Frank Vermeer (1949) from Winsum describes the history of his Jewish family in the book Bij Leven en Welfare. His parents passed off a Jewish baby as their own child to avoid deportation to the camps. “She became my sister Cari.”
Vermeer, a former lawyer and lecturer in administrative law at the University of Groningen, tells the history of his family from 1826 to 1970 in a mixture of non-fiction and fiction. His great-grandfather Abraham Salomon Levy, for example, passed away long ago, but – like them in the TV show Welcome to the Romans often say – he makes an exception for his descendant. The result is a – fictional – conversation from man to man at the Jewish cemetery Ohlsdorf in Hamburg. In his own garden in Winsum, Vermeer bumps into his great-grandmother Rosalie Vos-Boasson and great-uncle Louis Levy also overcomes his shyness for once and talks about his homosexuality.
‘Father was given up by his mother’
Vermeer: ,,The Second World War plays a major role in the book. My mother was Jewish, my father was not. My father Jan Vermeer was given up by his mother and lived the first two years of his life in a children’s home. My grandmother and her friend – we called them Grandma and Grandma – took him from the home and raised him as their own child. I suspect these ladies were in a relationship, but we don’t know for sure.”
His mother Rosalie Vos was born in Assen. Grandfather Isidor Vos and his brother Henri owned a business selling ‘colonial goods’ – such as candied peel and ginger – and was also politically active. For example, he became alderman of the Drenthe capital. “These brothers have always been together. They lived next door to each other on Park Street.
Grandpa, alderman Isidor Vos in Assen, murdered in Sobibor
Isidor Vos was murdered in Sobibor concentration camp in 1943. ,,The book contains the texts of Isidor’s last letters to his family, sent from Westerbork and thrown from the train on the way to Sobibor. In our conversation he gives a detailed account of the deportation and his last minutes on the way to the showers from which no water, but gas flows.”
Henri died in 1942 in the Jewish psychiatric institution ‘Het Apeldoornse Bosch’ in Apeldoorn, just before all residents were deported and murdered.
Jewish baby passed for deceased sister
“My mother was initially spared deportation because my father was not Jewish. According to the Germans, this was a ‘privilegierte Mischehe’, or a ‘privileged mixed marriage’ of which the Jewish partner would not be deported. If you wanted to be extra protected, there had to be a child. My parents then decided to get pregnant. My sister Cari was born, but she died a few hours after giving birth. That was of course terrible for all kinds of reasons: the loss of a child, but also that you were extra vulnerable. My father had contacts in the resistance and arranged for a baby of a Jewish couple who had gone into hiding to be brought to their house in Bilthoven in the deepest secrecy within three days. This girl came to lie in the cradle and passed for my sister during the war. But she also really became my sister. Her parents were killed in the concentration camps and my parents adopted her after the war.”
Apparently this did not go without a hitch. Vermeer writes in his book about ‘the struggle for the Jewish child’. “She kept the same name as my deceased sister: Cari.”
Daughter of well-known NSB member bought house from Jewish grandfather
His grandfather Isidor’s house is bought by Maria Voges during the war in 1944, after he was killed in Sobibor. ,,Her father was a very well-known NSB member. She fled to the Netherlands during Mad Tuesday, returned after the liberation and was imprisoned. The family will get my grandfather’s house back. But that woman intrigued me. Who was she? What became of her? I really wanted to know that. I found a lot of information in archives and online. During the war she became pregnant by a German and married non-commissioned officer. So she was on her own. After the war she married a Dutchman, an old SS man who fought on the Eastern Front. She also gave birth to a child. I came into contact with both children – two daughters – and we spoke in front of the fireplace at my house. It was a very special meeting.”
Thursday is the presentation of the book. ,,The first copy is for my sister Cari and my brother Rutger Jan. It is named after the resistance fighter who brought Cari to us.”
By Life and Well – 150 Years of Jewish Family History (publisher Koninklijke Van Gorcum). 216 pp. Price: 25 euros.