"I bear the marks that all Holocaust survivors have to bear."
Robert Sealtiel from Israel, along with his wife Diana, visited the International Tracing Service (ITS) in Bad Arolsen for two days. For the last 60 years, the Holocaust survivor has collected information about his family that he lost during Nazi persecution. "I came to the ITS as if I had to go to the dentist. I was afraid of the visit and it made me worried," he describes his feelings. "But by the warm welcome, the outright willingness to help and the understanding, which I've encountered here, quickly dispelled these concerns."
Sealtiel was born on 18 March 1940, in Amsterdam. A few months later, Germany invaded the Netherlands. "In early 1942, I lived together with my mother Clara and my father David,” he remembers. "But my father was arrested by the Nazis and deported to the Westerbork transit camp." After the birth of his brother Joseph in July 1942, Sealtiel was taken with his mother to the Hollandsche Schouwburg where Jews from Amsterdam and the surrounding areas were rounded up in order to be deported to Westerbork and to the concentration camp Herzogenbusch/Vught. "I was lucky," says the Israeli. "On the evening before the deportation, I was grabbed by a German Jew, put into a suitcase, and smuggled out of the camp." The young Sealtiel was saved and sent across the IJsselmeer (Lake Ĳssel) to a Christian family in Friesland.
"In the family, I was in good hands," he recalls. "Whenever a raid came, I had to hide. If we had enough time before the men came, I would hide myself in a hole under the house. Otherwise, an old wooden barrel in the garden served as a hiding place." He can still well remember the three-year period in Friesland. "The hiding place under the ground was so small that I could only just fit into it. Holes to the outside gave me air to breathe and a view of the road. When Jews were discovered in the factory just opposite us, I had to watch from my hiding place as they were shot up against a wall," says the 73-year-old. The worst for him was the darkness of the barrel. "It was closed with a lid on top, and the family placed a flower pot on top of it. I could not see anything, I could not hear anything, and when it rained it was cold and wet. Often I had to crouch for hours without food or drink there," reports Sealtiel.
After the liberation, Sealtiel returned to Amsterdam to his mother and brother. They too had been able to save themselves by going into hiding shortly before being transported to Westerbork. "My mother had a two-and-a-half-year-old small baby with her in an attic in Utrecht. It is hard to believe that they were not discovered." But the reunion after four years was chastened. "I did not recognize my own mother. My own brother regarded me as a stranger. We hardly knew each other.” His mother did not live her life to the fullest after the end of the war, says Sealtiel.
He lost all his other relatives in the Holocaust. At the ITS, he is now searching for information of the fate of his family members. "It took me three, almost four years before I made the decision to come to Arolsen," he explains. Ever since his 13th birthday, he has researched his Dutch family in archives and institutions. "I knew of certain camps and dates of death, but now I also want to look at the exact details of the persecution."
At the ITS, he first looked through the database for the names of family members from his father's side. "When I see all these names on the transport lists, every one is like a knife in my heart," he whispers. "It is particularly painful when I see the names of children. Every time, I think why this child and why not me. This question comes up in my life so often."
Sealtiel gets much support from his wife Diana. "She understands me and helps me and controls me," he grins. "I'm very happy that I have found her. After the war, I was traumatized. Since then, I always had to do what I wanted to. And I bear the marks that all Holocaust survivors have to bear."