DEAD IN A HABIT
Trappist Monastery, Berkel-Enschot
As a child, Veronica (born 1911) was known simply as ‘Wies’. She was raised in Bergen op Zoom in a devout Catholic family. The fact that her parents, Mr and Mrs Löb, were once Jews was never discussed, all that mattered were worship of Jesus and reverence of the Holy Virgin Mary. Where better to do that than in the monastery? And that’s precisely where the children’s future lay.
‘I will give you all to Jesus my children.’ And so, beginning in 1926, their mother, Mrs Löb, waved goodbye to six of her children as one by one, they entered the monastery. Three brothers were sent to the Koningshoeven Abbey in Berkel-Enschot and two sisters to the nearby Koningsoord Trappist convent. As the youngest of the six, the sickly Wies arrived there in 1937, whereupon she became known as Sister Veronica.
On 2 August 1942 at around 3.30 in the morning, Veronica was singing in the choir, the only aspect of convent life that she enjoyed. For Veronica, the outside world — even visits — were viewed through bars and she communicated with her fellow nuns in gestures. She had no idea of what was happening outside and knew nothing of the declaration being read in churches across the land, on behalf of the Archbishop. The declaration was a protest at the deportation of Jews, an act that caused the Nazis to become incensed and which led to an open hunt for Jewish Catholics.
An hour later the police arrived and two of the Löb sisters were arrested. The other nuns urged them to flee, ‘No’, said one of the sisters, ‘I’ll surrender to my Lord’. But there was no sign of Veronica, who was hiding, too sick to go with them. And the police were in a hurry. They drove the two nuns to Koningshoeven Abbey where her three brothers were also arrested. Again, they were advised to flee. ‘No, we mustn’t. They’ve threatened to kill ten priests if we don’t give ourselves up.’
It was only later that the sick Veronica heard what had happened afterwards. The brothers were taken without any resistance. There were raucous sounds from outside for what was an enthusiastic, and unexpected, family reunion inside the police bus. Our sisters! We haven’t seen one another for fourteen years! ‘Looks like you’re having a party,’ mumbled one of the SS officers. ‘That’s right! You’re just helping us get to heaven quicker!’.
The party was soon over. The entire group was transferred to Amersfoort, Westerbork and finally to Auschwitz where, in the autumn of 1942, the five brothers and sisters were sent to the gas chambers. Veronica was summoned to report six times, which she did. God was obviously smiling down on her, as she managed to escape persecution every time. On one occasion, the Jewish Council came to her rescue, on another the monastic doctor. And when she finally did have to go to Westerbork, she was released after just five days. Overcome by TB, she died at the monastery on 1 August 1944, three months before liberation.
On 2 August 1942, 245 Jewish Catholics were arrested along with the Löb siblings. Their fates prompted diverse reactions, with the Catholic Church praising them as martyrs who had converted to the true faith. Some Jews, however, accused them of apostasy. But ultimately, it mattered very little since the Nazis knew precisely who they wanted.
The Löb siblings, six of whom entered monastic life
(Image: NIOD, undated)