Posner, Esther Marianne Rose
Amsterdam, Enschede, Delden Netherlands
Child Survivor, Hidden Child
Esther Marianne Rose was born in Amsterdam, the Netherlands on May 11, 1937, a year after her mother, Eleonore (Ellen) Westheim, arrived from Germany to marry her childhood sweetheart, Fritz (Fred) Rose. Fritz had left Germany in 1933 when Hitler came to power. He was a certified butcher and found a job in his new country of residence. A few years later, he had saved enough money to buy out the owner and establish his own butcher shop. He sent for Ellen and they married a week later at the Amsterdam Rabbinate.
Looking back, Esther “always assumed that I had Dutch nationality by virtue of birth in Holland but that was not true. I was considered staatenloos, stateless. I was growing up in Holland surrounded by Dutch culture. But when I was a toddler, my parents brought their parents and siblings out of Germany to the Netherlands. They were all immigrants and did not speak the language and were not acculturated. I did not understand that everywhere around me were German Jews. In 1940, Germany invaded Holland and at the age of 3, I was surrounded by German soldiers who wanted to kill me and my family. During my adult years, it was difficult for me to accept that Germany is the country my family had come from. We came to the United States from Holland in 1948. When Germany offered free trips to German Jews, my father said ‘Nicht geschenkt’ – not even as a gift. It took me a long time to accept that Germany is where my family had lived and that it would be to my benefit to find out what their life had been like.”
Esther’s family can trace their roots back to the late 1600’s in three tiny villages in Germany – Spangenberg and Abterode in Hessen, and Poembsen in Westphalia. “In those two provinces, there were a lot of very small German Jewish communities, where the Jews were anywhere from 5% to 25% of the population of the village. The populations were between 600 and 1000 people, so there were 40 to 100 Jews in a town…. I found out how rich their life was; how beautifully they kept to Orthodox Jewish life and raised their children that way. They had Jewish schools that were paid for by the German government. In each of the towns there was a Jewish teacher who was also the chazzan at the synagogue and who had a lot of stature in that community. They were not Rabbis, but they were learned, were often ritual slaughterers and they also represented the Jewish community to the general German community.”
Ellen’s father, David Westheim, lived in Abterode, Hessen and had a thriving textile business, manufakturwaren, selling textiles, clothing and linens. He was the Chairman of the Jewish community which involved him in the relationship between Jews and the Christian community. Ellen’s mother, Dina Spangenthal Westheim, was the head of the women’s Chesed organization that prepared and brought food to new mothers, shiva and needy families.
Fritz’s father, Rudolf Rose lived in Poembsen, Westfalen. He was a dealer of horses. His family had lived there since the late 1600s when the local Bishop, aware of the reputation of Jews as competent businessmen, brought ancestors of the Rose family to Poembsen to raise the area’s economic level. Of Fritz’s seven sisters, two remained in Germany (Regina Neuburger and Dora Studenroth) and five went to Holland (Rosa Piskortz, Julie/Ulla Goldschmidt, Elsa, Erna, and Frieda). The single sisters lived with their parents in Amsterdam and worked as maids. Esther’s grandmother died when she was less than 2-years-old and her grandfather was very much in her life.
David and Dina Westheim initially remained in Abterode, but Eleonore’s two brothers left for the United States, and her sister Alice went to Holland and married Fritz’s partner, Siegbert Mielzinski. They had a son, Ralph, who was like a younger brother to Esther. After Kristallnacht in Germany, when Dina had to “sweep up the glass shards from the street and from inside the synagogue,” Esther’s grandparents sold all their belongings and their business at bargain prices. “They had to put the money in a bank and when they left the country they only got pennies on the dollar. They were destitute when they came to Holland.” The extended Rose family of eight moved into a larger apartment in the middle class Jewish neighborhood in Amsterdam. “Life was good. Everybody worked hard. My father and uncle went to their butcher store and the wives came in to help. And I was home with my grandparents.”
When Holland was invaded in May, 1940, and the Germans marched into Amsterdam, Esther was three-years-old. “I do remember the Germans marching down the street and my mother pulling me away from the window. She didn’t want me watching but I was drawn to seeing what was going on. They were marching and they were singing as loud as if they were standing right here…. Life went on normally for a while. It was about a year later that life started to change and all kinds of rules were put into effect, for the Jews only. First, my father could no longer own his business and suddenly the two men were unemployed and stayed home. Then we couldn’t go to the park; couldn’t go to the library; couldn’t attend school; could not be employed, couldn’t visit with Christians; just a complete change in our lifestyles.”
The beautiful Joodse Schouwburg Theater, became the deportation point for Jews. “All the red velvet seats were ripped out. The theater was emptied. At the front was a stage and there had been a pit for the orchestra. There was a ramp that you had to walk up. There was no banister and the Germans put the food up on the stage…. When the Jews were deported, the German soldiers came to your house, pounded on the door and you had to leave your home. You took one little suitcase per person. You were taken to the Schouwburg Theater and waited there until the transport quota was filled. Then you were sent to points east for hard labor.”
“In 1942, I was five years old. That was the first time the Germans came and picked up my parents, only my parents, and I was so frightened. I didn’t know if they would come back. I went to sleep in their bed and sometime during the night they returned. They were let go…. Then Chanukah of 1942, the whole family was brought into the Schouwburg. Again, we were all sent home. But a month later, we were all picked up again. It was my cousin Ralph’s third birthday. Somebody had given him a peppermint candy and he kept putting it in his mouth and he didn’t like the taste. He kept spitting it out and he was drooling and we were laughing. Somehow, I knew it was the last time I was seeing him. When Ralph and his parents were called up, they stood on line, and were loaded onto vans to the train. My parents and I were whisked out of that room, up a back staircase to the third floor, where we sat in the floor with people who had a special sperre – a temporary reprieve from deportation. Don’t ask me to explain. Things didn’t make sense. Not because of my age, because my uncle had the same papers as my father, but my father was allowed to go free with his family and my uncle was not.”
Meanwhile, Esther’s aunt Ulla, who was widowed six months after her marriage to Julius Goldschmidt, had promised him that she would take care of his mother, Yetta Goldschmidt. Ulla and Yetta lived in an apartment in Enschede, near the Dutch border with Germany. “One day, she heard a pounding on the door and it was a Dutch policeman, Dik (Jan Dirk) Mos, who started asking her questions, talking in code, measuring if they could trust each other. She decided she could trust him and told him, ‘I’m Jewish.’ He said, ‘Well you shouldn’t be living out in the open like this. You should go into hiding.’ She said ‘I don’t have a hiding place.’ And he said, ‘Hiding places can be found. I am going to come back in a week.’ He came back a week later with the name and address of a house and Ulla and Yetta went into hiding there. The house belonged to Jopie (Johanna) and Gerhard Kleinjan. He was a railroad engineer and she was home with their two children: a three-year-old son, Dickie and a one-year-old daughter, Annerietje.”
“Then Ulla sent Dik to Amsterdam where her father Rudolf, her brother Fritz and his family, and three of her sisters lived. Dik made the trip many times from Enschede, about 100 miles away, to advise my family to go into hiding. But my father didn’t want to go because we had been at the Schouwburg, where we were treated normally but he saw that people who were found in hiding came in crying because they were being beaten. My father said ‘I wouldn’t let that happen to my family, so when it is our turn, we’ll go.’”
“Instead, my parents and I, and my Westheim grandparents, had to leave our apartment and were sent to the Jewish ghetto in Amsterdam in the beginning of 1943. All around me family friends and school classmates were disappearing. Rumors were rampant. Some crossed the border to Belgium or Switzerland; some hid; some were killed in bombings. And then one day the Germans came for my grandparents. My father wasn’t home, and my mother begged them not to take them away. There was nothing she could do and they took her parents. They could hardly carry the little suitcase they had with some bedding, some food, and a change of clothing. I once asked my mother what happened to people who were sent to the East. And my mother said to me, they’re gassed. So, she knew about the crematoriums and what was happening to the Jews who were deported and would never come home. We were living under the Germans, the Nazis, my parents knew what was really being done to the Jews. How come the rest of the world did not do anything? And we knew that America had entered the war and we just couldn’t figure out why they weren’t doing something to end the war and to save the rest of the Jews who were being killed. Another reason my father didn’t go into hiding at first is because we were eight people, who could take eight people? And then some of the family was deported. Alice, Siegbert, and Ralph were sent to Westerbork. We received a postcard from my Aunt Alice. She wrote, ‘Go visit Liesl, (another name for my Aunt Ulla who was in hiding); she will be happy to see you and you won’t regret it.’ She was telling us to go into hiding.”
The third time the Rose family was picked up and taken again to the Schouwburg. “We were taken to a house that was right outside the ghetto and we stayed there overnight and we were not treated well at all. They kept bringing more and more people into this room and then we were put on a cargo truck that went to the Schouwburg. We were sitting at the entrance, the last people to get on this truck. It pulls up to the Schouwburg and it’s late at night. It’s a very foggy night and you absolutely couldn’t see a foot in front of you. The only thing that you could see is a streetlight. And a man from the Joodsche Raad, the Jewish Council, came to the back of that truck and asks ‘Who’s on here?’ My father gives his name, Fritz Rose. This man was someone my father knew and he said ‘Quick, jump out.’ My father jumps out and pulls my mother and me with him, and we went into the crèche, across the street from the Schouwburg.”
The crèche was a childcare center for Jewish children whose parents were awaiting deportation in the Schouwburg. From there, many Jewish children were saved, hidden in laundry baskets and garbage bags, and taken on the back of a bike to foster homes in the Holland countryside. “Of the parents, only about 10% to 15% were willing to give up their child. The others did not. They took their children with them. They always felt ‘I can take care of my child’. And of those children who were hidden, most of their parents did not come back.”
From the crèche, a woman that Fritz knew, Mathilde, took them by car to a train in another town and then to Enschede. “Dik Mos was waiting for us and he took us by bike to Tante Ulla’s hiding place. That was the most wonderful reunion between my aunt, my grandfather, my parents and me. The six of us were now in the house with the Kleinjan family.”
“The Kleinjan house was a very small house. In Holland, nobody locked their doors; your neighbors could walk in at any time. So, we stayed in one of the bedrooms upstairs, with curtains tightly drawn all the time. Tante Ulla and Tante Yetta slept in the one twin-size bed, and I slept with them. My grandfather slept in a bed upstairs in the attic and my parents slept up there on a quilt on the floor. We had a chamber pot in the room because we couldn’t use the bathroom or flush the toilet. Early in the morning, Tante Ulla and my mother would go downstairs and bring up whatever food there was for us and then we all stayed in the room. The Kleinjan children did not know that there were six people living in the house with them.”
“In the very beginning, Gerhard would move some wooden planks under the kitchen table and take out a radio and we all listened to the BBC news. I remember vividly huddling around this radio when we all came down in the evening, after the children were asleep, and listening to the reports. Later this became unsafe…. We grew chives in a sandbox in the attic, and every day our lunch consisted of bread and margarine, and salt and chives…. My father sewed slippers for all of us out of fabric so that we wouldn’t make noise when we walked around…. The men played a lot of cards…. There was really nothing for me to do. My mother tried to keep me busy. She taught me German poems and games that she knew from her childhood…. About six months into our hiding, my father decided to teach me to read. After three days, he gave up. But about six months later, somehow, I was able to read. I had picked it up, which helped a lot.”
The Dutch Underground in Enschede which consisted of Christian Dutch Reformed Church members gave them ID cards with new names and birthplaces and the same picture without the ‘J’, brought them food ration cards and food stamps, all stolen and forged. “The highlight of my week was when the people from the Underground, headed by minister Leenderd Overduin and his sister who was a nun, came to see how we were doing, what we needed, and brought us the very basics. There was very little to be had. There was nothing available in the stores. Commerce had stopped…. Everything of value was plundered and sent to Germany. Ellen and Ulla mended clothing for the local green grocer. I remember them sitting there and putting patches on clothing. They knit socks and sweaters for these people, unraveling old clothing and reusing the yarn for new clothes. And that’s how the grocer kept his family clothed and we got some extra food in return.”
“Unfortunately, about two months after we went into hiding, there was an attempt on the life of the German functionary who was in charge of Enschede. In reprisal, the Germans shipped 50 Dutch policemen to labor camps in Germany, including Dik Mos. From then on, his wife, Rie (Maria) Mos, came to see us regularly and brought us news from the outside world. One day, she warned us that the Germans were going to come door to door looking for men to be sent to Germany to work. My father prepared the house; he went to the attic and put all the bedding into a trunk; on top of the trunk, he put a tablecloth and a vase with flowers. There was a swing that hung from the ceiling beams, two pieces of rope with a board that he adjusted to look as if a kid had just jumped off it. Then he took some games and just threw them on the floor, like the children had just finished playing there and hadn’t cleaned up…. He watched as the Germans were coming down the street, and we all used the chamber pot again and then we all, including Gerhard Kleinjan, went into the hiding place. This hiding place had been built before we got there. It was a false wall in the room we lived in. There was a bookcase in front of it that swiveled to let us in. Our clothing also came with us into the hiding place, so it wouldn’t look like six extra people were living in the house…. We all lined up in the hiding place and pulled the bookcase shut. I heard the banging on the door; Jopie lets the two Germans in and they ask ‘Where is your husband?’ And she answers, ‘He’s working in Germany.’ The soldiers went from door to door, room by room, and looked around. One of the two came into the room we were in. A couple of minutes later we heard them leave and it was a tremendous relief for all of us.”
They were there for a year and a half. “When there was school vacation and at Christmas time, I was allowed to come downstairs. I had this made-up story that I was a niece of Jopie Kleinjan, that my father was in Germany working and my mother was sick in the hospital. During that week, they took me wherever they went. We went to a salt water pool, in the middle of the war, in 1944. Seeing the German soldiers flirting with the Dutch girls, the only thing that I can remember thinking is that I am a Jew, I am a Jew. That’s all my mind would think. And it was very frightening to see them there and to have this other identity.”
“After about a year and a half, Gerhard became very depressed and could not handle having us there anymore. We were not easy to have around. There was fighting. It was very difficult. Nobody had thought that the war would last so long and that we would be cooped up for so long. Gerhard came at my father with a knife and Jopie called the Underground. The decision was made that our family be split up. It would be easier for the Underground to find us places. From the Kleinjans, my parents went to one place and I went to another. First, I went to a family where I was very unhappy. I lived with an older couple and there was a very old grandmother in bed all day with people taking care of her. I felt neglected. The members of the Underground came and saw that I was crying. They left me there two weeks and then brought me to another home with a family with six children, two of the sons had been sent to Germany and two daughters and two sons were still at home. This was a very wonderful family, the Tilsmas. I was not in hiding, but I wasn’t allowed to go outside. I was just in the house with this family.”
“Every Sunday afternoon, a young worker from the Underground came on her bike. She would put me on the back of the bike and take me to visit my parents. She warned me that ‘You can’t tell them the address where you are living now because if they get found by the Germans they will be tortured until they give up all the information that they have.’ I would come to my mother and my mother would take me aside, ‘Where are you? What’s the address? What’s the name of the people?’ And I would not tell her. And this went on for a month. I held out for about a month. I finally broke down and told her. Thank God, we all survived.”
Fritz and Ellen and other Jews were hidden by Mrs. Ten Tije in a small house behind the curtained door of her grocery store. Her two young daughters were part of the resistance and when one of them, Lies, was killed in a German bombing on January 4, 1945, the Roses had to move into the Tilsma home. That seemed to be a safe place, but that family had hidden other Jews before and somehow a collaborator found out they were there. “One winter day, I had gone sledding on a nearby hill. My father was visiting with the Tilsma grandparents in the front room, when he sees a car pull up and Germans come running to the front door. He ran up the stairs and crawled through the attic and went from one house to another via the attached roofs. Somehow, he got over to the school where Mrs. Ten Tije sent him a painter’s overall and bucket. Mrs. Tilsma came to where I was sledding and told me, ‘You can’t come home, go back to Mrs. Ten Tije,’ We all met back at the Ten Tije home, but we were only there for a short period of time.”
Fritz tied a sled to a bike and Ellen biked, pulling Esther to the next, and last hiding place, with the Spit family in the idyllic town of Delden. Her parents were taken to the Morsings. Esther was in Delden for about four months until they were liberated by Canadian soldiers.
Esther and her parents came to the United States in 1948 and moved to New York. School was not an easy transition for Esther until high school, where she met a creative writing teacher. “We had to keep a diary and write in it every day. School started in September and after I wrote about the beautiful fall leaves and I wrote again about the beautiful fall leaves, I was out of things to write about and I started writing about my experiences during the Holocaust and this teacher encouraged me very much. And unlike a lot of other people who say ‘well I never talked about my Holocaust experiences’, this was very helpful to me. I wrote about my childhood in the school yearbook.…. However, it’s very difficult for me to talk about Germany. I can’t understand how they did what they did. The issue of the Holocaust that is very important to me is honoring the righteous – those people who risked their lives, who did what they did because there were human beings whose lives were in danger. And I just always say I hope I would have the strength that they had.”
Dik and Rie Mos, Gerhard and Jopie Kleinjan, Leenderd Overduin and the Ten Tije family have been honored by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations. For the three families that have not yet been honored, the Tilsmas, Spits and Morsings, Esther has applied for the commendation and is awaiting approval.
Esther married Erwin Posner and they have three sons, Aryeh, Chanan, and Daniel. Her message to children today, including her eleven grandchildren, is that “I’m really very proud of what I was able to accomplish here in the United States. I am very grateful to this country for the opportunities. I was the first in my family to attend and graduate from high school. I was the first in my family to go to college and graduate. I have a master’s degree. I became a certified financial planner. I’ve been very active in Holocaust issues and also in my community. I have had a wonderful life. I am grateful for everything. I am especially proud of my Judaism and of our history as Jews. I am very proud of it. As I get older, it is more and more important to me.”
Date of Interview: April 20, 2015
Length of Interview: 1 hour 30 minutes
Interview & Synopsis by: Zieva Konvisser
Videographer: Fred Safran