Veteran Stories:
Herman van Norden

  • Mr. van Norden at The Memory Project's Vancouver Public Library event, October, 2010.

    Historica Canada
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"The Germans forbade both Jewish students and Jewish professors to stay at university. So I was kicked out. I think it was in 1942 when they started systematically rounding up Jews."

Transcript

I remember the beginning of the war in Holland, it was the 10 May, 1940. I lived with my mother. My mother was up in the middle of the night and said, "Herman, there is war." And we heard a very big number of planes flying over Amsterdam; and I didn’t believe it. I said they were just exercises. But I was a babe in the woods. I believed all the nonsense that the government told us, which was that they could resist the German attack for three months in which time they would get French and English reinforcements. In fact, it took the Germans four days to occupy the whole of Holland. I was a medical student. I had started at university in the pre-clinical years in 1938. I was 18 and I had graduated from high school, and I started medical school. In the first year, I was still attending lectures, but quite soon, the Germans forbade both Jewish students and Jewish professors to stay at university. So I was kicked out. I think it was in 1942 when they started systematically rounding up Jews, and the people who were rounded up were brought together in a theatre that had been assigned for that purpose. They had removed all the usual seats so it was one big room; and the people who were rounded up were brought to that room, and had to wait there until there was a train available to take them to concentration or rather, to an extermination camp. We were told that the people who had to go to Germany, would have to work there; that was a lot of nonsense. About the extermination camps, we knew and we told ourselves, well, that’s not where we would be going. In this theatre, a room was set apart for medical help. The people were taken there, dragged out of their houses, regardless of their condition, so quite a few sick people and disabled people were thrown in the theatre. And a few Jewish doctors, and I remember one named …, and a few nurses and orderlies, and a medical student and that was me, were allowed to look after the sick people who were brought in. This I did for about half a year, I think. In that time, I saw hundreds and hundreds of people that I knew very well, brought in and being brought to the train to be brought to death camps, including two cousins of mine, both Simone van Norden and Jacques van Norden. Including a girl that I had been in love with, Betty Brücher. The Brücher is a family that had four girls and a boy. Of these, the two youngest girls, not the one I was in love with, survived. The one I was courting had another boyfriend who was in another part of the theatre; and I was talking to her. She asked me if I couldn’t bring her real boyfriend, which I did. I left them alone. Neither of them survived. While I was working there, my mother was brought in. She had been taken out of her house. And I was suddenly face to face with her. She was among the deportees. And I had one second to think over what to do. I was an orderly, I was in the medical department, so I picked her up as if she was sick and carried her to the medical department and later smuggled her out, and brought her back home. After that, it was clear that in the end, nobody would survive this and we decided to go in hiding. Not together. And my mother ultimately was found and deported. She was killed in Auschwitz [Nazi extermination camp in Poland] on 4 January, 1944.
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