The other night I was getting ready to make dinner. I was in that lost state of looking in the fridge hoping that something was in there that would magically transform into a meal for my family when the phone rang.
Hello? Dead air. I thought it was one of those obnoxious call-room scammers telling me I was the recipient of some unclaimed money or that there was a virus on my computer. I hung up and opened the fridge.
Ring, ring. Hello? This time there was a voice on the other end with a Dutch accent, and a woman introduced herself by name saying she was calling from Antwerp. I was flabbergasted. Let me explain.
A couple of weeks ago I decided I needed more information to flesh out a scene in my book. It is a chapter that explains my mother and her family being released from Westerbork. I had already tried finding information on this in the history books and I was at a loss. Then I remembered the document I had dug up from the NIOD in Amsterdam which lists about a dozen people released on that same day. Maybe one of them can tell me what happened.
I started to search to see how many from that list had survived and how many had perished. I looked for the names in the Yad Vashem and the USHMM databases and on the Joods Monument. I was thrilled to see that most of them did survive! I then looked for birth dates to try to see who may still be alive and I Googled each name.
One name – a woman who is a bit younger than my mother – came up with several hits. I searched and soon realized that while she has somewhat of an internet presence she is private. No email. No address. No phone. Was this a dead-end?
Not to give up easily I kept searching and found a small article in a newsletter for a church in Flanders – the Dutch speaking portion of Belgium which had a write-up of a book that had an interview with the woman I was seeking. If there was an interview, then the author must know how to reach her. Within minutes I had found the author’s contact info and sent her an email asking how I could get in touch with the little girl who had been on the transport out of Westerbork with my mother.
The author immediately got back to me. She was unwilling to give out the woman’s address, but would give my contact info to her (very respectable and proper). I wrote a letter that she forwarded for me. And a couple of days later my phone rang!
This woman remembered that day clearly and was able to answer my questions. She told me what it was like for her as a child to be released that day, and while she did not remember my mother, her story gives me the material I need to make my scene that much more interesting and real.
This morning I received an email from the author asking me a question. “My book is in Dutch. May I ask you which article you found and where it was published? I’m just curious.”
I’m thinking about her simple statement. I’m just curious. Aren’t we all?