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Ingrid Zylstra

5 years in memoriam Jules Schelvis

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Jules Schelvis 7 January 1921 – 3 April 2016

Five years ago, on 3 April 2016, Jules Schelvis died at the age of 95. Jules was one of the 18 survivors of the 19 transports to Sobibor. Because his goal was to pass on the story of Sobibor, he researched, wrote and spoke about what happened in Sobibor. He was able to shine a light on Sobibor, the unknown destruction camp where one-third of the Jews who lived in the Netherlands, was murdered. In 1999, he established the Sobibor Foundation. We asked a number of people to record a video on the anniversary of Jules’ death and to tell us what Jules means to the memory of Sobibor.

Memorial at the Vondelpark: a mirror for reflection

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At the entrance of the Vondelpark, at the Van Eeghenstraat, has been placed an artwork. On the exact spot where during World War 2 a sign was placed with the text “forbidden for Jews to enter the park”, now is placed a mirror and a textboard.  

The artwork is an initiative of Niels van Deuren, in collaboration with the Amsterdam 4 and 5 May comité and the municipality of Amsterdam. Van Deuren was inspired by the speech of king Willem-Alexander during the Memorial Day of 4 May 2020, in which he said: “Sobibor started in the Vondelpark. With a sign: Forbidden for Jews to enter the park”.


Mirror and text

A year later there has been realized a memorial, that consist of a mirror and a textboard. The mirror invites the viewer to think what he or she would do when seeing injustice. Like in 1940, when the anti-Jewish measures started. “And what would you do now, when you see somewhere racism, discrimination or intolerance? Can you look yourself right in the eyes?”.


Looking away

The work is one of the first works that highlights “looking away”, what happened during the Second World War. King Willem-Alexander cited during his speech Jules Schelvis, a man who survived Sobibor, who described how the Jews in Amsterdam were arrested during the Second World War, and that the rest of Amsterdam was just looking and looking away: “Hundreds of people looked without any protest to the trams full of [Jewish]people, that passed by under strict supervision”.

Part of the Dutch people took actions of resistance; part of the Dutch people worked together with the Nazis. And the majority of the Dutch did not do anything and looked away for the catastrophe that happened against the Jews and other groups.

Today, still people are looking away, if they say somewhere racism, intolerance, injustice or discrimination. Even if people are very close and could say something about it.

The artwork at the entrance of the Vondelpark, wants to hold a mirror in front of the faces of the people.



The title of the bord, “Sobibor – What would you do”, refers to a poem of the killed resistance fighter Gerrit van der Veen “wat would you do”. His poem was published in the resistance newspaper De Vrije Kunstenaar in March 1944.


Prosecution of the Jews

In the Second World War anti-Jewish measures were introduced rapidly one after each other. In 1940 the access to most public services was blocked for the Jewish people. In May 1942 it was mandatory to wear the Star of David on the clothes, and in July 1942 the deportations started to the extermination camps. In camps like Sobibor and Auschwitz more than 100.000 Jewish Dutch people were killed.


Memorial and flowers

The Amsterdam-Zuid municipality will send flowers to the memorial sign on 4 May.

On the same day, at 17:15h, a memorial will start. Speakers will be Rika, Christine Gispen-de Wied, Micha Bruinvels, Alejandra Slutzky, Kjell van Dijk and Niels van Deuren. Each of them will tell their own story on the theme of “looking away” and racism. On the next page the persons are described more in detail.

More information.

More information can be found on the website: en

Selma Engel – Wijnberg passed away

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Selma Wijnberg, the last Dutch survivor of the German extermination camp Sobibór, has passed away. The family informed the Dutch media NOS. Selma Wijnberg was 96 years old.

On 9 April 1943, the then 20-year-old Wijnberg was deported from Camp Westerbork to the extermination camp in nazi-occupied eastern Poland. There she managed to escape in October 1943, during the uprising in Sobibór, with her Polish friend Chaim Engel, whom she had fallen in love with.


After a hellish flight, when most refugees from Sobibor were shot dead, Selma and Chaim found shelter in an attic with a Polish farmer. There they stayed for nine months until they were liberated in July 1944 by the Red Army.

Selma had become pregnant at the farm. On the way in the east of Poland, she gave birth to a son, Emiel. The couple continued with the baby to Odessa on the Black Sea, where they went to Marseille by boat. Emiel died on board. Before the Greek coast the little corpse was thrown into the sea.

Not welcome

Via Marseille, Selma and Chaim ended up in Zwolle, where they moved into hotel Wijnberg, where Selma had grown up. They were certainly not received with open arms. Minister Kolfschoten decided that Chaim should be expelled as an undesirable alien. When the couple married, he determined that Selma also had to leave because she had acquired Polish nationality through her marriage.

Because Poland did not cooperate, the couple could still stay in Zwolle. They got a son and started a fabric store.

In 1951 they emigrated, bitterly about the attitude of the Netherlands, to Israel. From there they moved to the US in 1957, where they continued to live for the rest of their lives. Chaim died in 2003.


In 2010 Minister Klink offered apologies on behalf of the Dutch government for the inappropriate treatment she had received after the war. Selma returned for the first time, with her two granddaughters, to the Netherlands, where she visited Zwolle. In 2017 a memorial plaque was placed for her.

The historian Ad van Liempt wrote a book about her, under the title ‘Selma, the woman who survived Sobibor’

In Sobibor, 34,000 Jews from the Netherlands were gassed. Only 18 survived, including Jules Schelvis our founder, who in recent years of his life successfully demanded attention for the horrors that had taken place in Sobibor.

Source: NOS