Op-Ed: Remembering 18,000 Murdered Dutch Jewish Chldren
“It disturbed me for many years that the large number of Dutch children who were murdered during the Second World War had been forgotten. I wondered how one could preserve their memory. When I read Serge Klarsfeld’s book from the 1990’s about French Jewish children who were murdered, I felt that this was a fitting way to remember them.
“I believed that someone would eventually publish a similar book about Dutch Jewish and Sinti children who had been deported and murdered during the Holocaust. In 2007 – when I was 64 – it still hadn’t been written. So I decided to do it myself. In 2012, my book, "In Memoriam" came out. It records 18,000 names of children and their date of deportation. The great majority of them were Jewish.”
Guus Luijters is a gentile Dutch journalist, poet and expert on French literature. He has written novels, plays and movie scripts.
“In my schooldays, there was already an important impetus for my interest in these children. I had some Jewish classmates. As they were born during the war, none of them experienced a normal childhood. I heard terrible stories. A girl I was friendly with was thrown over the fence of the Dutch transit camp Westerbork by her mother when she was just a baby in order to save her. Someone on the other side picked her up. She told me about the many places she had spent her childhood. I also visited my Jewish classmates at home, where I saw women with concentration camp numbers on their arms playing cards. They spoke about the war, albeit with restraint. This left a major impression on me.
“In the Netherlands, there is a Digital Monument of the Jewish Community which has information on all Dutch Jews who were killed during the Holocaust. They gave me basic information on the childrens’ names. I then visited a number of archives and identified 18,000 names of children who were not yet 18 years old on the date of their deportation.
“Later I heard that a young historian, Aline Pennewaard, had already started a project in 2002 in which she collected pictures of Dutch children murdered during the Holocaust. When we met, she showed me the more than 400 scanned pictures of murdered children stored on her laptop. She has a photographic memory and remembers all the pictures. I proposed to the publisher that she should become the book’s picture editor. All in all we collected 3,000 pictures sent to us by people in many countries.
“It took almost 5 years until the book came out at the beginning of 2012. Close to 3,000 copies have been sold which exceeded my expectations by far. I convinced the Amsterdam municipal archive, which has beautiful facilities, to hold an exhibition of the pictures. From February until the end of May 2012, all 3,000 pictures were exhibited. One picture is of Anne Frank. Yet she was not given a prominent place in spite of her international fame. We wanted to avoid drawing attention away from the other murdered children.
“The exhibition attracted many visitors and feelings were often mixed. People were comforted that these children had been given an identity again. On the other hand, the sadness was profound. Some people recognized members of their families or discovered the names of family they had never heard about. It took me weeks before I was emotionally able to view the exhibition myself.
“During the exhibition and afterwards, we received an additional 700 pictures. Every day new pictures of murdered children were put into the showcases. We also received many letters. In November 2012, an Addendum to the book was published with 700 additional pictures.
“Long ago I had known Dutch-Israeli filmmaker Willy Lindwer who made many Holocaust related movies and received an Emmy Award for his documentary on the last seven months of Anne Frank. He made an impressive movie about some of the murdered children, which was shown on the Dutch Jewish TV station as well as during our exhibition. I was later invited to give lectures in many places. Each one of them was a very emotional event and I was exhausted afterwards.”
Luijters tells about his plans. “I am now writing a ‘children’s chronicle’: It is a book with testimonies about murdered Dutch children during the Holocaust. We now ask the people who provided us with the pictures, their permission to make the pictures digitally accessible. We want to do this through the Digital Monument of the Dutch-Jewish Community, the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam, Yad Vashem and the Memorial Centre in the Westerbork Camp.
“We are also trying to establish a permanent exhibition for the pictures in conjunction with the Jewish Historical Museum. This would require much space, however. I also hope to display the pictures in Israel one day.”