Our latest blog on the Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD) 2020 theme, Stand Together, is by Dr Martin Stern MBE, a survivor of the Holocaust. Martin describes how numerous people risked their lives to stand in solidarity with him and his family during the Holocaust.
Dr Martin Stern MBE at the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust Youth Conference 2019.
My own story illustrates the ‘Stand Together’ theme. My father, Rudolf Stern, stayed in Berlin till 1938 trying to oppose the Nazis. As a young architect his ambition had been to design good housing for working-class people. A young woman architect, not Jewish but fiercely anti-Nazi, fell in love with him. Under the Nuremberg Laws marriage between a non-Jew and a Jew was punishable by public humiliation followed by concentration camp. She fled her country to marry him, overcoming obstacles put in her way by Dutch officialdom. In 1942 as she was dying from a hospital infection after the birth of my sister, she was hounded by Nazi officials to divorce my father because he was Jewish. Paradoxically Jews already married to a non-Jew had a degree of protection against persecution, therefore she refused to divorce my father in order that he would continue to be protected. I owe my existence to her courage and, although my father was murdered by the Nazis(he died in March 1945, not on his arrest in 1944), it is possible that her actions prolonged his life and might have given him some chance of survival.
My father was hidden by, amongst others, the Boogaard family, a devoutly religious Protestant farming family near Amsterdam airport. This is an extraordinary story in its own right and I intend to devote a blog post just to them. They were Christians who believed it their duty to help the Jews, and two of them died in concentration camps for this.
With my father in hiding and my mother dead, I was taken in by a Dutch couple, another young architect and his wife, Johannes and Cathariena Rademakers, in their small flat near where Anne Frank and her family were hidden. At the same time another Dutch family, the Bangmas, took in my baby sister Erica. The Nazi occupiers had publicised their order that those who hid Jews would face similar fates. Johannes Rademakers was murdered in Neuengamme concentration camp near Hamburg as a result. The Bangmas were forced to go into hiding under dreadful circumstances to avoid arrest, deportation and very possibly death.
Other Dutch people were involved to make our concealment from the Nazis possible. The domestic help of the Rademakers was necessarily involved and was just 17 years old at the time. She is still alive today. The woman who had me in her crèche at the age of two played a part in my movements between leaving home and joining the Rademakers couple. The village milkman where the Bangmas lived ran a mile to their home to warn them that Nazis were coming to arrest the husband.
The teacher of my class at school tried to pretend that I wasn’t present when two Dutch collaborators came to arrest me.
All these people and more stood with us when the occupying Nazis wanted to arrest and kill my baby sister and I. They did so when probably more people collaborated with the Nazis than resisted and the majority just tried to carry on as normal which suited the Nazis.
You can learn more about Martin Stern's experiences during the Holocaust in this video in which he is asked questions about his experiences by members of the HMDT Youth programmes and HMD Youth Board.
The HMDT blog highlights topics relevant to our work in Holocaust and genocide education and commemoration. We hear from a variety of guest contributors who provide a range of personal perspectives on issues relevant to them, including those who have experienced state-sponsored persecution and genocide. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of HMDT.