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"A little of the light expels much of the darkness"

Like everyone else, the coronavirus caught me by complete surprise and cracked something in the sense of continuity and routine. Things that were once self-evident and eternal, suddenly turned out to be fragile and vulnerable to change. If we add to this a lot of free time and prolonged stay at home, it is understandable why this period has changed something for many people. I believe that each of us has found something special during this time, something that will stay with him even after the coronavirus goes away.

This post is about what I found.The photo below shows my mother's brother, Shlomo, who was born in 1942 and was hidden by a family in the city of Amsport, The Netherlands. My grandparents, who were Holocaust survivors, almost never talked about their experiences during the war, and the secret about the family was taken with them to their graves. It so happened that when we started, many years ago, to look for the family, we had almost no detail about them.

This post is dedicated to the story of finding this family, after decades of separation, and to counting my family in the Netherlands during the Holocaust.

In the photo: my grandmother, Miriam (Yeni) and the baby Shlomo

These are grandparents, Miriam and Shmuel, on their wedding anniversary, 27.8.1939. A beautiful couple with lots of hope and dreams. The cannons of war were already thundering then, but I can only imagine that they hoped that it would pass quickly.

However, this was not how things developed, and in May 1940, Germany invaded the Netherlands and gradually began to restrict the steps taken by the Jews.

Grandmother

Grandma's name was Mariana-Miriam, but all her acquaintances called her "Yeni".She was born and raised in a tiny village in the south of the Netherlands called "Rumpet". The village houses are located right on the banks of the "Linier" river, a long river (about 100 km) whose waters flow gently and along it windmills and picturesque towns.

Grandma's family, the van Straten family, was the only Jewish family in the village, but jews lived in the nearby towns with whom they maintained community relations. Relations with the Dutch neighbors were good and close and they considered themselves Dutch for all intents and purposes.

Grandma's father was a butcher and the family ran a kosher butcher shop that served both the Jews of the surrounding area and the non-Jewish residents.

My grandmother's mother, Minda, passed away at an early age, and my grandmother bore the burden of housework and raising her younger siblings: Sami, Yufka, Sophie and Linney.

In the photo: a grandmother in her youth, swimming in the River Linier.

In the photo: my brother Yoav, in the 1980s, near the butcher shop in the town of Rumpet

Dutch Jews were well integrated into society, and anti-Semitism, as it was, was hidden and hidden. Certainly compared to other European countries, so at first the Jews thought that the harsh decrees imposed on their Jewish brethren in Europe would be forfeited.

Slowly, the regime began to restrict the measures taken by the Jews. The protests of the Dutch residents were weak and were brutally suppressed by the Nazi regime.

In February 1942, the father of the family, Louis-Yehuda, receives a letter that he must hand over his inheritance to the authorities.

Within a short time, the rope tightens on the necks of the Jews and the entire family decides to "dive" – to find a hiding place in one of the nearby villages. The task is not easy and they split up when everyone finds a hideout on a different farm in the area.

Grandma's sister, Linney, works as a nurse at the Jewish Hospital in Amsterdam. Thanks to her important role in the X-ray department, she repeatedly manages to evade deportation. In 1941, she even manages to get engaged to a young man named Ben van Gelder, hoping that the war will soon end.

In 1943, she is caught and transferred to the Westerbork transit camp. From there she is sent to Bergen-Belsen. Not much is known about her bitter storm, only that she was found suitable for a "prisoner exchange" with German-Templar citizens who lived in Israel, but before the prisoner exchanges took place, she died of typhus due to extremely difficult conditions in Bergen-Belsen.

Her brother, Yufka-Yosef, found refuge in the town of Aspern, near Rumft. He hid in the barn of a widow and seven children. The family maintained a very devout Christian lifestyle and enlisted to save Jews in its barn. All seven children participated in the rescue at the risk of their lives. Once, the Nazis came for a nighttime search of the farm and stabbed with pitchforks the straw bales in which Yufka and his cousin Daniel were hiding. It was only by a miracle that their lives were saved when cardamom, the rescuer's daughter distracted them.

His cousin, Daniel, was saved that night, but a short time later his longing for his girlfriend overcame him and he decided to go visit her in the middle of the night. On the way, he was caught and never returned.

Yufka, my mother's uncle, survived the war in the widow's home, and after the war married Hel, who converted to Judaism and moved to live with him in Israel. The couple had four children.

Hel and her mother were recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations.

The father of the family, Louis (Yehuda), hid in a nearby village with his second wife. In April 1943, he was arrested and taken to the Vaught camp, but manages to escape. But in November of the same year, he was caught again, together with his wife, and on 16.11.43 they are sent to Auschwitz and murdered on arrival.

Photo of the father of the family – Louis Yehuda, on the way to his work in the butcher shop

About six years ago, I went with my partner and three children, to look for the Van Stratten family home in Rumft.

We found a beautiful town that over the years has become a favorite place to live for Dutch people who are looking to live in the village and work in Rotterdam. The butcher shop, which on our previous visit in the 80's, was still operating, was closed in the meantime. We were looking for the tiny Jewish cemetery that belonged to my family. We did not know exactly where it was located, but there was no concern in our hearts: how difficult can it be to search for a Jewish cemetery in a village of several hundred residents? A few dozen houses, everyone knows everyone. We might even find some seniors to remember the family.

However, everyone we asked, raised an eyebrow in wonder. One resident explained to me that there were never any Jews living in the village of Rumft, so there is certainly no Jewish cemetery. We moved almost from house to house, but no one knew or knew about the existence of a Jewish community there, and certainly not about a Jewish cemetery. After a few hours, we began to despair and just before we decided to turn our way, a young Dutch man, who was volunteering in Israel, happened on our way. We told him our stories and he ran to call his mother, who was born in the village. "She's sure to know, because she was born here," he said.

The amiable mother shook her head in sorrow and explained that there was a mistake here. As a native of the village, she would have known if there had been a Jewish cemetery there. After all, Rumpet is a tiny village.

We were already close to giving up and going our own way. But on the way, we saw an elderly man sitting on a bench near the river.

"I remember the family" he immediately said "they had a butcher shop on the main street". We hoped he could tell us more, but he himself was very young before the war. What's more, he knew the cemetery and explained to us how to get there.

Despite the detailed instructions it took us a long time to find the place. Above the small plot, a highway to Rotterdam was built and the cemetery was surrounded by tall bushes until it could not be found.

In the cemetery, we found graves belonging to my family and also a memorial stone for family members who perished in the Holocaust. With the great excitement we felt, the children wondered how it was possible that the Jewish community that was in the village had disappeared as if the earth had swallowed it, and none of the villagers knew or knew its story.

 

The story of the hiding of the baby Solomon

My grandparents were newly married when the Nazis occupied Holland. Their eldest son, Shlomo, was born in 1942, right in the midst of the war.

Little is known about their lives during the war. Like many others, grandparents never spoke about their experiences at that time and even when we asked them, they refused to tell.

What is known is that they both found a hiding place where they survived until the end of the war. Apparently, they were not able to bring Shlomo with them, who was a young baby at the time. He was handed over to a Dutch family, where he was caught and murdered.

Here is the last photo of Grandma together with Shlomo. This picture is my favorite. Such a familiar and routine picture of a young mother and a baby, sun in her hair and life all in front of them. Only Shlomo's eyes are sad.

My grandparents survived in their hiding place until after the war. After the Holocaust, they were housed in a temporary transit camp, where their second son, Yehuda, was born, who died of typhus and was only two weeks old.

My mother, the third daughter of grandparents, was born after the war and was called "Nechama-Chaya". Together with her parents, she immigrated to Israel and here she had a twin brother and sister.

Grandparents tried to put the horrors of the Holocaust behind them and raise trauma-free Israeli children. But the shadow of immense loss will accompany them throughout their lives. Only after their deaths, their children began to wonder how they were saved, what they went through during the war years, who was the family that tried to save Solomon, and what happened to it.

However, information about Solomon is nowhere to be found. The surviving family members were already adults and had no information on the matter. A search of the archives, the Jewish Museum and other places revealed nothing. My grandfather, who filled out "Pages of Testimony" at Yad Vashem about my grandmother's family and family, didn't even fill out a page for Shlomo. Why? This can only be assumed.

In recent years, we have come to terms with the fact that grandparents took the secret with them to their graves and that there are secrets that cannot be revealed.

Perhaps there are riddles that can never be solved, but this riddle did not give me rest and in March 2020, with the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, I had the opportunity to spend a long time in isolation in my room. The long and quiet days that followed a very intense period pushed me to search again, one of many I conducted.

This time it occurred to me to search the Facebook network. I didn't expect to find information on the social network about a baby who died decades ago, but a quick search led me to a Facebook page in Dutch that commemorates a man named Martinius Hendrikos de Viem who was caught in Amersfoort with a Jewish baby in his home, sent to Germany where he was murdered at the age of 44. Continue searching, upload the following post:

At the bottom of the post there was a comment from a young girl named Monique who commented that this was her great-grandfather. I hurried to contact her via Pace, and waited tensely for an answer. The answer was not long in coming: Monique sent me a number of pictures of Shlomo, pictures that were identical to those held by my grandparents, as well as a picture of my grandparents with my toddler mother. And this is the message that was attached:

I'm overwhelmed. This is extremely emotional. I have always known of little boys existence and have asked my children and grandchildren to never forget

That's how we managed to connect our mothers: my mother, Shlomo's sister, and her mother, Marie, the granddaughter of the couple who hid Shlomo in their home for two years. The family emigrated after the war to Australia, where they still live today.

Marie wrote to my mother as follows: "We grew up knowing your brother's story. His picture was always on display at home. After my father passed away, I found among his belongings a box that was dear to his heart, containing letters written in code, written by your parents to my parents during the war, in which they are interested in your brother's well-being. Also in the box are his small shoes, which were repaired several times with the help of tires, as well as a necklace with a Star of David that belonged to him. I am interested in donating the artifacts to the Holocaust Museum."

Photos we recently received from Maria: the quilt that belonged to Solomon

Shlomo's shoes whose soles have been repaired with tire residues

The yellow star that belonged to Solomon

Martinus de Vime worked with my grandfather in the newspaper when grandfather approached him to beg him to save his infant son and hide him in his home. It is hard to imagine what anguish grandfather went through until he asked for it and what anguish the de Vim went through who endangered their family in this way.

Be that as it may, the de Vimes answered in the affirmative, and in August 1942, at the age of six months, Shlomo moved to their home, where he was hidden in the attic for about two years.

On 19 June 1944, apparently as a result of denunciation, members of the pro-Nazi Dutch police, led by a Dutch officer named Jan Johannes Cabalt, arrived at the house. A search of the house revealed Shlomo and was sent to Westerbrook where he was until 3.9.1944, when he was sent to Auschwitz and died on arrival there on 6.9.1944. What did the toddler go through alone in the camp for two and a half months? Who put him on the train? How did a cattle train ride survive for three days? Who held the toddler on the way to the gas chambers?

I suppose these questions tormented Grandma as well, while she stood in front of the window, her eyes staring at the sunset in silence.

The father of the family, Martin, was also caught and sent as punishment to the Dora camp in Germany. In the camp, prisoners worked producing V-2 missiles underground without seeing the light of day in appalling conditions. Instead, Martin de Wijm died on 9 March 1945.

What did he feel and what did he think during the long days he was under the surface of the earth in severe agony? Did you regret the act?

And what would you do in his place? What would each of us do if he were in his shoes?

This story is the story of my grandparents, my mother and my family, and it is intertwined with the story of all Dutch Jewry.

Of all the Jews who lived in the Netherlands before the war, about 70% were murdered. Many of them with the active or passive assistance of local citizens. Such a scope of murder would not have been possible without the assistance of the Dutch. The treatment of survivors after the war was also very harsh, including difficulties in returning property to its owners, returning orphaned Jewish children to the Jewish community, harassing and giving a "cold shoulder" to the survivors.

On the other hand, some 25,000 Jews, including my family, were hidden by the Dutch during the Holocaust. Of these, many thousands were caught and some were murdered along with the Jews they were hiding. Some 5,000 Dutch Jews were recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations. A very large amount relative to the population.

On the one hand, the Dutch officer, Jan Johann Kablet "Jewish hunter", who found a two-year-old toddler, fair-haired and beautiful-eyed, and sent him to his death with terrible cruelty.

And on the other side, Martinus and Maria de Vime, who risked and even sacrificed their lives for the other. Their heroism amazes me and also a commitment, to be worthy of the sacrifice they have made and to help make this world a better place.

My grandparents immigrated to Israel and left the Netherlands, but the memories did not let go of them, even though they were carried in complete silence. They were privileged to have three children and ten grandchildren, who every year, gather to light a Chanukah candle. In the photo: a grandmother's menorah that was hidden during the Holocaust and is now used to light the family candles.

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