Saved by a Righteous Among The Nations

I felt terribly guilty in these surroundings. The warmth, the clean. I had food to eat. I could wash. I had warm water. I could bathe. I mean all these things that people forgot what it’s like in that ghetto. The horror.

He managed everything. He managed absolutely everything that he undertook to do. He’s- He was just like- really like something- a maverick! A maverick. You know when he came he invented this uniform for himself. Now, what an idea is that? That alone, you have to- I don’t know a thing but I don’t know, a year, and you wouldn’t come up by an idea like this. But he did.

He invented a uniform that looked like an English officer. Looked like it. It wasn’t, of course, but- Why did he do that? Because he came to the conclusion- He thought, and thought, and thought about it and he decided that if he goes dressed in civilian clothes he is, well… as a rabbi… he may not survive to begin with. And if he does, nobody would even listen to him. But the Poles love a uniform. The Poles love the military, uniform…yeah. So, he decided he’s going to have a uniform. And he invented this magnificent uniform. And his cap had Jewish insignias on it but nobody would look. Nobody knew. Nobody realised. And when he put that on, nobody would say, “No.” Nobody could or did say, “No” when he entered. It was like he was- blond with a blond little beard. Not a big one. But the most magnificent blue eyes you ever saw, that when he looked at you, you thought the whole world is in you. Cause the way he looked at a person. And so, when me came, wherever he came, like Jesus Christ. And he managed to do all what he did! And he hired this Swedish boat, and he transported us on this boat and was going with us for seven days in March. It wasn’t very nice. A lot of children they were very ill. The sea was not very- very calm. And he was marvellous. He was teaching these children to sing. Because he couldn’t communicate- They couldn’t communicate with him. I was doing interpreting for him, because I spoke German… and understood a little bit of English. Nothing to, to, to talk about or to converse in. And I- And he spoke some German and Yiddish and so I managed to translate, to interpret between the children and him. So I was around him all the time practically. And was I happy to be around him all the time.

In March 1946 we were sailing. And he was doing everything to have the children’s interest. I mean, you know, you had all sorts of children. You had children that were frightened. You had children who never wanted to speak. You had children- We had one boy who was a bandit. He was truly… dangerous. He had a knife, and if you touched him, you could instantly, cause he was in the woods… that’s how he saved himself. And he was about ten years old, eleven. He was dangerous. Absolutely dangerous. That- That sort of assortment he had! So he decided that he’s going to… to put a blackboard of some sort, right? - and teach the children to sing. Now. What was he teaching us? Not religious songs. Not Hebrew songs. Not Yiddish songs, but English songs. Songs- I mean, for instance…’Rule Britannia’. He would teach us Rule Britannia and explain what it is- He would teach us ‘Daisy, Daisy’ – the little songs like this. He would teach us a song about Abraham who had a thousand wives, he would say, oh, and sing it! He sang it! And that was the reason why he missed his early breakfast train. He kissed them all goodbye. Things like this he taught these children. You would never in a million years know this was a rabbi. And yet an ultra-Orthodox one. Because it was the means to the end. He was going to save the children no matter how and no matter what. He was eating with us. I won’t say- maybe he didn’t eat the meat, I don’t know. But what did we have on a boat in early 1946, a tiny Swedish boat? They wouldn’t have had kosher food, I can’t imagine. So, he had to eat. And he was sitting with us, eating with us. Singing with us. Teaching us all sorts of wonderful things. And so for me Doctor Schonfeld: God.

Well I, I left to go to the ORT school in the morning and the streets were empty and I was told, “The Germans have invaded us.” Amsterdam was lucky. Because Rotterdam was completely destroyed. You know. Amsterdam was just two bombs. So when I got to the ORT School they said, the Germans have invaded us, we can’t teach you anymore. Because – now got home. So I went back to the orphanage. After five days we were waiting what was going to happen to us. We were very anxious to hear reports of the German invasion, you know? And, and we heard that the Dutch were completely unprepared. They hoped to become …Or to stay neutral as they stayed neutral in the First World War. Completely unprepared. So the Germans invaded quickly and May 15th then we were told, “Take your pyjamas and your best clothes, and leave [ inaudible] and on the Lijnbaansgracht in Amsterdam there were three buses ready. So we boarded the buses. And Truus Wijsmuller was there to see us and took us to the port of Ijmuiden which is the Dutch port on the North Sea. And she persuaded this captain of a cargo boat, called the “Bodegraven”. I’ve got a photograph of that too, to take us away, quickly. Which he did. The recollection of people who were with us, remembered that she left her handbag on board, but went back, wouldn’t come with us. Although she had an opportunity to go to England as well on the boat. She refused. And on my last impression of leaving is firstly were British soldiers were landing, to fight the Germans. And the last, the picture too of the harbour of Amsterdam. The Dutch Shell had big oil tanks there which the Dutch set on fire, because they didn’t want the oil to go into the German hands. So the smoke of these big oil refineries saw us off as we left. Soon after we had left the harbour, some German fighter planes came over. Luckily they had no bombs. They would have gladly bombed us, sank the ship. So I dived on the rescue boats and I wasn’t hit by the machine guns fortunately. Now the journey was… traumatic because we never knew what was going to happen, where we were going. No idea. And the sad part was an example of intolerance, because the Dutch crew was willing to give us some food. And all the orthodox people who were on the boat said, No, it’s not kosher; you can’t eat it. So for the days from leaving Holland until landing in Liverpool we had… dog’s biscuits and water, you know. We didn’t starve but the great under-, the great…understood, realised intolerance, you know, of the very orthodox not, not, not rising to the situation.

I’ve read quite a bit about her, this Truus Wijsmuller-Meijer. She was an extraordinarily refined woman. Aristocratic woman. And the children loved her dearly. And they wanted very much, you know as long as she was with them, you know, the children were - felt that it was their mother, you know, who was really travelling with them. And she also felt that she must reassure the children. So as a consequence, she left in her memoirs she says this. She left her handbag when she boarded the ship, she took her handbag and she left it on the board that the children should see. “I’m leaving the handbag. I’m with you here of course. I’ve still got a few things to do.