In december 2017 werd ik benaderd door Yehuda Sternlicht. Zijn overgrootvader Jozef Sternlicht had in het vluchtelingenkamp gezeten in de Hoek. Of ik misschien documenten had waaruit dit bleek, en de precieze datum wist van zijn aankomst? Hier kon ik hem mee helpen. Yehuda is een boek over de geschiedenis van zijn familie aan het schrijven en er zaten nogal wat gaten in het verhaal van zijn overgrootvader. Samen zijn we op zoek gegaan naar meer informatie, en hebben we redelijk wat gaten kunnen vullen. Hier leest u zijn verhaal.
*Deze pagina is in het Engels zodat de familie van Sternlicht dit ook kan lezen*
Jozef Sternlicht was born in Sieniawa, Poland on 5 July 1897. He attended the Jeschiwa, a school for the study of the Talmud. He served in the army for two years during the First World War¹, and in 1919 he moved to Dusseldorf, where he started a business in foodstuffs. His father, Yechiel Mier, had died, and the poorness in Galicia was very big, so his mother send him there to send home some money from there. In 1923 he married Ester Rivka Teichner, who had been born on 28 December 1900 in Nowy Sacz, Poland, and had come to Düsseldorf in 1922. They had three children, Chayim, Bernard and Abraham Yakov. In Düsseldorf they had a furniture and textile business.
On Thursday 28 October 1938, they were expelled to Zbazsyn in the middle of the night, during the so-called Polenaktion. The Polish government wanted to revoke the passports of all Polish Jews living in Germany. The Nazi government did not agree with this and rounded up about 17.000 of these Jews and expelled them, around 8000 of them to the region of the above-mentioned town. But Poland didn’t want to let them into the country, so they became stuck in the no-man’s land between the two countries. They were housed in barracks, stables and in some cases, with private families. The situation they found themselves in was appalling. The first day, when they were not allowed to go into the village of Zbazsyn, Jozef and Ester stayed in horse barracks where they slept on their own luggage. On the second day, when they were let into Zbaszyn, they were all in one big room. It was only after a few days that they managed to hire a private home with the money Ester Rifka had knitted in her dress just before the deportation.
One of the expelled men, Zindel Grynszpan, wrote about the terrible conditions in which they were living to his son, Herschel, who lived in Paris. Herschel was so incensed that he bought a gun and went to the German Embassy, where he shot the first diplomat that he saw, Ernst vom Rath. Vom Rath died a few days later. The Germans were furious and retaliated on the night of November 9 by burning down Synagogues, beating and killing Jews and thrashing Jewish shops. This became known as the Kristallnacht.
The situation in Zbazsyn lasted for many many months. Although many people had already escaped legally and illegally to Poland, the Sternlichts understood that Poland was not the right place to go to now. In april of 1939 Jozef sent his children to an orphanage in Holland. Then, on July 15 1939 he and his wife were allowed to go home to Düsseldorf, to liquidate the business and try to save their house. They were still there when, on 3 September, Germany invaded Poland, and war was declared by Britain and France. They managed to escape to the Netherlands, and arrived in Oostzaan on October 13, where they were registered.
They lived in the Honingstraat 48. Also living there was Fajga Rozenszajn-Korn*, who had also been expelled to Zsbazsyn. Her husband Jacob had been able to escape to Holland at the beginning of 1938 with his son Leo. Leo was placed in an orphanage and Jacob in a prison.
In December Jozef Sternlicht was sent to the refugeecamp in Hoek van Holland. According to the weekly reports made up by the camp commandant he arrived there on the 19th.
In February of 1940 Jacob Rozenszajn was sent to the same camp with 4 other Jewish refugees from Oostzaan.
Jozef had some freedom to move about the village of Hoek van Holland with the other prisoners. Also, he was allowed to visit his wife: once a week for a day, or fortnightly for two days. He chose the latter.
When war broke out on May 10, the camp was in the middle of artilleryfire between German parachutists who had landed nearby, and the coastal fortification. It was decided to evacuate the camp to the next village, where the men, not only Jewish refugees, political and religious refugees, but also German deserters, sheltered in the buildings of the flower auction. Holland capitulated on the 15th, and they all went back to the camp on the 17th. On the 19th they were all taken away by buses to Germany. According to one refugee’s testimony for the Shoa Foundation 1996, Simon Gutter, there were SS guards in each bus. It seemed like they didn’t know what to do with the refugees, as they were probably only there to take the deserters away.
Gutter says that they were first taken to the Prisoner of War camp at Hemer. But the authorities soon found out that of course, they were not Prisoners of War, in their civilian suits. So they were taken to the Gestapo prison “Steinwache” in Dortmund on the 24th of May. They arrived at 20.45h**.
From there they were sent on to different places, but most were sent to the police prison in Bochum on the 27th of July, at 10.00 am. From there some were taken to the prison in Herne.
But Jozef stayed in the prison of Bochum. He sent a letter through a person named Max, to his sister in law, Beile Faber. One familymember writes about trying to get emigration papers for Jozef, she says they can send the papers to Das jüdische Gemeinde, Wilhelmstrasse 16, Bochum; the Jewish community. The Germans forced Jews to live together, and according to a book by Hubert Schneider there were many such houses in Bochum. Jozef says he can write only every two weeks. His wife, who was in England at that point, tried to get papers for him to be set free and be allowed to emigrate. He had no family in Germany who could help him.
Jozef’s wife meanwhile stayed in Oostzaan. When war broke out, she went to the Jewish Committee to ask about her husband. They told her the camp inmates would be sent to Engeland. She could not get through to her children. She managed to get away to Engeland on one of the ships leaving IJmuiden. She did not know where her children were.
Miraculously, they went to England on the 14th from IJmuiden too. They were saved by Truus Wijsmuller-Meijer, who managed to get all the refugeechildren from the Burgerweeshuis in Amsterdam on to buses and to the harbour, where they escaped on the SS Bodegraven (when they arrived in Holland they were sent to the Quarantine facility in Heijplaat, Rotterdam. From there they went,via a couple of other places, to the Burgerweeshuis in Amsterdam).
Here is a video of Truus Wijsmuller talking about that day (in Dutch).
For six weeks Ester did not know what had happened to her children. Then one day, a cousin of Jozef who was in London, found a woman on the street, crying. When he asked her what was wrong, she said that her friend had a son, who had been in the Burgerweeshuis, and he was able to come to England, but her own son stayed behind in Holland and that was why she was crying.
When the cousin heard that the children from the Burgerweeshuis were in Engeland, he went straight to Holloway prison, were Ester was at that time, to tell her. Ester was in prison because she was suspected of being a spy….
Yehuda does not know how and when Ester and her sons were reunited, but in 1942 they were together again in Manchester. After that they moved to London and stayed there.
Jozef, according to searches done into his whereabouts after the war, was sent to Albrechtstrasse 8 in Berlin. This was the Headquarters of the Gestapo. We do not know if he was actually there. But there was a file of him there (according to someone from the Topographie des Terrors, a documentation centre housed in the ruins of the building). On the 6th of November 1940, Jozef was sent to Sachsenhausen. As Sachsenhausen was just outside Berlin, the two things could be linked. We will never know for sure and probably never find out…
At one point Jozef was sent to Gross-Rosen concentration camp. He died there of unknown causes at an unknown date.
¹ Yehuda, thinks that he was not really in the army, she (Ester, his wife) just wrote this in the hope to easier get a visa to get in to the USA.
**according to the prisonregister, a copy of which is in the Landesarchiv of Nordrhein Westfalen
Nationaal Archief, Den Haag, Ministerie van Justitie: Rijksvreemdelingendienst (RVD) en Taakvoorgangers, nummer toegang, 2.09.45, inventarisnummer 1767, weekrapport over het tijdvak van 18 t/m 24 december
Information Sachenhausen: Russisches Staatliches Militärarchiv, Moskau, 1367/1/196, Bl. 417