Columnist for a Day: Those terrible years often play on my mind

This isn’t a humorous or pleasant story. It is not about happiness and festivities. It is about a time of persecution, depredation, discrimination and war.

I know most people do not like to be reminded about the Second World War. I lived in the Netherlands, which in the past had been a safe haven for Jewish people — from the persecuted Spanish and Portuguese Jews who fled the Inquisition in the early 16th century, to the latest group to have reached our country, the German Jews escaping Nazi persecution next door.

The thoroughly assimilated local Jews were unaccustomed to the harsh realities of the severe breed of anti-Semitism that was more prevalent in eastern Europe and that had been institutionalized under the Nazis in Germany by the time our native nation was invaded in 1940.

Of the 150,000 Jews living in our country, more than 75 percent did not survive the Holocaust — or as the Germans put it, “the final solution to the Jewish question.”

Shortly after the invasion, the Germans implemented several anti-Jewish measures, but not mass-murder as yet. The Germans would isolate the Jews from the rest of the population and place them in confined areas of many of the cities. Then during the latter part of 1941, the raids started. Young Jewish men were rounded up and sent to Mauthausen Concentration Camp in Austria.

By the end of that year every single one of them was dead. The transit camp in Westerbork, in the north part of the country, was outfitted as a temporary “holding tank” for Jews being sent east. They were told that positions for work and advancement would be available to them. The civil registry of our nation had been taken over by the Germans, and from this they soon became acquainted with all the details of everyone in the country, a good way to find the names and addresses of every Jew.

In 1942, the first train with 1,137 people on board left from Westerbork for Auschwitz. In the next two years more than 60 trains would follow this first transport to Auschwitz. Ninety trains would go to Sobibor with 34,313 people on board, of whom just 18 survived. About 10 trains went to Belsen and Theresienstadt.

Yet, the real truth, the mass slaughter, was too terrible to believe or even to comprehend. That is why so many got on the trains peacefully. Many Jews went into hiding. Many more may have wanted to do the same but lacked the contacts or the funds that were often required. Groups within the Resistance dedicated themselves to such tasks as finding safe accommodations, moving people around, forging ID cards or obtaining ration coupons. Several thousand of the people who went into hiding were eventually caught, through betrayal or carelessness. The people hiding the Jews ran serious risks and faced potential deportation to German prisons or concentration camps.

In February of 1944, the last Jews were rounded up in Amsterdam, and with the exception of those who had gone into hiding and had been caught, our nation was declared, as the Nazis had planned, “clean of Jews.”

Brutally tormented, physically wrecked and mentally traumatized, about 5,000 Jewish deportees returned after the war to empty and plundered neighborhoods, and a decimated circle of relatives and friends.

As I mentioned, it’s not a pleasant story. But, lest we forget. I lived through those terrible years and it often plays on my mind. I, for one, will never forget. And then I wonder: how can there be people who completely deny that this terrible act ever did happen?

Tony Antonides lives in Central Point.


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