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Selma van de Perre
Arrived in Britain:
Place of Birth:
14 Nov 1945
Selma van de Perre, née Velleman, was born in the Netherlands on 7 June 1922 to liberal Jewish parents. The Velleman family had four children and lived in Amsterdam.
When the Netherlands was occupied by the Germans in 1940 and news of persecution and arrests of Jewish families piled up, Selma decided to go into hiding in 1942. She was able to hide with various acquaintances and friends. In the same year she moved to Leiden. There, she found shelter in the house of Antje Holthuis. When Selma realised that Antje was part of a group of Dutch resistance fighters, she offered her help.
Selma managed to get papers with the Christian name of Margaret van der Kuit. Under that name she carried out courier work the Dutch resistance, delivering letters, reports, food stamps, and false identity papers across Holland. At one point, she even travelled to Paris. On her travels through the Netherlands, she supplied resisters with monthly leaflets, money and food stamps.
The resistance gave Selma a room in Utrecht in June 1943, where she was arrested in 1944. She was then taken to the prison of Amsterdam for questioning. However, her true identity was not discovered and she was transferred to the Dutch Vught concentration camp. On 8 September 1944, she and other women from Vught were taken to the Ravensbrück concentration camp, where she worked as a slave labourer for Siemens.
After eight months, Selma was liberated by the Swedish Red Cross on 23 April 1945 and first brought to Denmark and then Sweden.
Four months later, she was able to return to Amsterdam, where she stayed with a friend she knew from childhood. After a few weeks, she was asked by the Dutch Ministry of War to go to the UK, where her two brothers lived. After some time, she joined the BBC radio department for a while, where she worked for eight years. There she met her future husband. While working as a broadcaster, she fulfilled her dream and began a four-year study of anthropology and sociology and subsequently became a teacher.
After the death of her husband, the journalist Hugo van de Perre, Selma became a foreign correspondent for Dutch media. She also became actively involved in the work on the history of forced labour and was a regular guest at the Generation Forum of the Ravensbrück Memorial. In 2019, her memoir, ‘My name is Selma’ came out in Holland to critical acclaim and the book was published in English in 2020.
Please try to understand other people. Put yourself in their shoes.
I don't believe in words only. So many words, instead of actions. I think you should act. You should act how you feel, without trying to hurt other people.
We had an ice parlour near us, a few minutes’ walk. The owner was a German refugee. He had refused to sell ice cream to a German soldier. So the German soldier went to his officer, came back with the officer. The officer took the owner, put him against the wall & shot him.
"One evening I listened to the story of Shushu [Joachim Simon], one of the Westerweel Group, who had jumped out of the prison window to his death because he rather did that than under torture giving names away. I thought this was fantastic. So I said “Can I help?”
In the beginning it was just filling in envelopes with illegal newspapers. Then I was asked to do real good jobs. I had to take [a suitcase] to 5 different towns and give it to the person there who then would distribute it. It was quite late in the afternoon. By 8 o’clock you had to be in so I couldn’t manage to go all the way to the south of Holland. I went out in Leiden & there was a terrible- I went on to the platform & there was control. German officers & Dutch policemen standing there. I didn’t know what to do. I just went to exit. I had to get out. I went to the exit with my big suitcase. A German said, “What’s this? - Was ist das?” I said, “Papers.” He said, “Machen sie öffenen.” So I tried to open it. But the locks were quite difficult to do for me. I didn’t know how to do it exactly. It took quite a while. At last I opened it. Inside was what I had not seen before, 5 parcels in brown packing paper with just 1 letter on the top of the town where I had to bring it. I thought well, that’s my-that’s my-I’ll be gone, you know. But the German said “Right, off.” So I got to go through. When I came out of that station I was so nervous! I stood there trembling for a while before I could go on. Then I went home & told the story. The next morning I took the case back to the towns where they needed to go. So this was my first job.