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An Extraordinary Message via Facebook

The sisters Nicole van Winkoop-Schleicher and Monique Buitenhuis-Schleicher never knew their grandfather Johan Pieter Mackenbach. All the more surprised were they when, in March 2017, they received a message from the Dutchwoman Annelies Sijtsma-Hoezen on Facebook: “The Online Archive of the International Tracing Service (ITS) in Bad Arolsen contains pictures of personal objects belonging to Johann Mackenbach. Are you descendants of his?”

The granddaughters found themselves staring in amazement at photos of a signet ring, a wedding ring, a pocket watch and a ballpoint pen. In the ITS’s Online Archive, there are approximately 3,200 names and photos of personal belongings once taken from inmates in concentration camps. On a volunteer basis, Annelies Sijtsma-Hoezen searches the portal for family members and discovered Johan Pieter Mackenbach’s two granddaughters on Facebook.

The two sisters and their husbands have meanwhile visited the archive in Bad Arolsen. “It was important to us to pick up the objects in person,” Monique Buitenhuis-Schleicher explained. “And we also wanted to find out more about his persecution.” Johan Pieter Mackenbach was born in Rotterdam on March 17, 1909. According to the documents in the ITS archive, he was imprisoned in the Amersfoort transit camp on November 1, 1944, deported to the Neuengamme concentration camp on February 2, 1945, and then put to work in the Wöbbelin subcamp.

“He was active in the resistance,” Nicole van Winkoop-Schleicher told us. “But we never knew when and where he had been in custody.” The two sisters’ mother, Pieternella Margaretha Mackenbach, born in 1940, knew very little about her father. The Dutchman survived the liberation by only a few days: he died on May 15, 1945. “Apart from a medal and a picture in the publication Ik draag Uop – Stichting 1940 – 1945 Apeldoorn, we hardly had any information about our grandfather,” Nicole van Winkoop-Schleicher commented. “There are no words to describe what it means to us to receive his personal belongings and see the documents.”