A SHORT STORY OF A JEWISH FAMILY DURING THE 20TH CENTURY An addition to “ECHOES OF THE PAST” – 65 years later Written by Hester Grinberg-Boissevain

In 1945 World War Two was behind us. A door was shut forever, never opened up again – behind it a dark room filled with memories like piled up old furniture with a smell of dust stuck to it through the years. Big tragedies were swallowed and made room for new beginnings. People had to look for new futures and forget about what was, while memories faded away. During the years to come people passed away, married, and babies were born, growing up in a new world after a long, terrible and cruel war. A good reason never to speak about it anymore. Let's say: "never touch a memory again". This is what happened to the Goldberg family who came from St. Petersburg, Russia. As history tells us, the people who used to live there were highly intellectual and often very talented musically. The Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 ruined this respected well-to-do Jewish community, a year after Anna Goldberg was born in 1916. Communism against Capitalism. To escape this life they left for Germany and perhaps – I guess – before coming to Berlin passed through Finland, where so many Jewish families used to have a residence for summer vacations and shared happy memories. As I understand it, they lived in Berlin between the years 1917-1935. As is known, the Hitler regime had been on the rise since 1933, and not to be involved in those cruelties of the pogroms they had to leave again, and they decided on going to Holland. Those days many people thought Holland to be a safe and wonderful country. One can compare Nazism with dangerous snakes creeping secretly underneath the grass and branches, killing and ruining where they could, often taking huge amounts of money, entering into the skin of businessmen. A horrible horizon appeared with a frightening future. Apparently, Mr. Goldberg was connected to my father's and grandfather's business, as well as connected to my uncle, Jan Boissevain and his wife, Mies. We don't know this for sure and will also never know it. The Germans took hold of my parents' money already in 1936. My parents' point of view was not to accept all the growing injustices. When the war broke out in Holland, May 1940, my father – as we more or less


know now – was busy not only helping pilots who were shot down escape to England, with the help of little boats and other ways of passing the frontiers, but also building up a code system for their underground organization with London. Their organizations saved 9000 people. The day in January 1943 came when the family, Mr. and Mrs. Goldberg and their daughter, Anna, came to us in the town called Haarlem, 25 km. west of Amsterdam where we lived. They came to spend an evening dinner with us. I clearly remember, as a child of 9 years old, the moment my mother got the telephone call from my father when she, rather worried, asked herself what can I serve – I have only some peas left for a meal with guests. They stayed not only for one evening but for the following two and a half years and so escaped the German genocide. Nowadays, I often ask myself how did they manage, never able to leave the house again and meet other people, and how it must have changed their lives completely. How they changed clothes, what kept them busy, no more electricity, no more heating, no more soap, no more food! Really nothing! Sadly enough, 65 years later, nobody can answer me – it is all packed up in this dark room with the door tightly shut. In my family 18 members were busy with illegal activities – all in different branches – from the beginning of the war. My father with two nephews and their families - none one of them never ever knew what another group was doing secretly. This lately became clear to me, when we found some letters of my father sent from the Vught concentration camp in Holland (for further information on Vught see page 7) after he was caught and before was sent to Germany - there he met seven other members of our family, all unexpectedly, who were imprisoned there as well. Sadly to say, some never returned. My father's cousin, Jan Boissevain, and his family were betrayed, caught, and taken to prison: a father, a mother and their five children. At the end of the war, one of their daughters, Annemie, then 16 years old, months after finally being released, came to visit my mother. She told her that she was worried, something might have happened to the Goldberg family, for the connection with them was lost. My mother - as if she was surprised – answered her saying she didn't know a Goldberg family. The truth was that they were sitting one floor up, secrets stayed secrets until the end of the war. We never knew about the relations between the Goldberg Family and Annemie’s family.


Then, one day not long ago, I got a telephone call from a woman student, a mother of three, who is working on her doctorate interviewing "children" of people hiding Jews in Holland during World War Two. She already traveled to Holland several times and even got a prize for her work from Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. She strongly advised me, when you make a visit to Holland, try and ask your eldest brother – now 88 years old– as many questions as possible, if he can remember, and especially about the good relations he used to have with Mr. Goldberg. In April 2010 I was in Holland, and on my last day of my visit there I heard about a volcanic cloud which had just erupted in Iceland and was spreading its dust into the air. Hard winds blowing brought tiny glittering spots all over Europe and planes were not allowed to leave. Thousands of people became stranded at the airports. I stayed with my brother, Bob, and we started talking about these memories, which we never did since the end of the war, and I asked him several questions. He and Mr. Goldberg taught each other Russian and English. Mr. Goldberg then thought that if the war would be over the Dutch people will renew and rebuild relations with Russia, important for Holland, so why not write a book to teach Russian. They really did that and the book they wrote together was even printed after the war. Unfortunately my brother does not remember the name. Being there I thought of looking in some old boxes to find an old copy of that book, but with no result. Instead I found some very small pieces of paper which were written in very small handwriting by Mr. Goldberg , all in Russian. Those days paper was not available. Together they wrote a sort of useful dictionary for this purpose – all written in very tiny letters (*Translation of this at the end of this article). My conclusion: Mr. Goldberg must have been a very optimistic person looking ahead in spite of his age, having passed his 70th birthday. A business man with heart, soul and intellect. Anna Goldberg loved to write as well. She wrote a romantic story, very well written in the Dutch language. Her book was also published (which we just lately discovered ) under the name: "The Five Hundred Women of Ghenzig-Kahn" This book tells about the history of Asian-Mongolia, 800 years ago, where and how each tribe conquered one another all on the battlefields. We found the book in an old antique shop in the south of Holland.


How did we discover all these interesting things? My brother told me that Anna wrote her book under the name Anna Ormont. We knew that during the war the Goldberg family used to have three names, all with the same meaning in three languages (mountain of gold). The three names were: Goldberg-Ormont-Slatogorov. We all knew it already then, for they were so afraid and suspicious of being discovered after their bad experiences they had suffered through life. We as children were involved in those secrets. The following story gives us an example of this: My brother, Bob, who was in his early twentieth year, was hiding as well, for if he were caught he would have been sent to the German labor camps. One day he thought of giving Anna Goldberg a little break during all those long, dark, somber and boring days. Going out was impossible and strictly forbidden. With the good relations we had with our neighbors, only on one side, he arranged a meeting one night. They climbed over the fence in the back garden. By shaking hands with one of the daughters of this older couple, called Helena, she told my brother that she recently had met a very interesting man, a journalist from Yugoslavia. My brother, Bob, than asked politely – Oh, what is his name? and Helena said that his name is Mr. Penkela. At that moment Bob looked at Anna and discovered an unknown astonishing twinkle in her eyes, only to disappear after a second. He kept that moment and the name of Mr. Penkela in his mind, not writing it down, which could have been dangerous if being caught. Days went by, sitting together with the Goldbergs, they often spoke out about "a woman" called Snoesje, a nickname which meant darling-sweet heart- beauty- so my mother asked them who is "Snoesje". She always got the same answer – "oh, a good friend of ours and Anna's" – no further explanations. I suppose they often spoke about her for they were longing to see her, which they could not. Time passed and after the war Bob was still obsessed by what could have been that special twinkle in the eyes of Anna. He started a search trying to find an answer - who was the man named Mr. Penkela. He got an address somewhere in Amsterdam. He knocked at the door and to his big surprise the women who opened the door was a 100% copy of Mrs. Goldberg – not Anna, undoubtedly. I can imagine the strange feeling my brother must have felt. Even years after the war the Goldbergs kept denying they had another daughter and never spoke about their son, who left for America before the outbreak of the war. A woman appeared in the corridor who wanted to know who came to the front door. This was Mrs.


Goldberg herself. Bob entered the house and inside met a man who shook hands with him. He said: "I am Mr. Penkela". A strange twisted mystery comes to an end. He was the husband of the second daughter of the Goldbergs, called Snoesje. This all shows us how the Goldberg family lived, woven into a big net of fear. Finally in May 1945, the Allied Forces liberated the north of Holland, where people had suffered tremendously during the long last "hunger winter", when thousands of people died from exhaustion. American and Canadian soldiers entered our country and were loved by the Dutch. Many young women, at last being free, went out and met those soldiers. Anna did so too. She met a Canadian soldier of the army, fell into his arms and, as we heard, fled with him to Canada, not so long after. Contacts with her got lost, Anna's past was locked up in that "dark room". Never touch a memory again!!! An organization, here in Israel, called "Atzum" runs a project headed by a young woman, Yael Rosen, a very thoughtful person in touch with a group of people who are recognized as "The Righteous Among the Nations" and are sharing their lives in Israel. Through the Museum of Yad Vashem they got their names and organize meetings. That's how she and I met. Coming back from Holland I told her about my experiences, and gave her the name of Anna Ormont. She searched the internet for that name and to our great surprise, she immediately found a man called Bill Houston, who was the nephew of Anna's husband, Bill Daken, the Canadian soldier Anna met in 1945. We were very excited with this discovery. We have already exchanged several phone calls and e-mails with Bill Houston. He wrote us that Anna lived most of her life in Ottawa, knew 6 languages, was a warm and kind person, worked most of her time at the business of her husband, Bill Daken. They both passed away during the years around 1988. A childless marriage. I sent Bill Houston a copy of my story "Echoes of the Past". He got very excited learning something about Anna's past and he decided to send a copy of it to the son of Anna’s brother Alexander. Anna's brother, as was already mentioned, left Holland before the war, and – as we heard – became the adjutant of General Eisenhower in Berlin when war crimes


were tried. Alexander lived most of his life in Florida, was married and had two children. Their names are Alexi and Greg. And now comes the climax of my story. When Bill Houston sent Greg a copy of Echoes of the Past he wrote to him : "Look at page 19…". Greg and Alexi were always told their whole life that something should never be talked or even questioned about. For them it always became a mystery. And what happened the moment Greg read page 19? He understood then that he has a Jewish heritage. A revelation. When his father, Alexander, entered America he changed his name from Goldberg to Forest. Greg wrote me that one day a drawer with old papers and documents was opened and some notes were discovered. They were then immediately told "don't ever touch them" and to honor this wish it was really never touched, as if a mystery of this dark room had entered their lives as well. A true revelation after 65 years. Greg told me on the phone that his sister, Alexi, passed away two years ago and sadly to say, never got to know about this. For him a very moving thought as if something has passed through a tiny hole of that locked room. A little light shining in darkness of this unknown past. A year ago the archives of the Municipality in Amsterdam sent me 3 pictures developed from very old small negatives, which were found in some old boxes. These were the pictures of Mr. and Mrs. Goldberg and Anna. We all recognized them, it was obvious. The pictures were taken on the 16th of August 1943, when they were already living with us for some months. None of us could remember it, it must have happened very secretly, for taking pictures in those days was of course a big risk. My father had already left, but we think that he ordered it in some way from his hiding place in case forged identity cards were needed or even passports. And now, after all these discoveries, Greg sent me a picture taken in 1948 of his grandparents, the only picture he has, without names written on it. When I saw the picture I was very moved by it with mixed feelings for seeing two people standing side by side - looking very happy. New generations are growing up. Television, radio and the general way of the media in making it possible for them to get to know more about the most inhuman and cruel things that happened in mankind during World


War Two. Trips to Poland and Auschwitz, for example. During the war, silently and secretly all over Europe organizations grew to resist the German genocide and occupation. Their work was done without speaking. People felt they did what they had to do and are today called the Righteous Among the Nations. Their work saved thousands of Jews, taking big risks for their own lives and living every hour, every moment during those years with fear, not only for themselves but also for their own family. Thinking now of those people who were looking for ways to help innocent victims and families with children, Yael Rosen suggested to let pupils of the Leo Beck High School in Haifa arrange an exhibition about three of my family members. We have collected a lot of pictures and articles. We started last year and continue today with the things we could not finish due to examinations, holidays and some graduates having to enter the Israeli Army. Part of their work is making a film to accompany the exhibition. While filming, a girl called Noam, all of a sudden asked me: "Don't you have any letters from your father when he was in prison?" That moment I raced my memories back 68 years and remembered clearly when my mother got them. My father was involved in many organizations; until today we don't know all of what he did. Not long after he brought us the Goldberg family he was betrayed and immediately was put in a dark cell in Scheveningen, a local prison, for nine months all alone. He was treated very badly, inhumanly, hardly getting any food. This was his "punishment" not only being alone without food, but sitting in the dark, without any contact with other people – tortured physically and mentally as well. After nine months he was brought to the Vught camp, more dead than alive and was put in the hospital department of the camp, where he met my aunt, Mies, who was a prisoner as well. She tried to care for him as much as she could. He somehow made a slow recovery. The letters Noam asked me about were found in Holland with my family and I got the copies. This whole chapter was nearly all completely forgotten. They were written between July-August 1944 and Christmas 1944. The first news since a year when he left us for hiding, in the summer of 1943. With short sentences, like a code-system, he wrote us that he had "met" Dr. Hades twice. I asked my family who was this Dr. Hades, for I obviously thought him a friend or kind of relative. Instead,


they told me Dr. Hades is a nickname for a very cruel person bringing people to death… My father wrote: "…he has kept an eye on me several times". Unnecessary to explain more. Some other moving thoughts expressed in one of his letters, when he asked my mother: "let the kids say or write in a few words where they would like to live after the war, in town or a country place". We were than living in a house, temporarily, for the Germans broke our house in pieces. Reading more amazing facts as if "Vught" was a country club where people used to meet. From his letters we understood that he had met 4 other family members. He wrote: "we are now sitting together with Jan and Mies Boissevain" - his cousins, their son Frans, who was captured with all his family: Jan, Mies, Frans, Annemie, Janka and Gideon. The last two were put in prison in Amsterdam and executed after all being betrayed for their tremendous and unbelievable deeds. The fifth cousin, Frits van Hall, was sent for a "journey" – as my father wrote. Two more cousins, Thea Boissevan and Suzie van Hall, were imprisoned there as well, all having worked illegally for the Underground. Three of them never returned. None of them knew from each other – when, why and how they were send to prison. Many questions without answers. Concentration CAMP "VUGHT" was built in 1942 in the south of Holland, away in the country surrounded by a forest and not far from the railway station. In January 1943 the first groups of prisoners started arriving. Every day another group and again and again… families with children and prisoners, already worn out from their previous imprisonment. They were put to work finishing their own buildings for captivity. Hundreds of them did not survive these tortures. Vught became one of the big deportation camps in Holland before thousands of innocent people were sent to the German death camps. Also there were places in the camp where men were executed. The 30th of April 1943 – as is written in some of the many documents – 1,200 children arrived on that day, together with their parents, terrible conditions obviously followed. They were put on transports to get rid of them. All together 31,000 people, Jews and non Jews, were in Vught, as is registered. The last ones were deported in September 1944, after D-day, when the Allied Forces liberated only the southern part of Holland. The camp commanders hurried sending them to Germany – so as not to let the cruelties that had taken place be discovered. The camp became empty


without a soul left. Many of them were sent to Oranienburg at the headquarters of the S.S. Gestapo stations (see ref.). The last letter we got from my father was sent from Oranienburg on Christmas 1944, written in the German language. A very moving letter, for it was obvious his last one. Through the sentences he made it clear how he felt and how much he loved and admired my mother, encouraging us with her strength of mind. A letter of "farewell". He compared himself with Willem Barentz, a Dutchman, many many years ago, who on one of his expeditions to the North Pole was frozen to death at Nova Zembla. My father wrote: "Gedenken wir Willem Barentz; Die liebe erde grunt bald aufs neu Nicht nur 1945, senden ewig Blauwen licht die Fernen." Robert Lucas Boissevain Translation into English: To remember Willem Barentz The dear earth soon grows Green – not only 1945 Sending eternally Blue skies in the distance. It was his memory of a song composed by Mahler. My father met the composer Gustav Mahler several times in his life and loved his music very much. The last song of Mahler was called "The Song of Earth" from the symphony: part 6: "The Farewell". A translation of the last part: "I seek peace for my lonely heart I wander to find my homeland, my home I will never stray to foreign lands Quiet is my heart, waiting for its hour. The dear earth everywhere Blooms in spring and grows green Afresh. Everywhere and eternally Distant places have blue skies. Eternally…..Eternally.”


A week before I got these letters I thought of organizing a family gathering in Holland in the museum of camp Vught, established approximately 20 years ago, to honor the seven members of our family who were there for either a short or long period . Together with an art teacher, Iris, we made a present for this museum. In a frame with colored glass – a blue sky, a yellow sun, a railway path disappearing through a fence of barbed wire and one stroke of green grass and melting snow. In the blue sky on the glass we wrote:

"In the distance the eternal light".
We made it to express the view prisoners must have seen through the windows of their barrack. I felt a trembling in my heart reading this last letter. It was nearly the same words my father wrote 68 years before. I presented it on a plate of olive wood which memorializes the name. It was on the 12th of April 2010; The 12th of April is also my parents' wedding day; The 12 th of April is the day my father died in Buchenwald – Germany in 1945 – the day the camp was liberated. He went to the gate and called "H o e r a" – his last word. In the exhibition we will try to express some more heartwarming revelations which we hope may add and give a little more knowledge of several other members of my family who worked so hard to save hundreds of Jews entering those webs of dangers. This second part, in addition to the "Echoes of the Past", I see as a finishing touch from the things we got to know lately. Hester Grinberg-Boissevain, 2011


Reference Marc Uijland, Christel Tijenk (2002) : Eindpunt of Tussenstation, Gids Nationaal Monument Kamp Vught, National Monument Kamp Vught

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful