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We lost our parents and grandparents

Israeli Emmie Arbel and her sisters-in-law Alice Hoffmann and Nel van Het Kaar visited the International Tracing Service (ITS) in Bad Arolsen yesterday to see documents concerning the fate of their family. Emmie was seven years old when she was liberated from the Ravensbrück concentration camp. “It is not easy for me to look at original documents, but I´m not doing it for the first time. My brothers and I have often talked about that time in our lives,” she said.

Arbel wanted to find out the exact circumstances of her father´s death in the ITS archive. “Unfortunately I was not successful,” she said. The concentration camp Buchenwald´s death list showed the cause of death to be “a weak heart”, which the Nazis often falsely claimed. The Jewish family including parents, grandparents and three children was arrested in The Hague on 10 November 1942 and sent to Westerbork, where grandparents Emma and Gustav Lewin were immediately transported to Auschwitz and murdered on 16 November 1942. The rest of the family stayed at Westerbork for nearly 18 months. “That was unusually long for a transit camp and I think it probably saved the children´s lives,” said Hoffmann.

The Nazis deported Arbel´s father, Jakob Kallus, to Buchenwald on 1 February 1944, where he died at the external labour camp Berga/Elster on 13 December 1944. Numerous records at the ITS archive document his persecution. The children and their mother were deported to Ravensbrück concentration camp on 5 February 1944. “I can still recall distinct images,” said Arbel. “I have them but I can´t say exactly where I was or when.” On 1 March 1945, she and her mother and younger brother were sent to the severely overcrowded concentration camp Bergen-Belsen, where they barely had enough to eat. Arbel´s mother died of exhaustion one week before the camp was liberated on 17 April 1945.

The Nazis sent her older brother Otto, who later called himself Menachem, to the concentration camp Sachsenhausen on 3 March 1945. He was eventually freed on the evacuation march to Lübeck. “We children survived, but we lost our parents and grandparents,” said Arbel. Emmie and her younger brother went to Sweden, where they were able to begin recovery from their ordeal. “Our brother Menachem found us there with help from the Red Cross,” she said.

The three children returned to the Netherlands. After the founding of the state of Israel they were able to emigrate in 1949. “There were 15 children who lived on a kibbutz. Nobody thought about psychological care back then.” Arbel spent most of her working life as a secretary in a psychiatric clinic. Her brother Menachem published recollections of his persecution in a book entitled Als Junge im KZ Ravensbrück (A Boy in Ravensbrück concentration camp). Emmie sometimes accompanies him on the numerous talks he gives at schools. “Many people should know about the archive in Bad Arolsen and should come here,” said the Israeli. “The work which is being done here is essential.”