“The Germans took everything from me”
Holocaust survivor Jules Schelvis spoke about his ordeal during events held in Vöhl commemorating the deportation of over 500 Jews from the Kassel area to Sobibor and Majdanek. The 91-year old survived several concentration camps including the extermination camps Sobibor and Auschwitz. He had to endure his beloved wife´s murder in the gas chambers of Sobibor. “For some time I have been prepared to forgive, but I can never forget,” says Schelvis.
“I was born to Jewish parents on 7 January 1921,” says Schelvis. He began an apprenticeship as a printer after his school education. After moving twice, he and his family lived on Retiefstraat in the eastern part of Amsterdam, an area where a number of Jewish families had settled. In December 1941 he and his wife Rachel were married. She had been threatened with deportation as a Polish immigrant since October 1941. “At that time the situation changed drastically for the Jewish population,” said the Dutchman. “Our names had already been registered by the authorities, and within a few months the Germans knew exactly how many Jews lived in the Netherlands, their ages and occupations, and how many foreigners and stateless persons there were.”
On 26 May 1943 German police drove through the streets of Amsterdam rounding up Jews. “They were taken to Germany to work under police supervision.” The Holocaust survivor remembers the order: “Be sure your rucksack is ready to go when you are picked up. I guarantee that nothing will happen to you.” Police forced many thousands of Jews including Schelvis and his wife and family to the designated collection point. “After we had stood there fearfully for hours, a number of trams arrived around noon to transport us to the station.” Later that evening the transport arrived at the police transit camp Westerbork.
For six days Schelvis and his family were imprisoned in the barracks at Westerbork. “The threat of being sent “on a transport” hung over us every day, said the 91-year old. “3,006 people were deported to the east on 1 June 1943, including my family and myself. The most important thing was that we could stay together. We were all able to support each other.” After a 72-hour train ride in cattle cars under unbearable hygienic conditions, the transport arrived at Sobibor.
All of the Jews including Schelvis and his wife were forced out of the cars. On the way to the camp, he was able to motivate his wife to bury her watch, which would certainly be taken from her immediately. “Like startled animals, we were hastily herded through wide-open doors into a barrack and ordered to throw all our possessions onto the floor,” said Schelvis. “I was so completely taken aback by the order that I didn´t notice an SS man pushing the women off to one side while we men were forced to go straight ahead.” He lost his wife without a kiss goodbye or a word of farewell.
Schelvis still had no idea how lucky he had been when he summoned the courage to ask an SS man for permission to join a labour battalion. He and 80 other men were led back to the platform and put on a train bound for the Dorohucza camp. “The SS staff sergeant told us we would come back to Sobibor every evening to eat dinner and relax with our families and friends,” said the 91-year old.
On 8 April 1945, after two years spent in camps including Sobibor, Dorohucza, Lublin, Radom, Tomaszów and Auschwitz, Schelvis was liberated from the concentration camp Vaihingen/Enz, a satellite camp of the concentration camp Natzweiler/Struthof, by French troops. Upon his return to Amsterdam he learned that everyone he loved had perished. “The Germans took everything from me, but they could not take my thoughts. Talking and writing about them prevents us from forgetting.”