Speech at the Commemoration of the Kindertransportations
June 9, 2024, National Monument Kamp Vught

by Marianne Schelvis

My name is Marianne Schelvis. I am the daughter of Jules Schelvis and was born in 1954. My father was one of only 18 prisoners to survive the extermination camp Sobibor, but his wife and in-laws were immediately driven into the gas chambers upon arrival at Sobibor. My father dedicated a significant part of his life to researching and putting this camp on the map. His main motivation was to tell people, especially the youth: “Pass it on so that we do not forget that so many innocent people were murdered by Hitler and his barbaric Nazi regime.”

It is fantastic that so many children are present at this commemoration.

I had a good childhood with a loving father who worked hard for his family and a dear, caring mother. In elementary school, I understood from my mother that my father had experienced very nasty things during the Second World War. But I didn’t want to burden him with it, so I went to my mother with questions. She gave me a booklet that my father had written immediately after his liberation, detailing his experiences in the concentration camps. This is how I learned about my father’s history and understood that I am of Jewish descent.

When the war was discussed at school, I often thought about where I could hide if another war broke out and people were being arrested again. However, I never got further than the old zinc trash can we used to have.

When my father took early retirement, he began working on his book “Vernietigingskamp Sobibor” (Extermination Camp Sobibor), for which I typed the transport lists. He ultimately received an honorary doctorate from the University of Amsterdam for this book. During the years when I had a young family, the war didn’t play a significant role in my life. However, I did read a lot about the war and watched various series on TV about it. When the film “Escape from Sobibor,” about the uprising in the Sobibor camp starring the then-famous Dutch actor Rutger Hauer, became available, I couldn’t watch it with others around. I chose a moment to watch the film alone.

I regularly dreamed that I had been captured in a concentration camp. I had these dreams particularly during the 1990s when images of the starved prisoners in Srebrenica were shown on TV. There was then a war in former Yugoslavia, where Bosnians were imprisoned in concentration camps and treated inhumanely.

My father never burdened me with his war history, but the war, and especially Sobibor, ran as a thread through my life. When my father started giving lectures, I often accompanied him to carry his bag of books and to operate the PowerPoint presentation on the laptop. I also regularly accompanied him to commemorations, such as here at Kamp Vught. His friend Loty Huffener-Veffer, whose sister Carla was one of the children from the Kindertransport, was almost always there. My father was always a welcome guest and a bit of a charmer, and the ladies always loved him. Up until his death at the age of 95, he was engaged with Sobibor.

The last major project he undertook was ‘Er reed een trein’ (There was a Train). This was a wonderful collaboration with the National Chamber Orchestra that illustrated his story about his transport to Sobibor with beautiful, fitting music. The king heard and saw this in the Westerkerk in Amsterdam. During his speech on May 4, 2020, at the Dam during the pandemic, the king spoke about this concert and a testimony he would never forget. I was so proud of my father, who worked so hard to bring awareness to the extermination camp Sobibor. For all his work, he received not only the honorary doctorate but also a royal decoration.

After his death in April 2016, I distanced myself from most of his projects for a while. Many people started pulling at me for various things about my father. I didn’t want that and just wanted to continue with my life. After all, he was also just my father.

However, blood is thicker than water, and gradually I got drawn back into it, especially by the fantastic board members and former board members of the Sobibor Foundation, which my father founded 25 years ago this year. I also find it important that my father’s mission continues through the Sobibor Foundation, and I gladly contribute to that.

When I was approached last year by the director of the museum in Sobibor to come to the 80th commemoration, I said yes, not knowing what it would do to me. I traveled to Poland with some of the current and former board members, who supported me well during this commemoration. Meanwhile, I was approached by the NOS, who wanted to interview and film me there. I agreed to this.

I consider myself a down-to-earth type, who likes to call things by their name and is not easily emotional. The moment I walked on the Ramp in Sobibor, horrible images flashed through my mind of train wagons packed with people being beaten out of the trains, towards their deaths. I spontaneously began to cry and could barely speak. It surprised me, and I realized I wasn’t as stoic as I thought.

When I was asked to tell my story here, I felt that I could do it now. My father did important work with the motto: “Pass it on so that we do not forget.” Because the greatest good that people can have is good health in freedom.