A Hidden Child Found
By Helga M. Morrow
31 January, 2008

On Friday, January 19th 2007 the Executive Director of our community association informed me that her office had received an email from someone who was looking for Helga Morrow and although she forwarded the email to me, she wondered whether it was a hoax. It was not. The episode referred to in the email happened 63 years ago during the Second World War in the Netherlands when I was a Jewish child in hiding.

The email started as follows:

“Dear Mrs Morrow,
I’m looking for Mrs Helga Morrow, the daughter of Mr Felix + Eva Magnus. If you are so, you’ll understand the reason of this mail. I’m Leo Bielders, the youngest son of the Bielders family, in Houthem St. Gerlach, the Netherlands. My family is looking for contact with your family, as after so many years we wish to remember an important episode of both families during WWII.”

Here is my story: I am Jewish – a Holocaust survivor- and was a Hidden Child during World War II in the Netherlands.

In May 1940, when the Germans invaded and quickly conquered Holland, we lived in Breda,, a small city in the southern part of Holland. Restrictions on Jews in Breda, the city of my birth, began in 1941. There were eleven of us in our household – my parents and their five children, my mother’s sister Paula and her daughter Ruth, my grandfather and Jennie, the daughter of my father’s sister. The first directive was that all Jewish people in our town had to register with the local authorities. The Jewish community was small, well organized and readily participated in the registration process, not knowing at that time that this action would greatly facilitate the round up and deportation of its members. The information that was collected included the addresses, places of work, gender and date and place of birth of every Jewish person in the community. The efficient registration system made it very easy for the Nazis to find us. During the first 7-8 months of 1941, other than the registration process, my family was able to continue to lead relatively ordinary lives. Although my parents became increasingly aware of the attacks on Jews in Holland, they did not yet feel the imminent danger that would overwhelm us so completely and in such a short time.

The dramatic changes began in late 1941, when Jews were ordered to reregister and were issued new identity cards imprinted with a large J. Those cards were necessary to receive rationing coupons, which allowed us to buy food and other necessities. We were also ordered to put yellow and black patches with the J on all our clothing. Other restrictions followed rapidly; all radios, binoculars, and cameras were confiscated, shopping hours were restricted to one hour a day between 3-4 pm, we were not allowed to have servants or other non-Jewish people living in our house, nor were Jewish children allowed to attend school.

Deportations to the concentration camps started in the spring of 1942. The first member of our family to be “called up” was my cousin Jennie who was ordered to go to the Dutch transit/work camp in Westerbork in the North of Holland, where she was held a prisoner for several months before she made a daring escape. She and her sister Hettie were able to stay in hiding during the remaining war years, but both her parents were transported to Auschwitz where they died. My aunt Paula and her 15-year-old daughter Ruth were next to be called up. They were told to report for work at “Westerbork” as well, and although my aunt had been offered a hiding place with a dentist for whom she worked, they went as ordered. After a few days in Westerbork, they were transported to Auschwitz, where they were murdered a short time later.

The remaining members of our family stayed in our house in Breda until one night in September 1942 when there was a knock on our door. My father opened door and found a gentleman standing on our doorstep who asked to come in. My father recognized him, as he was the brother of the woman who owned a little grocery store just down street from where we lived and where we shopped. His name was Mr. Van Pinxteren and he turned out to be one of our saviors. He told us that he had seen my grandfather walking in the neighborhood with his grandchildren in tow and that he also knew what was happening to Jewish people. Of course on the sleeve of my grandfather’s coat was the J. He informed us that there was to be another round up (razia) of Jews and that we would likely to be among them. He told my parents that, as he was an official with the city government, he could help us get false papers. He also informed us that we had to leave Breda immediately and that he would help us to get new names. We left a few days later, splitting up the family. My sister Anita and my brother Norman left first to live temporarily with a family in another part of town. Their bed was a bathtub and they were told not to make any noise. The family was afraid that if the people living in the apartment below them would find out that there were Jewish children hiding there, they would report this to the Nazis, and everyone’s live would be in danger. After two weeks of living in the bathroom, they left on a night train for Bilthoven, a small city in the middle of the country, where the Boeke family voluntarily took them in. Betty and Kees Boeke, devout Quakers, founded the first true Montessori School in Holland called the “Werkplaats” and they welcomed Anita and Norman along with several other Jewish children with open arms. My baby sister Rita was placed with a wonderful Catholic family in Lisse. She died of diphtheria a year later because as a child in hiding she could not obtain medical care. My parents, grandfather, one other sister and I took a train to Maastricht – a city in the South of Holland. My sister Ingrid and I did not stay there long; rather we were sent to the center of Holland and moved from stranger to stranger and house to house throughout the remaining years of the war. After some painful encounters with cruel families, we finally also ended up in Bilthoven with a daughter of the Boeke family. This was a tremendous relief for us.

Meanwhile, my parents and grandfather remained in the South of Holland, living as non-Jewish refugees in a number of hotels and boarding homes for two years. Finally, in early 1944, my mother found a few rooms she could rent with the Bielders family (see email above) in Houthem, a small town, near Maastricht in the southern most tip of Holland. The families shared the kitchen, but maintained separate households. Later in 1944, my mother, at great risk, traveled to Bilthoven to visit her children and to bring my sister Ingrid and me “home” to the Bielders’ house. We stayed there until the end of 1944. It was a mixed blessing. Of course, we were grateful to be back with our parents and to be in Houthem. We were among the first Dutch to be liberated on September 17, 1944. Had we stayed in our hiding places further north, we would not have been liberated until April/May 1945. Yet, it was extremely difficult for all of us to live with our unwilling hosts. It seems that due to the severe housing shortage, people with spare rooms were forced to take in refugees and our hostess was angry that she was required to shelter us. The Bielders had been told that my family was Christian and had lived in Emden, Germany, but had moved back to Holland when the war broke out. Of course none of that was true. We were Jewish refugees with false passports, false names and false identity cards and our family was split up.

All families who voluntarily sheltered Jews risked their own lives. The danger that Jews in hiding faced daily became apparent to us after liberation when we were told that someone known to us in Houthem would have denounced us to the Nazis if that person had known we were Jewish. Whether this would have happened in actuality, we will never know.

It is surprising that among the many people, who voluntarily helped us survive the war years that it is a member of the Bielders family, who made so much effort to find us. He searched Google and eventually found me listed as a member of the Board of RRLRAIA in one of the newsletters now readily available on the Web. He contacted the office and the rest is now history.

Since that email from Leo Bielders, both my sister Anita and I have had been corresponding with him and his older brother. We are trying to understand each side of the story, hoping to shed some light on a period in history that was so traumatic to so many.

There is much more to our Holocaust experience than written here in this article. Most of our large extended family died in concentration camps. My sister Anita made a tape of our Holocaust story, which is available at the Holocaust Museum in Washington. Anita and I have also told our story to the Steven Spielberg’s, Shoah Foundation, so that that period in history will never be forgotten.

Through our efforts, Mr. Van Pinxteren and Kees and Betty Boeke were officially recognized by the Yad Vashem Museum in Jerusalem as righteous ones. Trees were planted in their honor and they will always be remembered for the sacrifices they made for others and us.

It is generally not known that 95% of all Jews in Holland perished during WWII – a larger proportion than any country in Europe. My immediate family was among the few fortunate ones and we will always be extremely grateful to those who put their own lives at risk so that we could survive.