When the plan for the Names Memorial arose, I didn’t hesitate for a moment and adopted, on behalf of my father, the name of my grandfather. I presented the certificate to my father as a surprise gift.
I knew from a very early age that I had a Jewish grandfather. But since the subject rarely came up for discussion, it didn’t occupy me too much. That changed in 1995 when my parents moved to Meppel, and thus closer to Westerbork transit camp. So it didn’t take long to go there. After that, blood turned out to be thicker than water. Through Westerbork, I learned more about by grandfather, Barend Hagenaar. That’s when my search started. I sifted through my whole family tree in municipal archives in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague. I also obtained lots of information through the Red Cross, and soon realized the terrible things that had happened. Of my immediate relations alone, some 55 people were killed. In some cases whole families, such as an older brother of my grandfather, his wife, and thirteen children. When you read that, it hits you very hard. But something else started to grow: pride. I’m proud to be a descendant of such a family and that I have Jewish blood. In 2005 I travelled with my father to Poland. Organized through the Netherlands Auschwitz Committee, the trip was very special, very sad, very painful, yet also very beautiful. We walked through the camps there and realized that our family once walked there too, towards their pointless deaths. That’s when it all hit us. In 2012 I returned to Poland with my father, this time to visit Sobibor. We wanted to do this because, when we visited in 2005, we found out that we could place a memorial stone there, which we arranged through the Sobibor Foundation. Now we simply wanted to see that stone with our own eyes. This trip was also very special. I could write a lot about it, but then this would be a very long letter. I do have one big wish, however, and that is to find a photograph of my grandfather. Because even though we’ve learned a lot about him, we still don’t know what he looked like.
May 4 is a day when we remember those who are no longer with us.
May 4 is a day when we pause at 8 in the evening for two minutes of silence, to think of those who are no longer here.
May 4 for me is a day to mourn and to take time to recall all my loved ones who could not be here.
But sometimes I wonder whether we have learned anything from what happened.
More and more hatred and violence is directed at communities whom we don’t want here.
And if things get really out of hand, will another idiot stand up to destroy those who are not welcome here?
In Israel, schoolchildren at a certain age and soldiers are obliged to visit the concentration camps in Poland every year.
Why aren’t schoolchildren here obliged to visit Westerbork transit camp once to see and feel what it was like not to be allowed to stay here?
So that they can help ensure it will never happen again.
For if one madman stands up, he can ensure that you will never get to know your family members, because they could not stay here, and you will always be left to wonder about what might have been.
This text and a photograph of the stone for my grandfather taken on May 4 are posted on my Facebook page and now on this website too.