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Volume 20

Guenther Ludwig Zilversmit

From Holland and Back

published by the
Concordia University Chair in Canadian Jewish Studies


Author was born in Leer, Germany, in 1926. Describes the social and cultural life of the town which had a population of thirteen thousand including approximately 175 Jewish families. Major Jewish occupation was cattle dealing. Gives account of the changes that occurred following the election of 1933 when Hitler came to power. In 1937, at the age of eleven, he joins his grandparents who had earlier moved to The Hague. With the Nazi invasion of Holland, family forced to move away from the coastal region. When the German decree forbidding Jewish attendance at school takes effect, he gets a job as blacksmith’s apprentice. Describes the hardships of daily life and the food shortages. In 1943 Jews are transported to transit camps in Holland, and he arrives at Westerbork where author and his brother work in the garage and at maintenance and repairs. Questions the role played by Jewish inmates who ran the camp. In 1944 transported to Theresienstadt where grandparents had been sent earlier. Detailed description of the conditions in Theresienstadt and the German deceitful transformation of the camp into a resort village in order to deceive the Red Cross officials. Meets his grandparents who are later sent to Auschwitz on the last transport from Theresienstadt. He and brother are transported to Auschwitz and pass selection by Joseph Mengele. Describes camp conditions: food, work, barrack life. Sent to Gleiwitz, a camp 50 kilometers from Auschwitz, where he works as a welder producing sea-mines. With the Russian army approaching, prisoners are forced to march to the south west. Meet Russian soldiers and occupy barracks that formerly held P. O. W.s. Later transported by Russians to Lvov and then Chernowitz where he encounters other survivors. Travels to Odessa and relates his adventures en route. In June 1945 embarks on British troop transport for Holland. Lands in Marseilles. Reaches Holland and travels to hometown of Nunspeet. Records his reception by former neighbours: all the possessions the family had left with neighbours were returned. He moves to The Hague and finds employment as a blacksmith in a chandelier factory. Enrols in school for flight engineers. Meets future wife and they marry in 1949. Emigrates to Canada in 1951.


Key Words

Leer, Germany; Duesburg/Ruhrort, Germany; Niedermercz, village in Germany; The Hague; Nunspeet, torn in Holland; Westerbork, transit camp; Obersturmfuerer Gemmeke, commandant of Westerbork camp; Theresienstadt, concentration camp in Czechoslovakia; Jo Spier. Dutch cartoonist; Joseph Mengele; Gleiwitz, industrial city; Blechhammer concentration camp; I. G. Farben; Marshal Zhukov; Lvov/Lemberg; Chernowitz; Odessa; Marseille, Montreal.

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