Interview with the son of an Holocaust survivor (final part)

This is the third and last interview with children of survivors of the Holocaust. The Jewish community was whipped almost completely by the Nazi occupiers, 90% of the community which believed to be living in freedom in The Netherlands was murdered systematically. These interviews are intended to register the memories of the children of the view Jewish Dutch people who survived the Holocaust in The Netherlands.

All interviews are with close personal friends, people I have known for many years and are part of me. They have contributed to who I am today and who I was in my past. And they will hopefully continue to contribute to my life for many more years. These are my friends! This interview is particularly difficult for me, because this man has been part of my life ever since the day I graduated and I am proud to have him as a friend. He literally saved my life and motivated me to never give up after my incident which changed my life so much. These interviews and especially this interview, make me realize that the intention of Nazi Germany was to murder the parents of these friends before my friend were born. It is a fluke of fate that their parents survived the Holocaust and thanks to that fluke I am honored to know these people. Nazi Germany did not succeed in terminating the parents who enriched my life with the love and friendship of my friends, especially my best friend.

I am impressed (and also slightly confused) by the calmness in which my friend speaks about this. There is forgiveness in his words, a strong warning and a commitment to never let this happen again. This interview is not for the faint at heart. There is tremendous suffering during World War II and the Holocaust and a eyeopening link to the current developments.

How was your family impacted by the Holocaust?

My grandfather (mother’s side), as oldest son of the family, decided to flee from France to The Netherlands in 1939, hoping The Netherlands would be neutral in the war of which he was convinced that would rage over Europe soon. He was right about the war but not about the expected safety in The Netherlands. My grandfather was very worried about the family members who decided to stay behind in France and wrote them several letters pleading they would come over.

On 15 January 1941, Gestapo and SS arrested my family as part of a large cleansing of the Jewish part of the city. They were dragged from their houses and an eyewitness later said they were actively looking for my grandfather and his brother. My family was deported to different so called holding camps. In the only letter which my grandfather was allowed to send through the Red Cross, he wrote that he was convinced that the Germans split up the family on purpose because my grandfather and his brother have both served in the France Army before the war.

It is shocking how proud the Nazis were about there genocide. With help of the red cross, I have found detailed records of the concentration camps to which my family was transported, on which days they arrived and on which days they were murdered. Most of my family members were murdered on the day they arrived. Sometimes I believe it is better that way so they didn’t have to suffer longer in those camps.

My mother survived due to some overwhelming luck or divine intervention. She was a little girl, playing in the streets with her friends. When the trucks with the Nazis drove into the streets, she and her girlfriend ran in to the house of the parents of her girlfriend at the other side of the street. The mother of her girlfriend understood what was happening and ordered the girls to hide in the basement. Nazis came in to the house, briefly searched it but because the family was not on the list of Jewish citizens, they left after a few minutes.

The uncle of my mother’s girlfriend owned a ship which was confiscated by the Germans to ship on the Rhine. He was a very brave man and took my mother as his daughter with falsified papers. From January 1941 until the liberation in 1945, my mother has been on that ship going back and forth through Germany. Right under their noses, my Jewish mother survived.

The family members who stayed behind in France were also killed by the occupiers. My mother was the only survivor of my mother’s family.

On my father’s side, the situation was different. My late great-grandmother was Russian Jewish, married to my Jewish/Orthodox Ukrainian-Russian-Armenian great-grandfather. Their son, my grandfather was a sailor before the war began and on one of his longer stays in Stockholm, he had an affair with my grandmother. He left her before my father was born and it seems my father wasn’t the only offspring of his journeys as a sailor. His family lived across the eastern part of Ukraine and western part of Russia when we look at the current borders. Mostly farmers who also were partially relocated after the revolution.

As soon as the Nazis attacked the Soviet Union, they started to organize their ethnic cleansing which was mainly focused against the Jewish population. In Ukraine, the local supporters of the Nazis were very highly involved in this and had their own pogroms. My family became victims of this, none of them survived.

There is a report from the Ukrainian Nazis about a village in which some of my family lived. According this report, they inform the Nazi German Headquarters of cleansing the village of Untermenschen by locking all Jewish citizens in a farm house and burning the farm down. They describe that they didn’t open fire on the farm house to extend the punishment, as was recommended by the “trainer” which I assume was a SS man of the feared Tottenkopf squads.

After this, there is no sign of life of these family members so I assume they died in this murderous action. As far as I know, all family members from my father’s side who lived in the Soviet Union have been killed by the Nazis, There are no survivors.

How has the Holocaust impact you personally?

Although my mother lived in fear of the Nazis all of her life, she has taught me to forgive and never hold the children responsible for what their parents and grandparents have done. She also urged me to do whatever it takes to never let this happen again. I will never forget her words “when you have a family of your own, defend them with all you have”. These two things have formed me most. Forgive and protect, to respect my mother.

My mother was a very brave and smart woman, I cherish every memory I have of her. But I grieve for the years she spend living in fear. Although it became less with the years, she was afraid until her last moment. Little things could make her shiver and panic. A long leather jacket reminded her of the Gestapo when the searched the ship she was hiding on. Anyone speaking German in an unfriendly manner would make her want to hide. Things like that. And in all this, she kept telling her children to forgive. To be open minded and build friendships. And to make sure this could never happen again.

I took it very serious that my mother urged my to defend my family and make sure this could never happen again. That is why I served the biggest part of my life. I will defend my loved ones until my last breath and will not hesitate to pick up arms again when anyone, no matter who or how, will pose a threat to my loved ones. Mine will not be brought to their ending as cattle, mine will not be butchered. By no one!

I have spend many years trying to find out what happened to my family, where they are from and how they were killed. And at first I had the faint hope of finding survivors. I didn’t, all I found was testimony of their deaths. Testimony of how the Nazis have destroyed my family. In my search, I have visited what is left of the camps were they found their horrible end, I have searched through countless records to find out. Even now, I am not able to look at any pictures of those camps. I fear I will see a member of my family there. See their suffering.

What I fear most is that I wouldn’t even recognize them because they were all murdered before they could became part of my life. They were butchered, destroyed because they were Jewish. There are many days in which I think about all the cousins, nephews, nieces, aunts and uncles I should have now. The strong family bond in the Jewish tradition. I never had that, if my mother by luck didn’t survive, there wouldn’t even be me and there wouldn’t be my children. None of that would have been if my mother would have decided to go to the other side of the street and run to her own house instead of go with her girlfriend. Sometimes that hits me like a truck. A split second decision by a little girl is the only reason I even exist.

How do you feel about the current events in Ukraine and the open glorification of Nazi collaboration?

Before answering that, I want to make a very clear distinction. Now like in the war, not all Ukrainians are Nazis and Nazi supporters. I don’t want any of my Ukrainian friends to be seen as Nazi because they are not. You know me long enough to understand that they could never be a friend of mine with sympathies.

Also in World War II, there is a very clear separation to be made between the Nazi collaborators and those who fought and died fighting the Nazis. Especially in the East but also in other parts of the country, people have given their lives to defeat Nazi Germany and their allies. I recent that these are put in the same bowl as the Nazi supporters now and back then. But there is a very concerning House of Power in current Ukraine with very strong ties to the Nazi past of Ukraine and we can’t deny that either.

Early last year, there was yet another revolution in Ukraine and I have to admit that I didn’t pay that much attention to it. Until Klitschko entered the stage. I respected that man as a sportsman and I was actually convinced that he would be able to make a difference, mitigate a way forward for all Ukrainians. Until that shocking moment when I watched him delivering a speech together with the leaders of Pravy Sektor, an organization that glorifies Nazi Germany and Nazi Ukraine.

From that moment on, I finally realized what was going on in Ukraine and started to understand the implications when they would come to power. And they did! They might not have won the majority but they do have a large influence in the official apparatus of Ukraine and especially in the armed forces. And those volunteer battalions which rage terror against the population of Donbass. Whomever opposes them is confronted by threats, as I was myself last year, and they demonstrate on a daily basis to be very willing and able to act on those threats.

Current Ukraine is not about a re-found Ukrainian identity or about a move towards the West. Current Ukraine is about violently turning against their own Russian population and forming a power base for the inheritance of their Nazi past. Laws are installed to make this legal, history is rewritten to make it look good. As my mother taught me, I don’t hold the children of the Nazi criminals responsible for what their parents did. But those who seek to glorify and repeat what that criminal parents and grandparents did, are responsible. Not only for what their parents and grandparents did, but mostly for what they do now.

For reasons beyond my knowledge, there have always been neo-nazis and it seems that there will always be neo-nazis. Within the countries that collaborated with Nazi Germany and within those countries that fought Nazi Germany. We can’t change that, these people are mentally ill and should be treated accordingly. But there is a much bigger problem. In 1939, the whole world knew already what Nazi Germany was doing and what their intentions were. Now, in 2015, the whole world also knows what Ukraine’s neo-nazis are doing. And like in 1939, the would looks away. Again!

Never again? Give me a break! Israel commits genocide against the Palestinians. Ukraine is in the process of legalizing genocide against the Russian population with full support of their leading politicians. It has happened again and it is happening again. And nobody cares enough to revolt, topple the governments that support this and allow this to happen. No country interferes in Ukraine, not country does what it takes to end this. Not even Russia!

When there is oil or other resources the world powers need, there is a military intervention in no time – with or without UN mandate. Not in Ukraine, not even a display of power to bring the murders of Odessa to trial. Donbass is being destroyed systematically, those who didn’t flee are targeted by shelling and punished by the Ukrainian government by blocking their payments, supplies, everything they can come up with. And what does the world do? Argue about a victory parade, about the baby of Kate, about football and who should have gotten the World Championships because it is so hot in Qatar.

I miss my mom every second but at least she doesn’t have to see this. We all promised, our parents promised.This would never happen again. I promised my mother. I failed to keep this promise to my mother, all of us did!

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