Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Alfred Lessing - January 26, 1993

Jewish Brigade

She arrived at night, didn't she?

She arrived at night. Now let me back up here a moment cause one other extremely important thing happened in Delft shortly after we were back in Delft, um, there were always military parades at this time, by the way, at anytime there's military traffic and there were actual celebration parades, you know, it was still... a lot of disruption and there was still a lot of military... so we were used to this, and my brother and I, right around the corner from where we lived, long street, nice street, and on one side of it is the University, the famous university in Delft and on the other side, houses. And he said, oh here comes a columnae, which means a column, or... a caravan, a military caravan... so we waited for it to see it. Well, when it was just right about in front of us, two things happened; one, we saw that it had Mogen David, the Jewish Stars on the vehicles and that they were carrying a flag with a Jewish star on it and that the soldiers, though they looked dressed like British soldiers, had Jewish insignia on their arms. [Excitedly] And, we just couldn't believe this. What is this? Who are these? That was the first thing that happened. We were totally mystified about this. Were these Jews? What? Is there a Jewish army? We couldn't understand it. It was, again, very difficult to compute, but we were fascinated. The next thing is that when they got right in front of us, they stopped. And they turned into the University campus. And they set up camp there. They were, a whole, I don't think it was a division, I don't know what military unit was, but there were several hundreds of men and a commanding officer and they moved in and set up camp. And before we knew it, they had all gone in and closed the gate and they put a little guard house out front. I guess it was out there cause the Germans had been there, and the Germans... it used to be a German guard there during the war, I guess. All of the sudden, this soldier comes out, trained like a British soldier, stands at attention then puts his rifle down and stands at ease but on guard in the guard house looking straight ahead just like the guards at Buckingham Palace. And this time we could look at his uniform and it does have the Jewish star! And we realized that this was, we didn't know the name of it, the official name was the Jewish Brigade, the Jewish Brigade was an actual branch of the British Army... allowed mostly to do occupational duty, they just didn't really trust them to deal with Nazis directly... I guess. And they moved right there in Delft, just two blocks from where we lived. My brother, Attie and I were stunned and we said we got to tell these guys we're Jews. Now mind you, in all of Delft, I don't know how many Jews - how many thousand of Jews there were before the war, but after the war, there was my brother and I, and two other little kids and that was it. Those were the only kids, the only Jewish kids in all of Delft and at this particular moment there was just my brother and I... and we said, we got to tell them... we got to tell them we are Jewish... so we went up to them and we said in Dutch, you know, "ukay Joude", we are also Jews... and the guard couldn't understand Dutch, of course, he looks straight ahead of him and didn't pay any attention to us. And we said okay noda, but he didn't pay any attention. Then my brother and I hatched this plan that we would sing, now despite my totally non-religious upbringing, for some reason, I knew this song, this famous Hanukkah song [he da, da, da to the melody] known as Rock of Ages in English, we didn't know the words, but we hummed it. He and I backed up a little and then we walked very slowly together right in front of this guard singing this song. And as soon as he heard it, he just totally lost all of his composure, put his rifle down he jumped and start jabbering at us in Ivrit (Hebrew) which we could not understand, then he grabbed us by the hands, left his rifle there, took us inside the camp and took us to a soldier whose name was Mahler who was an immigrant to Palestine from Belgium and spoke Flemish and he acted as a translator. And they asked us, who are you? And are you Jewish? And are there Jewish families here? And, they just... now, if the Canadians had been good to us, the Jewish brigade just totally, totally overwhelmed us with, I mean to them, we were their little brothers, I guess, and I have a few pictures from those days, this picture shows, um, these are in the buildings of the University in Delft and here, this is me, this is my brother Attie, this is a Palestinian soldier, what we would now call an Israeli soldier, this is an Israeli soldier although he is a young guy and it turned out he was not from Palestine, they had just picked him up along the way somewhere in Belgium, his whole family is wiped out and he was alone and he just joined them and was attached to them. The others, there is a blurred person here, these are German prisoners doing cleanup duty of some kind. The next, let me see, what other, there is um... one or two other pictures I want to show, in my album, I have put this famous Matisse picture (picture of dances) right next to the one I just showed because it is there that I learned to dance. The Jewish brigade soldiers taught us the hora. And we danced it at Rosh Hashanah and my best friend there was a soldier named Lindy and you can see the Israeli or Jewish insignia on his shoulder there on the upper part of his arm. And here we are with the soldiers on Rosh Hashanah just lying around and there are other civilians, surviving Jews mostly from the Hague who came down for that occasion. By that time, my mother was back in town and we, um.... she sang at the Rosh Hashanah... also they took the German prisoners and made them clean up the synagogue in Delft. The synagogue in Delft had been uh, destroyed, not burned down, but ransacked, like all synagogues all over Europe. And they made these German soldiers clean between the bricks and polish the gates and paint and fix it up. And on Rosh Hashanah the Jewish brigade marched in perfect military form with shining shoes, just perfect, all of them with the commanding officer up front, and the sergeant in the back, followed, trailed by my brother and me and my father and my oldest brother and some other civilians and we all went to what was for me the first Jewish religious service that I ever witnessed. That I remembered. And I will never forget it because I'm marching along behind these Jewish soldiers, these men who symbolized a kind of Jew that I could not imagine. For us Jew meant, vermin. Just exactly what Hitler had said. No good for anything, to be destroyed, to be gathered up, rounded up and killed. And these soldiers, these proud, brave Israeli sabras, many of them, were again, like something from Mt. Olympus. It was hard to... it was so incredible... and I became Zionist. We all became Zionists over night. And my oldest brother did go to Israel and live there for five years on a kibbutz with his wife before he came back to the United States, but I never made it to Israel, I still have never been in Israel, I may go to Israel next... this summer for the hidden children conference there this summer. Um, okay.

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