Hiding in Holland 

Voorpublicatie deel 1

bomen met kunstwerken eronder die op padenstoelen lijken

Het nieuwe boek van onze auteur Shulamit Reinharz is onlangs verschenen bij Amsterdam Publishers. Het gaat over de oorlogsgeschiedenis van haar vader de Duits-Joodse Max Michael Rothschild. Zijn onderduik vond grotendeels plaats in Nederland, vandaar de titel Hiding in Holland

Fix it!

In the winter of 1974, my husband, Jehuda, and I visited my parents in their suburban New Jersey home where I had grown up. When we all sat down for a meal, I was in for a surprise that changed my life. It all started when the heating system growled and shut down. Not knowing what to do, my father sent Jehuda, an historian, to the cellar to “fix it.” I came along to assist. 

After rummaging around, Jehuda decided to kick a large, old machine. To deliver the blow, we cleared away some disintegrating boxes nearby. Strangely, a motor somewhere in the basement suddenly sprang to life. With this bizarre success behind us, we opened one of the cartons to see what was inside. Lo and behold, it contained a large collection of notebooks in Dad’s handwriting along with documents in German and Dutch. 

Curious about this crumbling mess, we brought one of the notebooks upstairs. “What’s this?” we asked my father. “Oh, that’s nothing. In fact, I don’t really know what it is. You can throw it away.”1 We didn’t comply. Instead, with Dad’s permission, we took the contents of about ten cartons to our home in Ann Arbor, where I put each item in a page protector and organized the whole set of materials into 3-ring binders clearly labelled by date. 

Unfortunately, I was too busy to read any of it. But 45 years later, I had the material translated professionally from German, Dutch, Hebrew, and French into English. 

A Survivor 

Among other identities, Dad was a Holocaust survivor. He preferred the phrase “lived through the Holocaust” or “lived through the Hitler years.” But there is no question that he was a survivor – born in Germany, nearly killed in the Netherlands and finally a refugee in the US. Dad managed to escape death repeatedly, sometimes by his clever actions or the help of kind people, and other times by sheer luck or what he called “miracles.” 

In 1976, when Dad was 55, I gave birth to his first grandchild, Yael Dalia. Perhaps the overwhelming phenomenon of welcoming the first member of our family’s next generation propelled him to write about his wartime experiences. Using an old manual typewriter, my then newly retired father engaged in a common activity among aging survivors – he wrote his memoirs. 

Three and a half decades had elapsed since his liberation from Nazi rule in the Netherlands on May 5, 1945, and yet he wrote without reference to published books or even the materials he had collected. It was as if everything he had undergone was etched permanently in his brain. 

Added to his astonishing feat of memory is the inexplicable fact that my father somehow retained personal papers, report cards, invoices, and certificates of all sorts from the years before he came to America. He also mentioned that most of his papers were burned either deliberately by those trying to protect him or by chance during bombings in the Netherlands. 

Tip of the Iceberg

It also turned out that the boxes in the basement were merely the tip of the iceberg, a fraction of the remarkable treasure trove scattered throughout the house. Dad didn’t know what he had kept or where he had put them. But I knew. The papers, just like Dad, himself, had survived by hiding – under beds, in books and the backs of drawers, from the attic to the basement. 

The account my father wrote approximately 40 years after being freed is a first-hand retelling of what happened to him before and during (but not after) the Holocaust. 

To learn what happened after liberation, I used the letters that he sent and received from the early moments of freedom until his departure for the US in 1947. Dad’s letters concern such major events as the German invasion of the Netherlands, as well as small details of life, such as piano pieces he heard. And yet, in the opening paragraph of his memoir, he claimed that regardless of all the facts he included, his memoir was not objective. 

It is impossible for me to be objective in my writing. How can any living man, how can a person with a heart, be “objective” about the Hitler era, about that absurd, bizarre sequence of events which in the last analysis can never be explained fully, but only described? 

The Next-to-Last Move

Another decade passed. My parents sold their house and moved into a nearby senior residence. My sister, Tova, in New Jersey, chose the facility; my brother, Jonathan, on Long Island, organized our parents’ finances; and I, having moved to Massachusetts, drove south to New Jersey and watched the movers take away the heavy items. I then scoured closets, bookshelves, and cabinets for anything my parents might want to take with them. In the process, I found hundreds of papers. Things that had nothing to do with one another were stapled together. Unmailed contributions to obscure charities were tucked in envelopes provided by other charities. 

Once again, I took everything home, this time to Boston. And just as before, my parents said, “We are not really interested in this old stuff.” I, on the other hand, was exhilarated – I had found a treasure trove hidden right before my eyes – a veritable Genizah!

Brandeis University

By then I had earned a Ph.D. in sociology and developed a successful career leading to tenure and an academic chair at Brandeis University. As we entered the second millennium, I started thinking about my retirement from Brandeis, scheduled for early summer 2017.

Soon after I left the university, I decided to look at what I had collected from my parents’ house throughout the years. Perhaps I could write a book that would integrate Dad’s notebooks, correspondence, and documents with my comments and interpretations. To accomplish this, I read extensively about all the topics he discussed.

Examining his memoir closely, I realized that for Dad, hiding in the Netherlands was the major element in the whole saga of his survival and had become a symbol of his life’s journey. Thus, the title of this book. 

  1. I use italics for material my father wrote or said, and regular font for my voice. The italicized material is either a direct quote or summarizes his writing on a topic. 
  2. A collection of deteriorated prayer books, documents, and other papers that a Jewish community

Shulamit Reinharz
Hiding in Holland
© Shulamit Reinharz 2024 
Publisher: Amsterdam Publishers, The Netherlands 

cover: Art work Ruigoord, photo Bloom, 2022

Over Shulamit Reinharz 5 Artikelen
Shulamit Reinharz retired from Brandeis University in 2017 where in addition to her teaching, speaking and publishing she revamped the Women's Studies Program, created the Women's Studies Research Center, and art gallery (2001). She established the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute, which studies the intersection of Jews and gender. The author of 15 books, her recently completed volume (whose title is being debated) concerns her father's Holocaust experience in Germany and in Holland, where he became an onderduiker. Shula was born in Amsterdam in June 1946 and has visited the Netherlands frequently.

Geef als eerste een reactie

Geef een reactie

Uw e-mailadres wordt niet gepubliceerd.