Even though I was born 11 years after the liberation, World War Two has always played an imperceptible, latent role in my life. I spent much of my youth with my grandparents. When they told stories, they were never specific about dates, but said things like ‘before the war’, ‘during the war’ or ‘after the war’.
Of my family of 75, including all in-laws, my granddad and grandma, my mother and uncle were the only ones to survive.
On our sideboard stood a number of photographs of people I didn’t know. On the wall hung a beautiful oval frame containing a picture of a young boy and a slightly older girl. When I asked who they were, my grandmother replied: ‘they were killed’. I understood that killed meant World War Two. Gassed, I knew about that too.
My granddad, Hartog Frank, never said a word to me about the war, apart from one occasion when he told me how he had escaped from Havelte labour camp.
His story stalled after his journey on foot to Amsterdam, where he discovered that the homes of all his relatives were empty. My granddad couldn’t talk about the war — too much suffering, too much pain.
Sometimes my grandmother told me about the harsh journeys by bike in search of food from farmers and to safe houses where her children were hiding, but that was all she said.
It was also later in life that I understood what had always disturbed me so much: 71 family members, yet they were NEVER spoken about. I never heard a single name uttered. Murdered and never mentioned again.
Some ten years ago I started to piece together bit by bit some information about my family, and I started to search through the Amsterdam archive for my family’s cards. After comparing the names with those on the Digital Monument to the Jewish Community in the Netherlands, I discovered the names of 23 immediate family members, and they all found a place in my head. In the end I went to Yad Vashem to commemorate them there. Their names were recorded again when I was able to plant 23 trees and was able to receive an impressive stack of accompanying certificates.
In the process, I was able to recover a small portion of my family and finally give them names, names that are now etched in my memory.
The names of those beautiful children in the photograph are Marcel Eli Frank and Anna Frank.
Nino de Boer