One Survivor's Story

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One Survivor's Story (Name Withheld) - Netherlands / Hidden Children

 

This Survivor was born in Amsterdam, Holland in 1929. The Holocaust changed her by making her a "Jew". She was always Jewish, but it never dominated her life.

 

Her mother's family had lived in Holland for many generations. She had an extremely large family many of whom lived in Rotterdam. Her grandfather and uncles were diamond cutters. Others were wholesalers. Her father was born in Magdeburg, Germany and came to Holland in 1922. He was a stamp dealer, and had a big store in Amsterdam. The Survivor's family lived in a middle class neighborhood, about five minutes from where Anne Frank lived. Her family was not very religious -- they were Dutch citizens first, who happened to be Jewish.

 

The Jewish population in pre-war Holland was protected from the 20,000 Nazi Party members by the Dutch Constitution. The Dutch Royal Family was pro-Jewish. Holland had always been a good country for Jews to live in. Unfortunately, things changed in 1938 when German Jews fled to Holland. At that time, everybody in Holland was aware of what was going on in Germany. Five years before, on January 20th 1933, Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany; this was to be the beginning of the cruel and unusual treatment of the Jews. The Survivor recalls her father listening to broadcasts of Hitler's speeches on the radio. Hitler was an excellent speaker, and he told the Germans that what needed to be done was getting rid of all the Jews. The Survivor's father wanted to get the family as far away from Europe as possible, but her mother, who had never experienced Anti-Semitism, didn't want to leave.

 

In 1939, her father tried to go to Switzerland. It was an unsuccessful attempt because one had to be extremely rich to enter that country in those years. From the end of 1939 to the early 1940s, the Survivor's father sold off his stamp dealership and put their apartment up for rent. He bought boat passages to England, enrolled his daughter in a private school, and rented an apartment in London. One week before they were supposed to depart, her mother refused to go because she was sure the Germans would not occupy Holland. Soon after, on May 10th, 1940, the Germans invaded Holland. The fighting lasted about five days. In those five days, the family tried to flee to the North Sea coast to go to England, but it was too late.

 

During this five-day war, the Royal Family left Holland and went to London, and then everybody knew the cause was lost. The Germans did not want to antagonize the Dutch Jews at first. For the first two to three months, the Jewish community thought that things would not get too bad, that life there would still be tolerable. Conditions gradually got worse. Young men were sent to work camps. Everybody, including non-Jews, were made to carry identification cards, but Jews' identification had large letter "J"s stamped over them. All Jews age six and above had to wear the yellow Star of David on their clothing- which in fact they had to pay for at their own expense with rationed textile coupons.

 

At the end of 1941 - beginning of 1942, Jews could not work in civil service jobs, could not teach in the schools, or even play in orchestras. Jews could only go to Jewish hospitals and businesses. They could not go to public places, or partake in public activities. Public transportation was not permitted to the Jewish population. They could only shop in Jewish stores, during restricted hours. Children were not allowed to have public schooling anymore. Instead, they had to go to segregated schools in theworst part of the city. They could not associate with non-Jews. If a non-Jew was caught talking with, entertaining, or even being friendly with a Jew, they received strict penalties -- often they were shot on the spot. At first, there was some general resistance. In February of 1941, the city workers of Amsterdam staged a strike to protest the Nazi treatment of the Jews. The strike only lasted three days before the workers relented due to much violent abuse by the Germans.

 

In 1941, Germans knocked on the door of the Survivor's apartment. They took all of her father's business away. The Germans raided all the Jewish stamp businesses on the same day so that they were unable to warn each other. In October 1942, all Jews were declared to be considered outlaws in Holland. They were no longer Dutch citizens and they were no longer protected by the government.

 

During the summer of 1942, large-scale deportations began because the Germans had perfected their techniques and logistics for the systematized mass murder of millions of people. Even leaving your apartment could be very dangerous because you could be picked up by the German police and chances were that you would never see your family again. Letters were sent out to people ages 12-20 years requiring them to register to go to work camps. These people were forced to go to these camps or else their families would face serious consequences. Parents of these children now had to make a difficult decision, either to send their children to the work camps, or to put them in hiding, risking being found out and killed.

 

The Survivor's father made preparations for the family to go into hiding, but before they could go their apartment was raided. They were sent to a holding center in Amsterdam, "The Hollandse Schouwburg", from where people were sent to Westerbork, a transit camp near the German border. They were some of the first prisoners in the holding center and things were very disorganized. Her father was able to buy a permit saying the family was "indispensable" for the German army. They were released from the holding center. These permits soon expired and again Jews were picked up and placed in the same holding center.

 

The Survivor's father made final arrangements to go into hiding. Three conditions were necessary to go into hiding: 1) You had to have money (it was very expensive to be in hiding); 2) You had to know a non-Jewish family; and 3) You had to fit a certain profile -- not look too Jewish, not too young or too old, and you could not be sickly or pregnant. If you were not in hiding, you were picked up on the streets and your apartment could be raided at any time. Everybody was being taken prisoner. People were frightened all day, just waiting to be taken at any moment and put to death. When an apartment was raided, all belongings were confiscated; a moving company called Puls took all the furniture and trucked it to Germany (in Dutch it became a verb, for an apartment to have been "pulsed", meaning cleaned out). Most of the roundups took place between the summer of 1942 to the summer of1943. By the summer of 1943, most Jews had either been picked up or had found hiding places.

 

The last time the Survivor attended school was in June of 1942. She had many hiding places; some are only vaguely remembered or not remembered at all. Hiding was difficult not only for the Jews, but for the host family as well. It was like having a stranger stay in your house for weeks, months or years. Host families lost many freedoms. They could not have company because it might be discovered that they were hiding someone. Arrangements had to be made far ahead of time if someone was to visit, so that the Jews could be moved somewhere else. The host families were always aware of the danger they were in, therefore there were many frictions between the families and the Jews.

 

When the Survivor went into hiding, she had to change her identity, leave school, and have no personal possessions. She remembers that hiding was humiliating, frightening, lonely, depressing, inhuman, and especially devastating for a child. All the things she liked to do were no longer allowed. No more friends, family, schooling or laughter. If her host family went away, she had to sit stock still, even for several days, in complete and total boredom. She could not even go to the bathroom in fear that the neighbors would hear her walking around and she and her host family would be discovered. She was suspended in a never-never land. The Germans made a non-person out of her and that was a terrible thing to do to a child.

 

She rarely saw her parents. Through an intermediary, the host family kept contact with her parents for the payments owed for hiding their daughter. She was in hiding from July 1942 until December 1944. She was separated from her parents and her father didn't even know the families or where she was hiding. This way, he couldn't tell the Germans anything if they caught him. Her parents were in hiding in Amsterdam until the war was over.

 

Her first hiding place was with a poor family who really needed the money. They had two children, ages 8 and 10. The Survivor was very naive at her age because she was an only child who lived a comfortable life with her stay-at-home mother. She was not prepared, at age 12, to leave home and live under such stress. She thought she was only going on a short trip for a few days for pleasure. Reality faced her when she set foot in the apartment. It was very small with little room to move around. The children did not like her because they had to give up a bedroom for her. The parents did not like her from the day she moved in, although they liked the money they received for hiding her; this little girl would be the instrument of their deaths if the Germans found her. In the first week of her stay, she broke a dish, and the woman got so mad that she threatened to throw the child out. It happened after 8:00 p.m., which was the curfew for all Dutch citizens. The Survivor was extremely frightened not knowing were to go if the woman followed through with her threat. The parents never spoke to her unless necessary and they told the children not to play with her so they wouldn't become attached to her. If they got to know her, the children might speak to their friends about her, uncovering their secret. The family physically abused her. She grew so nervous during this time that she developed a terrible itch, which she scratched so much that her skin bled for months at a time. They would leave her alone for hour upon hour, and often whole days while they visited their relatives. She was not allowed to move and had to sit with nothing to do. She was with this family for seven months. Neighbors and one of the relatives began to suspect they were hiding a Jew, so it was decided she had to leave.

 

The same woman who brought her to that family found her another family to live with. This family had one daughter and they were an abusive couple. The father liked to spoil his daughter and the money for hiding allowed him to do this. The Survivor and the man's wife never got extra food -- everything went towards the daughter. Not only was he abusive towards the wife, but to the Survivor as well. After four months, he told the Survivor to leave because he suspected a neighbor was about to betray them. He didn't want to jeopardize his daughter's life.

 

From there, she went to live with a man who was a stamp dealer like her father, and whom she knew well. She stayed there for about two months. He was a womanizer and threw her and his wife out when the wife accused him of infidelity.

 

The Survivor then contacted the woman who had previously found her hiding places. This woman found her a family that had two babies. This family wanted to help Jews. Once she was there, the family realized the danger they were in -- if a Jew was found, they and probably their children would be killed. After only two weeks, the Survivor was asked to leave.

 

Next, she went to a teacher she'd had in grammar school. He was petrified to see her and didn't want her there. She stayed overnight at this man's house and then went to a friend of his to stay a few weeks until she found another family. The next family lived in a very industrialized part of Amsterdam. She stayed there a couple of months. Due to the bombing of a nearby plant, all surrounding areas were affected and had to be evacuated.

 

She then contacted somebody she knew from the resistance movement. This woman brought her to the most unusual hiding place she'd had. She moved in with a Jewish professor who lived with his non-Jewish girlfriend. They got along well, but it was suspected that a so-called friend was about to betray them and they had to leave.

 

She had no way to find a new address, so she went to see a priest whose parish was three blocks from her old home. He always treated Jews kindly, even when they had to wear the yellow stars. He found an address for her with one of his parishioners. She doesn't remember the length of her stay. From there, she moved to four or five different families. She always had to leave either because the family came to realize the danger they were in or they thought somebody was about to betray them.

 

One of the last places she stayed was very good and she stayed there the longest. The family were devout Christians and they felt it was their duty to help the Jews. They had two children and the Survivor became their "third". This was the only hiding place where she didn't have to stay inside all the time. They pretended she was their niece. She went to church with them every Sunday and the minister knew she wasn't their relative. During that time she saw her parents several times.

 

Life seemed to get better, but also got worse at the same time. The Allied troops invaded France on D-Day, June 6th, 1944. They invaded Holland on September 5, 1944. People in Amsterdam heard a rumor that the American and English troops would soon enter to liberate them. Unfortunately, it proved to be only a rumor. By the winter of 1944, only the southern part of Holland had been liberated. Northern Holland was not yet free because the troops were unable to cross the Rhine river. This was the worst time for many of the Dutch people of all the war years. The Germans sent all the food that was grown in Holland to Germany. Everybody was starving and many died of starvation. Also, there was no more fuel, coal, electricity or water. There were only candles for light. Sometimes the people would scavenge wood from somewhere to burn for heat and cooking.

 

In April 1945, Germans allowed the English to drop food over Holland. This bread and margarine came from theSwedish Red Cross. Not just the Jews, but the entire population of Holland was undernourished. People dropped dead by the thousands. There was absolutely no food in Holland because the Germans shipped everything there was to Germany. The Survivor remembers eating tulip bulbs and sugar beets and other unusual items when there was nothing else.

 

Beginning in September 1944, the Germans were loosening their tight grip over the Dutch people; they knew they were losing the war. They became less murderous and a little more tolerant, especially the Dutch Nazi members, who were hoping to escape punishment after the war was over.

 

The partial occupation of Europe by the Allied Forces probably saved the lives of the Survivor's host families and herself. A man who was the contact between she and her parents threatened to betray her. She had to leave her current location immediately. This man found out the new address and the Germans raided it in December 1944. They brought her to the Gestapo headquarters in Amsterdam. They discovered her ID was counterfeit and asked her many questions. She made up a story and told them she never knew her father, that her mother was dead, and that she was an orphan. She also did everything she could to protect her host familes, even at the expense of herself, thinking she would die anyway.

 

She stayed in the headquarters for a week and then was sent to Westerbork. By then, it was difficult to send anybody by truck or train because the Allied troops had bombed most of the highways and railroad lines. It took two days to get there. Westerbork was built by the Dutch government in 1939 as a refugee camp for German Jews. The Germans started using it in 1942 as a transit camp to transport Jews to Auschwitz or Sobibor. Every Tuesday from July 1942 to September 1944, cattle cars left Westerbork to bring Jews to these camps. In Westerbork, there was mud and sand everywhere. People were dying of disease and starvation. However, this camp was still better than the others. There was always something to eat, although it was very little.

 

In January 1945, Dutch and German Nazis arrived at Westerbork to go back to Germany for safety. Trucks came to take them, and they also took some of the healthiest prisoners at Westerbork to work in the German war industry. The Survivor was among these people. They went mainly by truck, partly by train, and the rest on foot. They ended up in Bergen-Belsen. When the Survivor entered this camp, she lost all sense of reality. A whole new world faced her, one which her past hadn't taught her how to deal with. As Jews, they never really knew about Auschwitz, Treblinka, Sobibor, and the other concentration camps because not one person ever came back to tell them what happened in these camps. What they know now, they really learned after the war was over, not during it. The shock of seeing, hearing and smelling this hellhole was too much for her. There were two barracks for women, a very large one and a small one. During 1944 Bergen-Belsen became a "recovery camp" where Jews who were too sick to work were sent to die. Bergen-Belsen couldn't handle the thousands of new prisoners who came there during the final months of the war. All bathrooms were out of order. They slept three to a bunk with no blankets. Most prisoners had typhus, diarrhea, dysentery and tuberculosis. People were too weak to go to the bathroom, so they went in the bunks and on the floors. The floors were covered with feces and vomit. Everybody was covered with lice. Sometimes they were punished for having dirty barracks. They would have to stand for hours at attention and didn't receive food or water for several days -- if they couldn't eat or drink, they wouldn't have to go to the bathroom, the Germans told them.

 

There was a Dutch woman who had lost her children and who became the Survivor's protector. She worked in the kitchen and sometimes stole food for her surrogate "daughter". She encouraged the Survivor to keep going because she was so young. She often told her that she was the prettiest girl in the whole camp. All this encouragement built up the Survivor's ego and gave her the will to live. She couldn't have made it without this woman.

 

In the last weeks before liberation, there was no bread and only some watery soup. The only thing anyone could talk about was food. They exchanged recipes and talked about the food they would have when the war was over, such as chocolate, salami and cheese, and pineapple cake with whipped cream. To this day, the Survivor never throws away food. She was sick, too. She had skin infections, constant stomach pains, diarrhea, and typhus.

 

The Survivor's job in Bergen-Belsen was to get rid of the dead bodies. Every morning she had to empty the barrack of corpses and put them on carts to go to the crematorium. At the end of the war, the Germans ran out of fuel for the crematorium and huge graves had to be dug. In the end there were still too many bodies -- they were stacked outside the barracks.

 

They were liberated by the English on April 15th 1945. The English troops couldn't comprehend everything when they saw the piles of dead bodies and smelled the terrible stench. It took a couple of days to empty the camps. First they washed, shaved and deloused the prisoners, and gave them new clothes. They were then put into hospitals. After the barracks were emptied, the English burned them.

 

After several weeks of recuperation, the Survivor found an army truck going to Limburg, Holland. They gave her a ride and brought her to a small city in Holland near the German border, Venlo, where she stayed in a convalescent home until she could return to Amsterdam.

 

Holland was liberated on May 5th 1945. The Survivor had no means of transportation back to Amsterdam. Finally, after two weeks, she found a ride back to her home town. She found where her parents were living and they were reunited. Of her immediate and extended family (which had been large), only six people, including herself, survived. The Survivor went back to school, finishing a five-year high school in only three years. She went to college in Amsterdam, married in Holland, and came to the United States in 1954.

 

The Survivor hopes that by sharing her first-hand knowledge of the Holocaust, we will come to recognize the consequences of discrimination, hate, and prejudice, and we will not be afraid to speak out so that another Holocaust will never be allowed to happen.

 

 

Related Resources for this Speaker:

Books

Anne Frank: Diary of A Young Girl

Frank, Anne. Pocket Books, 1952.

The seminal diary of Anne Frank itself.

 

The Last Seven Months of Anne Frank

Lindwer, Wily. Anchor Books, 1988.

First-person narratives by six women who knew Anne Frank before the war, and during her final hellish months in German extermination camps. Picks up where the Diary leaves off.

 

Anne Frank : Beyond the Diary

Puffin Books, 1993.

A picture scrapbook of Anne's life and existance in Holland before and during the Holocaust.

 

Videos

The Diary of Anne Frank

170 minutes

Dramatization of Anne's life directed by George Stevens, starring Millie Perkins and Shelly Winters. Black and White.

 

The Attic

95 minutes

A historical drama based on the book Anne Frank Remembered by Miep Giles.

 

"Dear Kitty"

25 minutes

The life of Anne Frank is told through quotations from her diary, photos from the family collection and historical footage. Historical background is given on the Holocaust and Anti-Semitism.