Nazi victims' effects returned to families
Dutch descendants of men put to death during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands have reclaimed personal effects that have been locked up for decades in Red Cross archives.
Dutch descendants of men put to death during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands reclaimed Monday personal effects that have been locked up for decades in Red Cross archives.
The items found in the files at Bad Arolsen, Germany are hauntingly sad: an old pocket watch with cracked, yellow glass and a badly scratched case, a key matching a long-lost lock and a photo with faded writing on the back.
The little cartons, kept by Nazi jailers and later captured by the victorious Allies, contain last links to victims of the Nazis' evil ideology.
"So many died. And now, 63 years later, I'm here holding my father's identity card in my hand," mused Gerrit Jan Evers, who only learned a few weeks ago that the personal effects were still in existence.
The International Tracing Service of the Red Cross supervises the captured files on 17.5 million non-Germans persecuted by the Nazis or displaced by the Second World War.
Personal letters, jewellery, watches and private documents show up very occasionally in the files. If they can, Red Cross staff send them to next of kin. Monday was the first time the next of kin came to collect them.
Evert de Graaf, a Dutch historian, explained, "Evers' father was caught up in a wave of arrests by the Nazis.
After a resistance attack on German soldiers, they sent about 600 Dutch people to the concentration camps on October 1-2, 1944." De Graaf and colleagues are working with the Red Cross to find out what became of them all.
"We found files on 80 of them, and an envelope containing personal effects was attached to eight of them," the historian said. Six months later, the eight families drove to Bad Arolsen in a chartered bus.
"When the trip began, everyone was cheerful," said Graaf. "But the closer we got to Bad Arolsen, the quieter everyone became."
Evers hands shake as he opens the brittle, yellowing ID card marked "Personsbewijs" in Dutch and sees the photograph of a gaunt, serious-looking man on it.
"That's my father," said Evers softly, more to himself than the others in the room.
He is named after his father, but has no memories of him apart from his mother's anecdotes.
Gerrit Evers senior died of exhaustion in December 1944 at Neuengamme Concentration Camp near Hamburg and three weeks later his son was born in the Netherlands.
Quickly, as if his emotions are unbearable, Evers shuts the card and murmurs, "So many people."
Evers' stepson, Gerjo Mulder, says, "It's beyond belief for him that people could be so cruel to one another here, in the middle of Europe. I can't encompass it myself. I'm trying to put myself in his shoes. But I'm just 35."
Asked if he hates the Germans, Dutchman Mulder says, "That's all in the past," then, as he walks away, impishly adds an afterthought: "Only when we're playing football with them."
Willem Dorgelo, gazing at his dead brother's concentration-camp registration card, says, "I keep trying to tell myself that it wasn't 'the Germans,' it was Adolf Hitler. Well, I try.
"They worked him to death, starved him, gave him no winter clothes. He didn't survive," he says, turning over a wallet in his hand from the man who has been dead for 63 years.
Dorgelo's nephew gently takes the wallet out of the old man's hand.
"I hardly have anything to remember my father by," says Johan Dorgelo, the son. "I was a baby when he was rounded up and taken away."