For Isaac, Maria, and all the Rest
Jacques D. Barth
His name is on the ID card from the Jewish Council: Isaac Goudeket, and then written through it in red, Tr 8-6-43. In the upper right corner is a V, just as red, which stands for “Verwijzing” (transfer) to B. 62. And finally, in the upper left, a stamp: k l
A photo, which I acquired recently, and this ID card are all that remains physically of Grandfather Goudeket. Born on 11 August, 1883, a dockworker by trade and Jewish (Dutch Israeli, to be exact), and married to Maria Wortelboer. Their daughter, Maria Goudeket, was my mother.
The photo depicts a neat man, a hat on, a narrow face, dark bristling eyebrows, wide shoulders– not exactly what you’d picture for a dock worker but the ID card, issued on 26 May, 1943, says he was, so I accept it is as fact. This is for me, at any rate, evidence that he really existed and I am very happy to have such proof. My mother never really said much about her parents. I know that her father and mother were taken to the Sobibor concentration camp, via the camps Vught and Westerbork, and that they were murdered there. My mother’s 90-year-old grandmother was also taken on the same transport. Did they believe that when they got there, she would be given work? A sad thing, a photo and a card like this.
My mother escaped transportation. When her parents and grandmother were picked up at their home, she was out walking with her little dog—purely by coincidence, she always emphasized. Just before she got home she saw her father from a distance, in an upstairs window, signal to her that she needed to stay away. “I mustn’t go up the stairs”, she always stressed.
She always followed her father’s advice—but this was the last time she would ever see her father and the rest of her family. Of my mother’s family, hard workers all, she said, none, as it is euphemistically put, returned. They were all murdered in Sobibor. I know the term “gassed upon arrival” because that history is represented also by this single ID card. Cattle cars with no hygienic facilities, seventy people to a car, and what about food and drink?
In 2014, I traveled for the first time with the Sobibor Foundation. Jules Schelvis related heartrending facts with composure. Together we traversed the Himmelfahrtstrasse, from the arrival point at the original train platform moving toward the gas chambers. There I placed a stone bearing a plaque with the names of my mother’s parents on it. They were always her parents; for me, they were my paper grandparents.
My parents married shortly after the Holocaust. Each was the sole survivor of a large family. My father was a widower with a small child. His wife had been shot during a raid in Amsterdam in 1942. After the war, the Dutch authorities were particularly hard-hearted regarding the regulations and laws which were passed. A single man was not considered capable of bringing up a child on his own and so, with the threat of an orphanage looming over my older brother, he needed to find an acceptable partner, and quickly. That meant getting married, starting over. My mother, who was over forty, agreed: a new husband and a new child. It was not made easy for them. The laws regulating marriage stipulated that my mother take my father’s nationality, and in the case of my father, who had arrived in the Netherlands as a refugee from Vienna in 1938, this was no simple task. Born in Galicia, when it wasn’t a part of Poland, and having fought in the First World War with a Jewish garrison as part of the Austrian-Hungarian army, was he Polish, was he Austrian? He was at any rate Jewish and, in 1945, also a displaced persons. And so it was that my mother , who had never in her life traveled farther from her birthplace of Amsterdam than the nearby beach town Zandvoort, became displaced persons.
I was born in 1948, and a year later my little brother came along. Not Dutch, we were a family of five displaced Jews. Rules are rules; you don’t just break them, even following a catastrophe.
Now it’s 2016 and it does me good to know where my mother’s family can be found. It’s too bad that there is disagreement about erecting a memorial monument at Sobibor. The Netherlands, Slovakia, Israel and Poland agreed seven years ago that there should be such a monument; why has work on it not begun? This won’t prevent me from saying kaddish for my family, and mine is also for the 34,000 other Jewish Dutch who were murdered in Sobibor. And I’m not thinking about the administrators and lawmakers who do not want to get burnt on cold water, nor about rules which are seen as more important than real people.
Shema Israel adonai eloheino adonai echod!