I studied the black and white photo of the convent where the nuns had hidden several Jewish families at risk of their own lives. I was little boy at the time. I didn’t fully understand what was going on but I knew that I had to stay hidden for most of the time. I couldn’t go outside and play or be like the other children. I was different. I was a Jew. The Nazis hated Jews. It didn’t matter that I was just a child. My father said that if we were ever taken to a concentration camp, I and other children would be taken straight to the gas chambers. I didn’t know what a gas chamber but I could tell that it was a terrible place. People went inside and never came back out.
The nuns were nice. Kind. They believed in God too. I knew about God but I couldn’t understand why He didn’t do something about the Nazis. I wondered why He allowed bad things to happen to Jews. My mother told me not to blame God or to be angry with Him. She said that it was because of God that we were there in the convent instead of in a camp.
After Europe was liberated by the Allies, my family and I left the convent. It was some time later that we learned that 40,000 Jews were hidden by the Dutch church and 49 priests killed in the process. I will always be indebted to the brave nuns who rescued us. I still visit the convent and their grave sites, thanking God for His protection and crying for those who died in the camps, like the children I used to play with, my teachers and some of my relatives.
I don’t realize that I’m crying now until my grand-daughter reached over and gently wiped my cheeks. “Thank you, Lotte,” I say to her, thinking how much she looked like her grandmother, my beloved and recently departed, Mila.
“Grandfather, is this the photo you’re going to use for your book?”
I nodded. “Yes. I think it would be most fitting. It was my hiding place and what separated me from certain death.”
“I’m happy that you finally decided to write it.”
“Yes, it was a long time in coming and I had promised your grandmother to do it. I’m sorry, she isn’t here to see it in print. I dedicated it to her, my parents and to the nuns. At last the world will hear my story and the stories of those who survived the atrocities of the Nazis by those who believed in basic human rights and in the right to life.”
“I was brought up to believe that a person must be rescued when drowning, regardless of religion and nationality” – Irena Sendler