119 Lives Unlived: Jan Slomp tells the story of how his whole village united to protect Jews during WWII
Nieuwlande is the only village in the Netherlands to have been awarded the Righteous Gentile award by Israel’s Holocaust museum, Yad Vashem. Between 1942 and 1943 every household in the village sheltered at least one Jewish person at the risk of being killed.
I meet and interview Jan Slomp whose father Rev Frits Slomp encouraged the village to hide Jews. Jan shows me where one of the hiding places was – out in an open field, under the ground. When I ask him if families had not been afraid – he answers that fear was not the motive, saying, “If you don’t resist, you lose your self respect”. I insist that it was extremely risky – parents risked having their children shot by the Nazis if they were found out. As Jan answered me, parents risked a lot more if they didn’t do it.
I wonder why Flip didn’t go and hide in the village – instead he chose to return to Amsterdam with false papers and hide near his parents. Perhaps he wanted to be close to them? But chances are that if he hid in Nieuwlande village he would’ve survived as all Jews hidden there saw the war through.
119 Lives Unlived: Jannie Wiegman, the founder of the Molengoot camp monument
Flip wrote his 86 letters from Molengoot labour camp. Today there is nothing there. The entire camp was destroyed and only a small monument to the Jewish boys who laboured there indicates that this huge field was a place where Flip and so many others spent the last months of their lives, before being put on transports and sent to Sobibor, Auschwitz and other camps. Jannie is responsible for organizing together with the “Stichting Joods Werkkamp Molengoot” the monument that remembers their story.
119 Lives Unlived: Ceesje Drenten, the postlady who delivered letters from imprisoned Jews in WWII
I had wondered how Flip, who was in Molengoot camp behind barbed wires, was able to send letters out. There was a twelve-year-old Christian girl, Ceesje Drenthen, who at risk to herself would come to the camp at night and near the toilets at the far end of the camp, meet the boys who would pass her their letters through the barbed wire. They would tell their commanders they were going to the bathroom and instead meet Ceesje there. Today she is 85-years-old. She points out to me where the toilets had been, where she’d reached through the barbed wire and how she'd felt driven to help these boys. She remembers Flip and told me the boys in the camp called him "Flippie" - that he was always joking. She says she’d hide the letters under her dress and then go and post them from a nearby post office.
119 Lives Unlived: Sippy Boersma, the woman who knew Flip Slier first hand
If there is one regret I have in making this documentary it is that I didn’t do it sooner. Karel can der Schaaf was Flip’s closest friend before the war broke out and like most young people at the time, Flip and Karel belonged to the AJC, the Socialist Youth Club. Karel was not Jewish which is why he was able to survive the war (although he went into hiding) and his wife, Sippy, told me he had spent many Friday night Shabbat dinners at Flip’s parents' house before the war. I meet Sippy at the Westerbork memorial – where all the Jews (including my family) were taken before being sent to death camps. At the camp I find the original letter of my grandfather’s sister Gretjie – she wrote from the camp to her two sons that she and her husband, my great uncle Edward, were okay and the boys needed to be strong. They did not survive.
Historian Lion Tokkie is with me when I meet Sippy and he explains what was the AJC. Sippy then recalls what she can about Flip from what what Karel told her. Karel died last year, aged 92 – if Flip had survived he would be 91 years-old today.
119 Lives Unlived: Paula Slier uncovers information about her family history in the Auschwitz archives
I have the names of 119 members of my family who died in the Holocaust but I understand from historians that number could be double because all the “Slier” women would have changed their surnames when they married. I know nothing about most of the 119 family members other than seeing their names recorded by Yad Vashem. In the Auschwitz archives I find eight death certificates – one records that a certain Meir Slier survived one-and-a-half years in Auschwitz before being deported to Buchenwald. To think that he was deported just days before Auschwitz was liberated! As my guide tells me, these death certificates are nonsense – they list as causes of death illnesses like pneumonia, and the times are fictitious. I assume most of my family was gassed on arrival at Auschwitz and hence no one took the time to write about them.
119 Lives Unlived: Hermina Vrijlink kept letters from concentration camps for 70 years
She knew Flip. She was thirteen years old in 1942 and recalls how during some nights Flip and his closest friend in the camp, Simon Loonstijn (who was last seen at Monowitz concentration camp or Auschwitz 3 – his mother never gave up hope of finding him until she died in 2000) would come to her parents' house for food. The Vrijlinks are a Christian family who owned the farm next to Molengoot and at risk to themselves, would feed the boys. Flip writes about them in his letters - especially about the oldest sister Gees.
Hermina remembers Flip always smiling and being full of fun. She shows me letters that her family kept written by Flip and Simon thanking the Vrijlinks for their kindness and assistance.
Hermina was always kept upstairs in her bedroom when Flip and Simon came past – presumably because her parents were afraid she’d say something in school and get the family into trouble. When I ask why her family helped Flip and Simon she replies, “This is normal” – much like what Jan Slomp tells me. As much as the Holocaust brought out the worst in people, it also brought out the best - amazing acts of human kindness in the most unimaginable circumstances.
119 Lives Unlived: Judith Polak, Paula Slier's cousin whose grandfather survived WWII, unlike most members of their family
My father’s first cousin, Nol Slier, survived the war in hiding. His granddaughter Judith Polak lives today in Amsterdam and for the first time I meet her. She shows me photographs I have never seen before that were kept – and treasured – by her late mom Anita. When I meet Judith she is in hospital recovering from an operation she’d recently had.