Lost But Not Forgotten

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?

3 thoughts on “Lost But Not Forgotten

  1. Arnoud-Jan Bijsterveld says:

    Dear Heidi, I too am losing witnesses… Last year two of them died, most importantly Edith Spitz-Polak, one of Bertram’s three cousins. She died on 3 December, at the age of 94. The good news is that my book will appear in December: I picked 9 December as the day of the presentation. Then it will be 75 years ago Bertram and his friend tried to escape. The week after I hope to present the book in the US. Keep my fingers crossed…
    Hartelijke groeten
    Arnoud-Jan

  2. Ger van den Berg says:

    Dear Heidi

    Although my wife Henny passed away in november there is still a witness alive in The Netherlands. Aunt Jopie de Jong who is one of the three daughters of Egbert de Jong. She is 85 and has met your mother and Heinz and Margaret Lichtenstern. She was or is as old as your mother I presume.
    Although she also is in a bad health she could help. Moreover I have heard a lot during the 45 years I was married to Henny, so I can hopefully fill in some gaps as well.

    Best regards Ger van den Berg

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