Stolpersteine for Eibergen in The Netherlands

Today was a very special day – today’s scheduled activity was the main reason for this particular trip to The Netherlands.

A group of local history volunteers in Eibergen, who in 2014 formed a non-profit association known as Stichting Ik vraag me af (loosely translates as the ‘I wonder…’ Foundation), created the initiative and sourced funding for German artist Gunter Demnig to lay 13 stolpersteine (literally ‘stumbling stones’, in essence brass plaques) in honour of the 13 Jewish members of the Eibergen village who were removed from the community in 1942 and perished under Nazi rule.

The stolpersteine project, initiated by Mr Demnig in 1992, commemorates individuals at exactly the last place of residence (or sometimes employment) that was freely chosen by the person before he or she fell victim to Nazi terror. By November 2018, Mr Demnig had laid more than 70,000 stolpersteine in cities, towns and villages across Europe. The stolpersteine project is the largest decentralised memorial in the world.

Held early on a Sunday morning, the stolpersteine-laying ceremony in Eibergen was attended by relatives and other representatives of  those who died. However no relatives have been identified for one of the 13 people, who was the local chazan, a person who leads synagogue services. Attendees included interested locals, the mayor of the regional council and media.

My father’s three older brothers, both their parents, an uncle and an aunt of the four young men and the aunt’s two sons (being my father’s cousins and childhood friends) had a stolpersteine laid for each of them.

The Foundation had kindly invited me to give a short speech during the laying of six stolpersteine at Grotestraat 64-66, the last home of my father’s family. Despite my prepared script, I unexpectedly became very emotional when reading it aloud. I had to take many short rests and deep breaths. Here is what I said:

“I am here representing my Australian mother, brothers, sisters and family to say a few words on behalf of my late father Izak (Jack) Herschel who lived with his parents and three brothers in the home above this bicycle store at Grotestraat 64-66 from 1939 until 1942, after re-locating from a nearby home where they had lived for 20 years.

My grandfather – Levie Herschel – came to Eibergen to marry Aaltje Maas in February 1909. Aaltje was the youngest of five children from a family in the village here.

Levie and Aaltje first lived at Grotestraat 114 further along from here, where Levie established a butcher’s shop. This business was known locally as the Wagemakers butchery. They and Aaltje lived above the shop together with their sons Hartog, Abraham, Eleazer and my father Izak.

The family moved into this house at Grotestraat 64-66 on 30 October 1939. By this time Levie had closed his butchery and was now a cattle trader selling into the Amsterdam meat market.

In early October 1942, German soldiers came to this building, taking my grandparents and three of their sons as prisoners. All five were transported to concentration camps, which they did not survive. Levie and Aaltje died within days of being taken prisoner. Last Monday, October 8, marked the 76th anniversary of their death.

Michiel van Thijn was also living in this house in October 1942. An antique dealer from Oosterbeek near Arnhem, Michiel married Karoline Maas, the oldest sister of my grandmother Aaltje Maas. After Karoline died on 20 September 1940, Levie and Aaltje invited Michiel into their home. The German soldiers took Michiel prisoner on that same day in October 1942 and he – like Levie and Aaltje – perished on October 8 1942.

About 10 days before the German raid, my father’s mother Aaltje arranged with Father Bernardus Kaeter, the senior priest at St Mattheüs Church in the Grotestraat near here, for Izak to live secretly in St Mattheüs Rectory. My father thereby avoided capture and so survived the war.

In a memoir that my father Izak published on his 90th birthday in 2011, he expressed fond memories of playing football with other young boys in the neighbourhood, first in the cobblestone lane leading to a tannery and later in a field near the railway station.

If my father could be here today, he would be proud that his Dutch family is being remembered in the laying of stolpersteine right here.

The Herschel family from Australia thanks all who contributed towards making today’s event possible, especially the Stichting Ik vraag me af.”

Soon after I finished speaking, the stolpersteine were placed in the ground in honour of my father’s parents, his three brothers and the uncle in solemn silence. A member of the Foundation placed a long-stemmed white rose for each of the six people. I felt immensely proud that the local Eibergen community had taken such a deep interest in the disappearance of my father’s family.

A similar procedure took place at four other close-by sites in Eibergen, including at Kerkstraat 9 where my father’s aunt and his two cousins lived.

Here is an English translation of a post-ceremony report by Ans de Groot, a committee member of Stichting Ik vraag me af and one of the organisers of the event, which is published at http://www.stichtingikvraagmeaf.nl/2018/12/04/verslag-stolpersteine-legging-14-oktober-2018-in-eibergen/:

“On Sunday 14 October 2018, Gunter Demnig laid 13 stolpersteine at five addresses in Eibergen. After a long preparation, it became possible for us to be part of Gunter Demnig’s second tour of Holland in 2018. Gunter Demnig came to Eibergen on Saturday 13 October and he spent the night in a local hotel (De Kastanjefabriek).

The Municipality of Berkelland allowed us to receive our guests in the Villa Smits, the old Town Hall, in the Grotestraat. For which our heartfelt thanks and also for the overall support from the council.

On Saturday afternoon, Café Grenszicht arranged the room for 50 people and prepared the coffee buffet. Early Sunday, organisers turned on the coffee machine so that we could welcome the guests with a fresh cup of coffee. Foundation committee members also organised the information displays.

Shortly after 8 o’clock the guests started arriving and took coffee, and then a seat in the assembly hall. By 8.30 the room was full and there were people standing at the rear.

Bert Smeenk, the MC, announced chairperson Leonie Holweg who delivered a word of welcome:

Good morning ladies and gentlemen. On behalf of the Stichting Ik vraag me af (the ‘I wonder’ Foundation), I warmly welcome you all to the stolpersteine laying in Eibergen.

A special welcome to some of our guests who have made a long journey to be present here. We also want to acknowledge the next of kin that cannot be present today due to other commitments.

When we started this project in the autumn of 2015, I personally did not expect it to happen as quickly as this. This is due to the efforts of Ans de Groot-Sevenhuijsen, Willemien Beusink and Bert Smeenk on behalf of the Foundation. To the contributions of our generous donors and also anonymous donors who made it financially possible. We would also like to thank the Municipality of Berkelland for their cooperation and for making Villa Smits available.

Finally, I want to read a poem by Nico Wijnen:

They are so far past

What names on a stone

Yet they are still present

Visible around us

After the stone laying, I would like to invite you back here at Villa Smits for a cup of coffee and a sandwich. Then we can have a chat with each other.”

The Berkelland mayor Joost van Oostrum spoke words of appreciation for the work of the Foundation and said it was important for him to be here today.

Bert then invited us to follow him to the first address, Grotestraat 64-66. Mr Demnig was already present and the 6 stones to be laid here were stacked upright, which made an impressive picture. Here stolpersteine were laid for Levie and Aaltje Herschel-Maas, their sons Hartog, Abraham Salomon and Eleazer and their brother-in-law Michiel van Thijn.

During the laying of the stones Dominic Herschel, from Sydney, spoke about his grandparents and his uncles he did not know. He heard about them from his father. Thereafter Leonie Holweg spoke the words she will say at each place, with the names for whom the stones have been laid, and Willemien Beusink puts a white rose for every victim.

The next stolpersteine was laid at the place where the synagogue once stood at the corner of Kleine Hagen and Kerkstraat. This was for Bettus van Gelder, the last chazzan of Eibergen. He had sought refuge in the synagogue when there was no house left where he could live. This is where Ans de Groot read a word of memory for Mr van Gelder, as no surviving relatives have been found.

Then we went to Kerkstraat 9, the former butcher’s shop Boenders. Here stolpersteine were laid for Mietje Maas-Herschel and her sons Abraham Bernard and Herman. At this place Sjoerd Boomsma spoke words of remembrance for his relatives Herschel-Maas. He spontaneously asked Ineke te Brake-Antink to join in commemorating her neighbours. She used to live across the street, next to the synagogue. She laid the roses with Willemien. The Maas family from Groenlo also commemorated their relatives with white roses.

Then we walked via Hagen and Brink to J. W. Hagemanstraat, named after the resistance fighter Jan Willem Hageman. At number 37 lived the family Menco and for Leonardus Menco and his son Salomon Abraham (Sallo) Menco two stolpersteine were laid here. Bert Smeenk read the prepared text of Bep Dormits-Menco, daughter of Leo Menco. She lives at Arnhem and could not get to Eibergen in the early morning, although she would have liked it very much.

Finally, a stolpersteine is laid for Betje Zion-Gans, in front of the building where former Zion’s department store was located at J. W. Hagemanstraat 29. Simon Nagelmaeker read the prepared text of granddaughter Betty Kazin-Rosenbaum. She lives in Israel and her family could not attend because of a clash with the wedding of her eldest son. On behalf of all granddaughters, Henriette Ensel-Zion read the prepared text of Marcelle Zion. Finally Fred Ensel says the Kaddish, the prayer for the deceased.

Gunter Demnig and the mayor left at this point.

Impressed by all that we observed and experienced, we walked back to the Villa Smits in the radiant sun. For more than an hour we talked with each other. As well, a group went with Bert Smeenk to the Jewish Cemetery beside the Berkel.

We, the committee members of the Foundation, look back on an emotional yet very successful stolpersteine laying ceremony. We hope that our guests agreed with us and they, just like us, will often reflect on this day.”

Visit http://www.stichtingikvraagmeaf.nl for more information about the Foundation and its activities.

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