Rachel Didi Ross [Hertz]
My confession is this. That you wouldn't perhaps understand, it's the very first time for 40 years I intend to speak and tell you about my experiences in WW2. It was a lady of the English-speaking group who asked about these adventures. And my first reaction has been "'Why should I". In a country where there are such a lot of heroes... But I believe in coincidence that in the same week that she asked me, my second son in a heavy discussion at our home accused me of never to have been speaking one sentence about what happened to me, what happened to the Jews, being in hiding and about our resistance work. And therefore I decided to do it because I really felt guilty that we didn't tell our youth enough about these horrible times.
Our youngsters don't know a word what happened to the Jews. They live in the country blind because we didn't open their eyes. I have to speak in English but believe me it would be even in Dutch or Hebrew. It's difficult for me to speak about it because I'm too emotionally involved about all these things I'd like to tell you. And therefore I decided to speak from paper and not by heart. This is Dutch conversation and it can be hard.
The Jewish community was settled and integrated, hundreds of years Jews were living in Holland. My own family goes back to 1789. The Jews were speaking the same language as the Gentiles. At school you were together with the Gentiles and I have to tell you that in Dutch schools it is forbidden to ask your religion. I didn't hear a word Yiddish before I came to Israel and when I came they asked my baby son of nearly 4 years "Is your mother a Goya that she didn't speak Yiddish". And he came to me and he didn't ask what is Yiddish, ''Mother, what is a Goya?''.
The Jews in Holland didn't live in ghettos. Oh yes, there was a big proletarians lived openly together in Amsterdam between them were Gentiles... We would wearing... the same clothes; I never saw a Streimel or a kaftan or earlocks. What happened to the Jews in Germany? Oh yes we did know but you have to know the standard of Jews in living in Holland, we thought we were a lot better than the German Jews. The German Jews were so loud, so imprudent, we were a lot better, not like them, and next to that the Dutch Gentiles wouldn't allow what happened in Germany to the German Jews.
I born up in Rotterdam as the daughter of a well-to-do middle-class family, I went to a girl’s school; I got my matriculation (bagrut), I went to a seminary and became a kindergarten. There was a saying in our family that when you could play "Plaisir D'amour" or "Fur Elise" on the piano then you was ripe for marriage. I didn't play the piano, surely not plaisir d amour, I played hockey and tennis and had been in the discussion club.
In March 1940 there has been a ball and it was the first and last ball of my youth. There was only one good thing about it, I met my fiancé. I have to tell you a terrible thing: This ball was in order to raise money for the German Jewish evacuees and therefore you had to dance and to play.
It happened on 10th May 1940, the Germans came like thieves in the night and came over the bridges... by air as parachutists in Dutch uniforms. They came to the bridges at Rotterdam only after most of the city was destroyed by heavy bombardment. Holland had to surrender after 4 days of fighting.
On the 14th May 1940, our house on the west part of the town was spared being demolished. At evening three rows of tanks were standing in our street as we were already were making ourselves ready to go to bed. All these days of fighting and your country, being at war, even you had to sleep. Suddenly the bell was ringing and somebody was knocking at the door, saying ''Open the door!!''. My parents panicked. She thought they'd come to catch us. I went down to open the door and a young soldier stood before me asking for water... From this moment we were living in continuous fear.
A year of relative quiet followed and this lessened our excitement but also our watchfulness. Summer 1941 we were deprived from our existence, shops were closed, bought for nothing by the Dutch Nazis or German civilians. We were thrown out of our houses, and had to walk in the middle of a terrible cold winter, snow knee-deep as you call it to find another house... Restrictions came in August 1941; Jews were not allowed to have households, no use of public trams transport... after 0700 o'clock in the evening, not allowed to be outdoors. The Jews had to give up bank and saving accounts... And you have to bring in silverware copper jewellery and diamonds. Jews got 250 guilders a month for living. That was very poor living.
The support of the Dutch population was wholehearted. They did our shopping. They helped phoning. Suddenly there was a difference between the Dutch Jews and the Dutch Gentiles. There occurred a specimen for all Europe. The Dutch strike came. In all Europe it didn't happen. Dock workers in Amsterdam, Philips workers in Eindhoven, Shipyards in Rotterdam were closed. Tramway personnel walked out. 20000 workers walked out and became demonstrators against the restrictions for the Jews. The Germans broke up the strike after 2 days. 425 Amsterdam Jews were arrested, 2000 Dutch inhabitants were sent to Buchenwald, later to Austria and Mauthausen. Heavy fines were imposed on the towns where the strikes occurred. Only Amsterdam Jews had to pay 15 million guilders.
You know, I have to tell you why they demonstrated because they was a saying "We don't like Jews but they are our Jews". Don't touch them. The Dutch are famous for being gentle to the underdog and I'd like you to remember the Spanish Jews of the Inquisition, who brought the good hope in Holland. The French Huguenots, the South African booren...
October 1941. Sunday morning. It was the birthday of our grandfather and me and my fiance were sitting in our living-room and doing what people were doing. When suddenly we saw out of the window a small red-haired Jew thrown out of the tram and nobody came to his aid. And from this moment I knew that nobody would come to our help either.
In May 1942 came the identification card with the "j" for Jews. Jews were taken out of the small places, and villages and towns and had to concentrate in big towns. May 1942 we had to wear the yellow Star of David. Deportation to east Europe to work camps started. Still there was no organized resistance, until Dutch students, professors and teachers had to sign a declaration of full loyalty and cooperation to the Germane culture, what called "Kutura camer".
In June 1942, I'd like you to remember that it was not allowed to visit Jews in the evening, Marta came to visit us. Marta till a year ago the living-in maid of our family she came on the time it was forbidden to visit jews her family had decided she came to say they were a very religious, protestant poor family that they would have go against the Nazis and they would help us Jews.
In August 1942 there came a new word in the dutch vocabulary and it was to die, to duck under. My parents-in-law went to the eldest brother of Marta who was living in town outside Rotterdam with five small children who didn't know that there were people living in the attic room above. My parents-in-law had to sit still the whole day in this attic room with house-shoes on, and it was impossible to use the WC and it was terrible living. We... came to the parents of Marta. We hid ourselves with my parents-in-law who could not hide anymore in the place I told you before. My mother and me were sleeping in a small room. Three grown-up persons with a young girl. We could never go outdoors. We had no knowledge or connection with the world. We could see the changing seasons through 20cm of glass window. We saw as spring changed into summer and autumn to winter. The only difference was the colour of the leaves high on the trees. Because you could not see the children. The men going to work in the street. Sleeping several times under the floor when there was alarm. Lying on the bed without moving. Without clothes only a cup of water next to you. We were listening to the click-clack of the soldiers' boots in the street... And slowly, slowly came a change in the balance of the personal connection with your save keeper and yourself. You had to bear in mind that we, the Jews, were totally dependent on our save keeper. We were in his hands, you were not a living person any more, you changed to somebody preserved. You didn't know anything, your opinion was not worthwhile, your education, your social standing, neither your experience weren't taken into account. Night after night we were living in this room.
Then in August 1943 I got a new identification card without a "G". With this I could go out-of-doors. A new address to live at with a young couple, also very religious Protestants with one child and the lady was pregnant. Her husband was a very positive religious man, a teacher: who out of principle and patriotism would not sign the loyalty declaration, the ''Kultur Camer''. He was also in hiding, came home only sometimes after darkness. I understood that he was working against the occupiers and action. Later he became my commander. After sometime I told him that I was very interested to give my share in damaging the German occupation and please would he give me the opportunity to help the good cause. I couldn't sit empty handed anymore waiting for others to free my country. He took into consideration what I asked him, me being a Jew, and said that he had to convince his co-workers because they hold to the emplaced conviction that when a Jew was in danger, court, in prison, threatened, they will spit out all the secrets, all the address and all the names.
Now I will tell you about the Dutch Resistance. The organization where I became a member of was an official organization. There were a lot of small scattered groups over the country, of religious or political principles, not organized in a roof organization. The Resistance organization had its HQ in London, where Prince Bernard, husband of Former Queen Juliana was staff commander. It was organized over Holland, in districts... Our group had an agent dropped from England at this time with modern equipment. And through him we were connected with HQ England and so we received our instructions. The members of my group were gentile farmers, labourers, intellectuals, several Jews in hiding, all together one goal: to help free Holland from the Germans.
All these people were family. They did not live in concentrations as in Czechoslovakia. But all of them went home after the work was done. They were courageous, brave men and women, and most of them did not see the liberation. Our work was to discover and to report, to disorganize and sabotage the Germen authorities, to blow up bridges, help people in hiding now already jews and gentiles, to rob distribution offices and to lay hands on food and identity cards... With this work I was helping my country and my conscience. Always on my bicycle, with surrogate tyres, in summer, winter, rain, wind and snow, moving from one place to another, alone on my way without company, without real friends, nobody knowing my real identity.
I was living in a small place Eide Benekom, and knew all the small villages in the vicinity of Arnhem. We saw on 17th Sept the sky above full of flying machines as we called them and out of them came parachutists, parachutes in all colours. And with them the parachutist. Before this day our commanders got their instructions and passwords. The instructions were to go in to the forest and to look for soldiers, cut off battalions, bring them behind the lines, hide and feed them till they could join the proceeding troops. Can you imagine the joy of all the people seeing this long-awaited moment? Thinking the Liberation came and the end of the war came in sight? And deep disappointment, after a battle of 5 days, the English soldiers helped by a Polish battalion, all airborne people had to retreat behind the rivers dividing Holland in the liberated south and still the occupied north. Hundreds of them, British soldiers cut off from the troops. Whether they were far away or wounded, most of them in terrible conditions, were found. Dutch men and women went into the forest to search for them, give them first aid, food and water and shelter for some nights. But the contrary happened. The English didn't speak a word other than English and were dressed in British uniforms and the number was much larger than had been expected.
So we found ourselves in the middle of Germans with hundreds of Allied troops, among them several wounded, waiting for new instructions from England which came only after 3 weeks. All had to be fed in a poor-rationed country. And clothes of civilians. 120 of these parachutists were brought together in a sheep shed. We girls had to cook for them, and in order to conceal these enormous portions of food we set up a communal kitchen for the evacuees from the towns around Arnhem. Then came the day of the crossing over the river Rhine. We waited until the day one of the villages had to be evacuated, and everyone was on the move with horse and carts and bicycles. The soldiers and officers brought overalls over their uniforms and were divided into small groups of 3, 4 and 5 with one Dutch guide. We had to walk 25km to the edge of the Rhine to hide. Till Darkness fell; To look for signals from the other side. We started the crossing in small boats, even swimming with ropes.
Can you imagine our exultation and joy when next evening we were listened to the illegal BBC on the 28th October when came the password "The grey goose has flown away". With one of these men, I have to tell you in order that you'll understand what happened with these shoes, I had changed my very wet shoes for his boots, he wouldn't need them anymore, and my shoes were after this war really out of order.
This has been one of the most spectacular events in this terrible time. Most of the time it has been dull, grey and tiring... My work was mostly courier work. On one of these errands on the morning of 18th Nov, pedaling on my bike in heavy rain that went right through my clothes to my bones, I came to a farm and had to bring a letter. What happened there? I like to say a word to one of my present companions who wrote the book "Women Partisans". After the liberation in the lovely town of ???????? in East Holland, a picturesque, small town 26 women were imprisoned in the barracks for being in the resistance against the Germans. They were arrested by the SS, all were waiting for a trial which never came. In these barracks were also male Partisans in the most feared of all Nazi groups.
Now I have to tell you because you never went through this time and you couldn't know it. You had several persons - you had German soldiers who had to go to war, you had the SP, they gave themselves up to go to war, really sadistic, bad people. Now cones the report of the book. Here follows the testimony of one of the female inmates as it occurred on the evening of 18th Nov 1944. We were to call it a day and prepare our dresses on the floor when one of the men opened the door and shouted "Come out, come and look at these bad, bad women." She is a witch and because of her men died, the houses burned down. We were put to attention and saw a very young girl, her face swollen with blue patches, her eyes, small slits, blood dripping from the swollen lips and her legs bandaged dragged through by two SP men, and thrown into a cell next to ours. I went back to my sleeping place on the floor, not interested in the foul-mouthed amusement of the SS warders. We were weeping for ourselves at the ill-treatment of this youngster.
The next morning 2 of our girls had to go into their cell and bring her to the office for a new interrogation and from there we heard the sad history. She was a courier on the way with her message to the farm which is her contact address. A young girl with a bike and wearing a wet coat and on her feet, Old's boots who was pedaling in such stormy weather if it's not fairly urgent, she was bent over the handlebars to protect to protect her from the rain and wind and enters the farmyard. The SD is waiting for her, they spring out from behind the door, shouting and asking her name, they are beside themselves with joy. This is the girl they are waiting for. They take her to the kitchen and ask her to tell them the names of her friends who sent her. Where are they? Who are they? They will let her go if she will only tell them, she will be free to go. She answers she doesn't know what they are talking about, she’s a friend of the farmer's wife, she's pregnant and not feeling well, she came only to visit her. Then they beat her to the floor, threw her on the table, took off her clothes, beat her on all parts of her body, still she doesn't speak out. Then they tried to strangle her with her own shawl, she tells them she doesn't know names, but she has a rendezvous at 1300, a meeting in the middle of the town. This is her only opportunity, someone will see her and tell her friends, that she's been arrested and they have to hide themselves. They took her into the car to the meeting place, there she stood covered by all sides. Of course nobody came, so they took her to the garden of a small hotel, shot by the Germans, she fell down. She tried to get up but couldn't. The furious SS officer hit her on the head with the butt of his rifle. She had to walk to the car and back they went to the farm. Then they repeated the beatings without success. She didn't give away names and places. Her tormentors took a box of matches and said "This is your last chance, if you don't tell us we will set fire to the farm." She did know from experience that even if she told them they would still burn the house down and what is a house against the lives of her friends? She didn't break down. First the Germans stole everything, then they burned the farm, the stall and the sheds.
In prison, her wounds were not attended to and when she ran a high fever they called for a medic who dressed the wounds and bandaged the legs. Sometime later another warder came to take me out of the cell. He told me to say farewell to the other prisoners, Because I will not come back. I don't have to take anything with me, I was seized with fear. Another interrogation: This time they said I may sit down, will I tell them of my work? They know already, so perhaps will I tell them in my own words. I have nothing to say, they take me to a window, closed with cardboard, and with a little hole in it. They were very cordial, would I look through the hole, my tormentors behind me. I have to bend over to look through the hole. Outside the wind is blowing stood 13 men, some I knew quite well, they are hand-cuffed, everything is very quiet, then orders, three salvos. Soldiers get marching orders, men found their end at the murderers hands. Every shot went through my heart. Full of hatred, not any more afraid I am. They take me from the window, now do you have anything to tell us? You know these men were traitors, interfered with our plans. You had the opportunity to save yourself, to help us. I could not speak, too disturbed, too shocked. I could only shake my head. They led me away, I was sure to be shot, how surprised I was to be brought back to my cell with the other women prisoners.
Later I heard that the men were shot as a reprisal for the murder of Auter??. Till March we stayed at Appledorm, then we were transported to the concentration camp at Westerburg. During the interrogation I was standing above all these things, nothing could happen to me any more than already happened but to be sent with all these political prisoners to Westerburg from where all the Jews were sent to Eastern Europe to find their deaths. This was degradation, until now nobody found out that I was Jewish. I was sure now they would discover my Jewishness. For the first time in all these years I was terribly afraid. In Westerburg we all stayed in barracks. We were lousy, our heads were shaved. We stayed in Westerburg till the second week in April 1945. The Allied troops were advancing through Southern Holland and Germany.
On the 11th April we were taken to Germany on foot. In the meantime we were 58 women altogether, and day and night we were slowly proceeding. A poor sight the second evening came and I decided not to be taken to Germany, at darkness we came to a small river and there I went into the ice-cold water where I stayed with only my head above the water till dawn. The following morning after an hour's walk I came to some... where I got shelter and stayed till the Canadian liberators came on 16th April. After a lot of adventures I returned to Edon?? When two weeks later Germany surrendered, Holland exploded in joy. We, the Jews had not any opportunity for joy. We went to look for our family but did not find them. From the 120,000 Dutch Jews in May 1940 only 10,000 came back, 7000 survived in hiding and 3000 survived the camps. In my family 46 persons died, perished. The only survivors were my mother and myself. In Holland the Germans achieved their goal.
After the war I got from the hands of the American ambassador in Holland The Medal of Freedom with the bronze bumps? The same as the services and other important fighters for freedom From the English ambassador. I got the King's medal for courage and Medal of Freedom.
I didn't tell you this story to tell of my own experiences, neither as a Jew or as a member of the Resistance. I came through this time together with wonderful people, most of them Jews and Gentiles who lost more than they got. They fought the bitter struggle for life and freedom. This honour, standing after the war, looking everyone in their eyes. For myself under the Germans, I renewed my Jewish ness because they expected it of me. I also found out that even the very best Gentiles, is at heart, an anti-semite. I have seen the very best, the elite of Gentiles they fought with the Jews. I lived and suffered with them not knowing that I was Jewish. The reason I told you all this because all of you living in England, South Africa and Australia wherever you're from, you had no idea what it has been to live and to struggle against the Germans in Occupied Europe. But living in Israel I found out did not hold against us the youth of our country, how it was and what it is to live with Goyim. They went on ????? to the Gentile world. They are outwardly friendly to you, but they really want to kill you. Germany and Austria are very beautiful countries and they don't take into account all the elders of the people now living in these countries are the killers of our own Jews. They have to stop saying that our country is ugly and dirty and we have to take into account that this is a young country and we have to help the country and our young people together with us to live here. First, we have also to tell them that all the Jews went without a struggle to their deaths. Second, we have to fight for our values. Third, the only place we can live to fight our struggle where we have the right to live.
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