GEORGE AND URSULA
Moniek Hover & Juriaan van Waalwijk
As the war progressed, Jewish persecution in Europe was increasing at a frightening rate. Concentration camps were built in various places in Europe, including in North Brabant. An SS concentration camp was established at Vught in which about 12,000 Jews; men, women and children, were imprisoned.
George and Ursula Levy were born in Germany to Jewish parents. Father Max was imprisoned during the Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass), and died at the beginning of 1939, shortly after he was freed. Mother Lucia was then on her own with two young children.
In April 1939 Lucia put George and Ursula – then aged 9 and 4 – on the train to the Netherlands in the hope that they would be safe there from the growing hatred of Jews in Germany. Jozef van Mackelenbergh from ’s-Hertogenbosch arranged for the children to be taken in by the nuns in the boarding house at the St. Jacobus Convent in Eersel.
The nuns looked after the children well but could not prevent George and Ursula from being taken to Camp Vught in April 1943. The two children were in the camp without their parents, so fellow prisoner Flo was assigned as their nanny. Camp life was very hard, especially for young children; there was very little to eat and many children became sick. George took care of his little sister as well as he could. Jozef van Mackelenbergh visited the children occasionally.
In June 1943 the Nazis decided that all Jewish children under 16 would be deported from the camp. They made it look as though the children were being taken to a special children’s camp. In reality the children would be transported via Westerbork to extermination camps. Van Mackelenbergh explained to the camp commander that George and Ursula had a catholic father in America. In this way, he managed to protect them from the Kindertransport that 1269 Jewish children would eventually pay for with their lives. However the danger was not yet over for George and Ursula.
When later on Flo was also threatened with transportation, she screamed: ‘I have to look after the Levy children! They need me!’ An SS officer turned to George and asked him if they really needed her. George didn’t have much time to think: if he said yes, there was a small chance that Flo would be allowed to stay, but also a chance that he and Ursula would have to go with the transport. If he said no, Flo would definitely be deported but then maybe he and Ursula would be safe, at least for the time being. George said, ‘No, I don’t need her.’
For a boy of only 13, George had to make an inhumane decision about life or death. This decision continued to haunt him. ‘It bothered me very, very much for many, many years. I used to have nightmares about that.’
Eventually George and Ursula were also deported, via Westerbork to Bergen Belsen. Miraculously they survived the war together and after a gruelling journey they returned to the convent in Eersel, where they heard that their mother had died in a concentration camp. In 1947 George and Ursula emigrated to live with their aunt and uncle in America.
George and Ursula have talked and written about their horrendous experiences. They think back with gratitude to that short period with their loving parents. In 1997 Ursula commented on it: ‘We had wonderful parents. I had 4 years of their nurturing, love and caring. I believe that those early beginnings helped us through the rest of our lives.’
George and Ursula Levy