I recently lost two of my sources. Henny’s husband sent me an email notifying me of her passing in November, and then Edith’s son sent an email of her death in January. I did not know either of these women personally, but they both have been instrumental in my research. Through the wonder of the internet we found each other and they were able to add bits and pieces to the story of my mother’s survival.
Henny’s grandfather ran the Bureau of Non-Ferrous Metal in The Netherlands and was involved with the underground. This was immensely important in keeping so many Jews in Westerbork so they wouldn’t be sent east to extermination camps. Edith’s father seems to have been the middleman in helping my grandfather obtain a falsified passport from a Paraguayan consulate in Switzerland.
Without those two men I shouldn’t be here. And without the two recently deceased women my understanding of the story would be that much more incomplete. I wish I could have met each of them. I wish that I had flown to Switzerland and Holland to sit and have a cup of coffee and ask them more questions. What else did they know about the passport? How much did it cost? Was it a pure bribe of a Paraguayan official who pocketed the money for his own use? Was he out to make a buck by gouging lost souls who were fighting for their lives? Or did the money help to fund more passports that saved more Jews from certain death? I’ll never be able to have the conversations I imagined.
This is the bane of historical research and not asking the questions soon enough. It is important to ask and understand before the witnesses are gone and the subtleties of their experiences disappear with them.
I think of the Syrian refugees who are currently running for their lives and the future of their families. Is somebody asking them the important questions now, before it is too late?