander was in the resistance. He was arrested for forging identity cards, but his brother Morest had done so. If he had said that, they would both have been imprisoned, so he kept quiet about it. Unfortunately, his brother Morest was murdered in Mauthausen. Sander survived the war just like his wife Elisabeth Gobetz and their two children Sal (1941) and Joop (1943). The Waterman family was deported to Westerbork in 1943, where Joop was born, and then to Bergen-Belsen.
The British passport initially ensured that the family could stay for a longer period of time in Westerbork.
Johanna Winnik, at the age of about eight at her house on the Afrikanerplein in Amsterdam’s Transvaal neighbourhood, 1942. She was murdered at Sobibor on 2 April 1943 at the age of 8 years.
Annie de Jong-Wijnman and Maurits (Mau) de Jong from Zaltbommel with the Star of David on their wedding day, Sunday, August 23, 1942, in the synagogue N. Molstraat 13 in The Hague. They didn’t even get to celebrate their first anniversary. They were both killed on 16 July 1943 in Sobibor.
These were just a few of the many who were forced to wear the star of David. The pictures all came from the NIOD. They also have a theme on their website titled behind the star, I added a few more details.
You must be logged in to post a comment.