Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Alfred Lessing - January 26, 1993

News of Mother

We were just talking about the liberation and the Canadian Army, the Canadian Army was not the only army you saw, or was it?

No. Um, but, I have a very soft spot in my heart not just for the Canadian Army, but for Canada as a result of being liberated by them. There are two anthems that make me cry. One is Hatikvah and the other is Oh Canada. It's not the Dutch Wilhelmness and it's not the Star Spangled Banner and not God Save the King... but Oh Canada moves me um, because of that liberation experience. Um, as I said, they were so good to my brother and I, and I remember playing in a tank that had been disabled, they just let us in there, but then we started playing with all of these little wheels until we realized we were moving the cannons outside it, [laughs] people were getting scared. But they gave us, you know they were just so good to us. And then the feeling of the liberation of itself. Unfortunately, one day the Canadian Army was suddenly gone... that is they were moving out. And within a few hours they were all gone and they were replaced by the British occupational forces and that was a totally different experience. I mean, it's just the difference between North America and England, I guess. Uh, they were cold, they were bureaucratic, they were military, they were yucky. They set up a real occupation camp with borders and officers and people on guard and kids were no longer welcome and that sort of thing, and... I remember that very clearly, because when I came to this country, I found the same... Americans and Canadians are very similar in that respect, there is a difference. They are not European, they are very large-hearted, very generous, in ways that Americans don't even realize themselves. They live in such a big country, that they are just generous. Whereas in Holland, people... Holland is a very small country... and people are very stingy and precise, and uh,... so I have feelings about that. We um, we saw one other army before, maybe two because the Dutch underground surfaced. The moment Holland was liberated, the underground, the resistance, became now the Dutch Army and they began to have uniforms and helmets and so I saw the Dutch Army re-emerge, such as it was. Um... but before we leave Forthausen, eventually we left Forthausen and went back to Delft, our home town to resume our lives. But one thing at least that happened that's noteworthy or important to record, um as partly because of the coincidence of the dates... I mentioned earlier that my mother had disappeared, had been caught on May 9, 1944. On May 2, 1945, my father went into town in the little village and talked to the Canadian administrators, the military people there, about could he find any... how could he get word about the fate of my mother, and they said that there was just somebody leaving to go to France or Germany and would be returning in one week with lists of survivors from the Red Cross in Germany, Switzerland, wherever it was... and he should come back a week later. And he did come back a week later, which was exactly a year to the date after my mother had disappeared, May 9, 1945, my father again rode into town and he took with him his little pail on his little, his little bucket on his handle bars of his same old wreck of a bicycle with wooden tires cause the Germans had stolen all the rubber tires, and rode into town, maybe five miles, four miles and got some milk or soup or something in this bucket to bring home, but also went to find out what word there was and I wish my father was here at this moment and could tell you the story from his own memory cause it is just incredible, the man sitting at the table with these lists of survivors had just found out that day that his own family had all been wiped out in Auschwitz or someplace... [pause] and he found my mother's name on this list and he said to my father, you're wife is alive, and she is well, and she is Algiers, North Africa. [he laughs] And my father says, no that can't be... we don't have any connections in North Africa, we don't know anybody in North Africa. And he said, these lists are accurate. They have been gone over and over and over, they are totally accurate, because apparently, this is true, the Red Cross took incredible care to not tell people that their relatives had survived if they hadn't and these lists apparently were accurate. He said, go home, Mr. Lessing, go home and tell your family, tell your sons that your wife is alive. And I [voice quivers] remember my father telling this story with tears in his eyes, this man was so happy for him, he was so happy that he could give him this news. And I remember, once again, playing in the dirt road out front, and seeing my father coming down the road, same direction that those underground guys had come from, but of course the war is over now, and he's yelling and I can hardly hear him, he's way down the road, he's yelling and screaming, [yells] "mother is safe, mother is safe, mother is alive." And I broke down and cried, and cried, and cried, and cried... because, again, I knew all those stories about her leg being broken in the hospital in Amsterdam and it wasn't healing right and they had to break it again... that's what I had been told... and that's what I told other people who might ask me where my mother was... and I believed it. But you see, I knew, in that same way, I tried to explain it earlier, I knew it wasn't true. So when he said mother is alive, I knew exactly what he meant, I knew she had survived. It's absolutely miraculous. I don't know what the likelihood, what the statistics are for a whole family like us surviving intact... would it be 5% in Holland? 10? [he whispers] Maybe [weeps]. Not too terribly long after that we finally got confirmation, my mother was very busy, she sent telegrams to the United States, she sent notes and cards to anybody she could think of who might know of our whereabouts or survival and she eventually found out we were alive, I think through my grandfather or through my aunt in Massachusetts who found out from my grandfather in Amsterdam... and we one magical day got a letter from her... from, yes Philitville, North Africa. She was in a UNRRA camp and had been there since February, I believe when she had been exchanged for German prisoners. And she looked great, she had gotten all her strength back, she was well fed, she was suntanned from lying on the beaches at the Mediterranean. When she showed up in Delft, many months later, not til the fall, she looked great. We moved back to Delft in the meantime. Uh, and tried to get our house back. But somebody, some lawyer who had moved into it wouldn't move out. Uh, but there was an agency for whatever that's called, re-patriotization or resettling and a man took us to a warehouse full of furniture, belongings, and said whatever you want, just take it and we'll give you a house. He found us a house. And he gave us furniture and we just took whatever we needed. And I don't know what all this stuff was. All stolen back from the Germans... who had stolen it from the Jews. So by the time my mother came back in the fall very near Rosh Hashanah of '45 we had settled into this house, we had worked like dogs making it nice for my mother, curtains, furniture and um, my brother and I were back in school, fourth grade. And, ...

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