Holland - Then and Now

* 5th and last in a series of newsletters detailing our June 2010 visit to Germany & Holland.

Previous Newsletters can be viewed atwww.FourPerfectPebbles.com

Shortly before noon on Wednesday, June 9, we were welcomed on our arrival in Assen, Holland, by 2 members of the Westerbork staff, Tonya and Hilly.
We were driven the short distance in 2 small cars to the Camp Westerbork Museum, located in close proximity to the former grounds of Kamp Westerbork. 
And it was here, in Kamp Westerbork, that my family and I endured 4 years of incarceration until transported in February of 1944 to the hell-hole of Bergen-Belsen in Germany. 
Kamp Westerbork www.westerbork.nl was one of 3 Nazi concentration camps located in Holland during World War 2. 
The other 2 were Amersfoort www.Amersfoort.nl and Vught www.Vught.nl 

After introductions, a vegetarian lunch was served; we were joined by our dear friends from Hoya, Heike & Hans Huth, their children, Sarah & Jörn, and their adorable grandchildren, Timon and Clemens .

Following lunch, I was given the opportunity to speak to Dutch students and adult visitors. I spoke in English as my Dutch is quite rusty after years of disuse, but am certain that I was well understood judging by the good questions asked. Photo- top left

In 2006, the publisher Gerton van Boom of Uitgeverij Verbum BV, translated my memoir, Four Perfect Pebbles, A Holocaust Story co-authored by Lila Perl, into Dutch, with the title Vier gelijke stenen Op de vlucht voor de holocaust
Dirk Mulder, director of the Kamp Westerbork Museum, wrote the meaningful forward to the memoir.
Of the approximately 118,000 Jews transported from Camp Westerbork to concentration & extermination camps, 102,000 Jewish men, women, and children perished at the hands of the Nazis.
To symbolize this staggering number, Gerton van Boom made a first printing of 102,000 copies. It is his wish that copies of my memoir be given to visitors of the museum without charge. 

That afternoon I sat for a long period, inscribing copies of Vier gelijke stenen for students and adults. The people I met were warm, caring, and gracious. Stories, with many hugs, were exchanged. Photo, bottom left

Nathaniel, our son David, and grandson Gavriel, toured the display area of the museum. In the photo bottom right, David is gazing intently at a photo showing his Uncle Albert, my brother, taken during the Festival of Chanukah, circa 1942. If you look to the very left of the photo, you will get a glimpse of Albert, then a 10 year old, intently watching the lighting of the Chanukah candles. None knew the terrible fate that lay ahead.Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, is a holiday celebrating freedom, and here we were, in complete captivity. It would be years before we would regain our own freedom. Tragically and sadly, many never did. Quite an irony! 

It was late afternoon when we took leave of the museum and its dedicated staff. 
From the station in Assen, we headed to Amsterdam, again with a change in Amersfoort*, arriving at Central Station in Amsterdam about 8:30 PM,. Our hotel was just a short walk from the station. 
It was once again, quite a day, well spent!

Up bright and early on a cloudy, rain-threatening Thursday morning. We left the hotel with umbrella in hand to visit our list of must-see places and sites, which included the Anne Frank House, Jewish Museum, and Synagogue at Lekstraat 61. It was this very synagogue where Albert, on his 13th birthday, became a Bar-Mitzvah in October 1945, only 4 months after the passing of our father Z”L.

Amsterdam must be the bicycle capital of the world, or close to it.. Women & men, in office attire, were pedaling away, smoothly negotiating narrow streets and motor traffic, and seeming not to miss a beat.. There were women with children in baskets on the handle bars, or on a 2nd rear seat. Many were on cell phone ( we didn’t see anyone texting!!). During a few periods of rain, umbrellas were unfurled. 
Amsterdam, of course, has many canals, which gives this old city a unique and beautiful look. Narrow buildings have big hooks high up to enable furniture and other large objects to be easily hoisted up to upper floor apartments or offices. 

The long line at the Anne Frank House was one that Nathaniel & I experienced, together with our daughter Susan, on a previous visit, but the line moved quickly. David & Gavriel, as did Nathaniel and I, found the annex fascinating; we read the many posted notes and inscriptions describing the events of the Frank family’s long, difficult, and frightening stay, until exposed by a Nazi sympathizer. .
If you haven’t already done so, be sure to visit this landmark on your visit to Amsterdam, which is possibly the most visited site in Holland.
Just recently heard in the news that the famous 150 year old Chestnut tree outside the Anne Frank House, the one which gave Anne so much hope, finally toppled over in a storm, and no longer graces this shrine.

I had prepared lunch back at the hotel, and being already early afternoon, we were hungry. We found a bench and had a very nice outdoor lunch, after which we took a tram to get us to the Jewish Museum.
There is much Dutch Jewish history at the museum to understand, and to appreciate the rich culture brought to this country by its Jewish inhabitants.
It was sad to learn that the small remnant of Jews that remained at war’s end was at first coolly welcomed back to their native Nederland. A great disappointment to them.As a consequence, a number of Dutch Jewish families left Holland to settle in more hospitable countries, notably Israel.

After our visit to the Lekstraat Synagogue, we stopped for our evening meal at a nearby kosher restaurant. It was not expensive, and the food was quite good.

A tram took us back to the area of our hotel, where we did some more walking and exploring. Much new construction was going on in the area. We even stopped to watch some sport being played on a sandlot.Gavi actually had to tell me that the sport we were watching was soccer!

Friday morning we took the short walk back to Central Station for our return to Hannover for Shabbat, and our last weekend in Germany. Looking at the train schedule, I saw that our train would pass through Bussum, the small, beautiful town where I spent 3 years living together with an incredible family, the Birnbaums, and the 15 or so other young children. Here, we re-acclimating to life in its normal state, and prepared to go off to live in Palestine. And it was here that I began my first formal education, at the age of 11 1/2.
As there was little time between the time our train pulled into Bussum, and the next train out, Nathaniel and I walked rapidly to the area where I had lived, not far from the station. It was quite a thrill just to be in this town that helped shape my future. The Birnbaum family, and most of my friends, did go on to Israel.
Mother, Albert and I re-settled in America in 1948.
To this day, I am in close contact with Birnbaum family members, especially my dear friend, Susi.

On previous visits to Germany, we had come into contact with a photojournalist and his family. It is too long a story to go into it now, but suffice it to say we did make up to meet these lovely people for coffee upon our arrival in Hannover. It was a grand little reunion.

On Saturday morning, Shabbat, we walked to the synagogue for prayers. On the way back to the hotel, we stopped near the Opera House to see the large monument, engraved with the names of the many from the Hannover area “deported” to the various camps, never to return.

Sunday morning, off to the airport for our flight back to the US. Gavriel still had a few more days of “sightseeing” in Europe before heading back to his family in Israel

It was an action packed 10 days, days filled with emotion for each of us. It was 10 days spent as a 3 generation family, learning about my family’s difficult past, but looking forward to an optimistic future in a world of love and peace. As I wrote in my memoir, “to all those who have known adversity and despair, I offer my belief that out of darkness can come light.”


From a letter received from Tjalke Notermans, a Dutch visitor to Westerbork the day of our visit - 

“Looking at your face, dear Marion, beams of Light and Love radiate, unhindered by anything, towards everybody, and into the World.

My trip to Westerbork was energy-wise peanuts compared to what I returned home with. My thoughts and feelings were with that wonderful powerful girl that was determined to find and collect her 4 perfect pebbles.

With that strong belief she knew she would make it through the most horrible and bizarrely unimaginable circumstances…she did, and in doing so, she “simply” became an example for what a person can survive by this strong belief. 
You do inspire me.

Laying against the body of the Mother, feeling safe…and now that fabulous woman is laying against her Daughter, feeling safe.

And, oh my, is that “girl” still alive!!