Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Alfred Lessing - January 26, 1993

Ignoring Deportation Orders

Tell me about that experience of leaving the house. There was a decision to be made, first of all.

[Pause, slowly] Yes, um, now... here again, [faster] I can't tell it the way I would have experienced it, cause I was six years old. But I'll try to remember what I remember. What I remember is that for some reason we were all at home, um, just a word about the house, it was a tall, three or four story tall house with many, many rooms which my mother and father rented, now they rented the building themselves because Jews were not allowed to own property, they rented these rooms to students, university students, because Delft has a very famous university... and so the house was full of students and then my mother would cook dinner and the students would have dinner with us or she would serve them then. And I guess that is how we earned some money. On the day that I'm talking about, October 23, 1942, we were all home, my brothers and I, my brother Attie and I were in the attic playing with the train, probably a wind up train or almost certainly a wind up train, cause we didn't have an electric train, and I think maybe my oldest brother was maybe playing with us, or at least he was home. My parents got word, by telephone, I told this story, excuse me for digressing, I told this story years ago to some school mates and somebody said at this point, oh, you had telephones? Uh, we got word by telephone from Mr. Cohen, who ran the bookstore in Delft and was a fellow humanist apparently with my parents, and he was the head, I guess of the Jewish Council in Delft, which must have been quite small, I do not have the figures on how many Jewish families lived in Delft, I should get that, but he was sort of the head of it I guess, and he had apparently promised that he would let my parents know when they were going to be picked up, I assume it is not necessary to say that the Germans had lists and that these lists were prepared by Dutch bureaucrats and they were very accurate and they had everybody's addresses and the whole system that they had carefully designed over the previous several years was to have a totally accurate complete listing of where all Jews were, how many there were, their names, where they lived, what their routines were, where their jobs were, so that they could then round them up when their time came. And our time came and Mr. Cohen called and we had been prepared to go on deportation like all Jews. And this I know from my own experience, because in the hallway of this house, there was a closet, and it had been totally emptied, but on the shelves, on each shelf there was a rucksack, five of them, one for my father, one for my mother, one for each of us. There was one for me. And I was very proud that there was one for me. I remember I had tried it on once and it was sort of like a life jacket on a boat... and my brothers remember have slightly different memories, one of my brothers says, "yeah, there were all of these rucksacks standing on the floor in the hall..." so my oldest brother says, "no, there was a closet, they were all thrown together on the floor in the closet," and I remember them as all on the shelves. But it doesn't matter, we all remember them. And they had some necessities in them, toothbrush, a blanket, an extra sweater, so when the time came, we would put those on and go, because they never gave you any time, it was always raus, raus, [he shouts], bang on the door, you had to run and rush and so we were ready. [pause] Um, when the time came, we did not go, we left the rucksacks where they were because sometime earlier and I don't know exactly when, my grandfather, the same one that I later stayed with, shortly thereafter stayed with, had come to Delft explicitly to tell my parents, "don't go on the transport!" What he knew or what he had heard in Amsterdam, Amsterdam was of course the main central location where all Jews from Holland were from all over being brought to, and there was word there about the truth or some of the truth of what was really going on, that these were not labor camps, that people were not well taken care of and so on, that there was murder, but what the exact words were, I don't know, but I know that he said, DO NOT GO! Um, my cousin talks about "he is the same age as my brother, he was 14 or 15" his friends which were distant relatives, the Fresco family, all musicians, violinists, cellists, they all went on transport, most people went, that's what you were supposed to do. Any law abiding citizen... you do what you are told.. it's not so bad, you'll see, it's not so bad, they'll take care of you, it was just a different experience, and my cousin was saying that he was jealous of his friends the Frescos cause he wanted to go. He thought it would be exciting to go to wherever they were going. But, his friend, Johnny Fresco, who was a violinist and I never knew, said, no you don't want to go, you don't want to go on this... so he must have felt... And how could they not have felt what it was really about, this is incredible in retrospect, in retrospect, that all of those people went, the denial -- the refusal to believe -- the unwillingness to believe the impossibility of believing is awesome, in retrospect... and I owe my life to the fact that my parents did not believe. My parents said this is ridiculous, I'm not doing this, we're not doing this. This means death. And I don't know to what extent it's due to my grandfather's word or to my mother's intuition or to both their sachel [Yiddish for wisdom] but we didn't go. And that's why I'm here today. Um,

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