Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Alfred Lessing - January 26, 1993

Brief Overview of the War

Let's talk about the war years...how did you, briefly, before we go into some detail, how did you survive the war years?

Um, well, we belonged, I belonged to, I should say I, I was telling you earlier that I think of my Holocaust identity in three different categories, 1.) a child of survivors, not, well, yes, I was going to say not survivors of concentration camps, but that's not true, my mother was in Bergen Belsen and my father was not, but so I think of my self as a child of survivor but as also as a survivor myself, because I survived the war as a hunted Jew and finally and more recently coined identity as a "hidden child." Hidden children hidden in one way or another during the Holocaust, um... children who in one way or another had to hide their physical being or their psychological or their identity are hidden children and are now 40 or 50 years later coming out of the woodwork and telling their stories and gathering together and trying to assess what this experience meant, what it was for them, how it impacted on their lives, they are also the very last of the, we are the very last of the survivors, there are not a lot of survivors much younger than I, there are a few, but I was four when it started and nine when it ended. So we are the last of the actual witnesses and feel some kind of duty or it's almost like a coming due a feeling that it is time and it is necessary for us to speak, I'm speaking for all of them, which of course, you can't do, there are many different kinds of hidden children, but I am part of that group... so I have those three identities. Now, let's see so that's basically how we survived, also. We hid. My family, to put it in a nutshell, we broke up, we stayed together the first couple of the years of the war, because there wasn't any reason yet, you know, things got worse very slowly, but when the day came to go on transport to what were called work camps, of unknown destinations, somewhere in the East... we did not go... we were among that very small minority of people who disappeared from the surface of life, an expression which the Dutch was coined for it, [in Dutch] onderduiken. Which means to dive under. To submerge below the surface. And that is exactly what we did. After that, doing that, we can tell that in more detail later if you like, we split up, it was too difficult for a family of five people to hide together, although many did, like the Anne Frank family, and didn't survive, but there are some families that hid together, I think, in the hidden children group that I am a member of, there is a lady from Holland, as a matter of fact, and I believe she, I'm trying to remember how many kids there were, but it was a large family, I think she said she had also two or three siblings and they all hid together, I think the father was dead or gone, but the mother and all those kids hid the whole time, together! Not my family, we split up, and so I wandered from place to place, I was placed, I should say, from place to place, never staying in any one place too long, being with different families and my other brother, the one that is two years older, whom I better just call Attie, so I don't have to keep calling him my other brother, Attie has a similar tale of being moved from one place to another, staying here for a while, then being placed somewhere else, and my oldest brother has a similar story, but because he was ten years older he tended to stay in different places, he worked on farms, and eventually ended up in a resistance camp, a resistance hut, a hut in the woods, with a bunch of resistance fighters, an amazing story, his, which he is only recently telling. My parents stayed, actually stayed together through most of the war though in different places. Eventually, they were hidden by what these days are called righteous Christians. Though I think these people weren't Christians, I think they were also atheist, he was a retired admiral or vice admiral, something, in the merchant marines I think and those people have never really been honored and my parents didn't really do that before they died. I was just thinking about that the other day, that I actually have a photograph of those people, because we saw them after the war. My parents were hidden by them until early 1944, when my mother was caught at the railroad station by the Nazis and was sent to Westerbork and from there eventually to Bergen Belsen. Thereafter, my father and my two brothers, and I stayed together for the last year of the war. We stopped our wandering and we were together, also. But not being hidden by anybody, but hiding in a little cottage in the country... which we rented from a landlord who lived just down the road from us who turned out to be anti-Semitic ..had no knowledge, of course, that we were Jews until much later when we stayed on and on, we were supposed to rent that place for a week or two... but we just stayed and stayed and stayed and we stayed through the whole year in that cottage through the winter of 1944 all the way until we were liberated by the Canadian army in 1945 and eventually got managed to get word that my mother had also survived and we were eventually re-united all of us in Delft in the fall of 1945.

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