Research

Sleutelberg, Ester Edith Hes

Survivor/Hidden

Zaltbommel (Netherlands), Haaften

Ester was born in 1927 in the city of Zaltbommel in the Netherlands.  She lived with her parents, Rosa and Arnold and her brothers, Alexander and Jacques.  Her family was Orthodox and kept kosher.  Her father owned a clothing and floor covering store.  There were about three dozen Jewish families in her town.

In 1939, her family took in a Jewish girl from Germany who lived with them for two years until 1941, when she received a call from her family to go back home.  She was then sixteen.  Neither she nor her family were seen again.

The Germans arrived by planes and parachutes on May 10, 1940.  The Dutch tried to shoot the Germans. This all happened in five days, during the bombing of Rotterdam. Ester was twelve at the start of the war. There was no more school and her family had to close the store.  Ester began working for a couturiere (seamstress) where she stayed for one year.

Her family looked for a hiding place.  A nurse who worked for a rich family came to pick up the family’s sewing and, because it wasn’t ready, Ester delivered it in person and found that the nurse worked for the underground, later finding her and her brother a place to hide.

She was taken across the Rhine to a Gentile family where she stayed with her two brothers for two years and seven months.  Her parents stayed hidden in a hotel that hid many Jews.  They were hiding in a town called Haaften.  The family’s name was de Kock and they had six children, all unmarried, ages 19-36.  They got her an ID card with their name on it and she became Johanna de Kock, just in case it was needed.

The de Kocks hid as many Jews as they could because of their Christian faith.  During that time, Ester never went outdoors, but, late at night, walked in the orchard with a family member with her.  They got their news about the war from an English speaking radio.

While she was in hiding, in March of 1945, a man came to be taken in.  He was an SS soldier who had deserted.

During her stay, she spun yarn from sheep with a spinning wheel.  Although the family ate pork, they gave her beef to eat.  She stayed until May 5, 1945.

Ester’s entire family survived, but her extended family of about fifty people, didn’t. Ester went home, finished school and worked in the family store.  She then went to England for six months where she worked as an au pair.

She married Simon Sleutelberg in June of 1954 and lives in Hudson, MI.

In 1983, she went to Yad Vashem where her son, “Rabbi Arnie”, planted trees in honor of the de Kocks.

Her father in law left Holland before the war and was in the US Army from 1942-45.

It wasn’t until ten years ago, that Ester told her children, Rabbi Arnold and daughter Ester Kowalsky, a dentist, about what happened to her.

Her nights are filled with nightmares about her missing cousins. They are in some of Ester’s pictures which were saved by some Gentile neighbors.

Interview Information:
Date: April 29, 1991
Length: 41 minutes
Interviewer: Fannie Lieberman