WHEN I SAW THE WAR THROUGH HIS EYES
Simon van Adelberg was secretly in love with his aunt Maaltje, and particularly loved her red hair. Aunt Maaltje van Adelberg-Hartog and her sister Betje Hartog were both childless. Simon and his brother Louis were spoilt rotten; the aunts had a cupboard full of toys. The sisters ran a tobacco shop in Tilburg.
Simon’s father – Louis – was also a shopkeeper. He had a textile shop by the Markt in Waalwijk. Simon was twelve years old when the war broke out. Initially, life seemed to go on as usual, but gradually the life of the Van Adelberg family became restricted by the German occupiers. On 28 August 1942 a train left from the station in Waalwijk to ‘s-Hertogenbosch (Den Bosch ) with six Jews on board. They complied with the request to report and were taken to Westerbork transit camp.
The Jewish Louis van Adelberg and his two sons were lucky this time because their mother, Anna Maria van Lieshout, wasn’t Jewish – but how much longer before they were put on the train? The textile shop had been closed long ago, they had given all their money to the German occupiers and Louis had to wear the Star of David. On 4 April 1943, aunt Maaltje and aunt Betje were summoned by the German occupiers. Together they lied down on the bed – their prayer book beside them – and opened the gas tap.
Louis van Adelberg was regularly arrested by the German occupiers and sometimes stayed away for days. He was even sterilised and promised that he then wouldn’t have to wear his Star of David. He returned as a broken man and finally died of gastric bleeding on 16 March 1944, aged 63. The Jewish Louis was buried at the Catholic cemetery in Waalwijk: in unconsecrated ground.
Waalwijk was liberated on 30 October 1944. Mother Anna opened the textile shop as soon as she could and on 17 November the very first advertisement appeared in the Echo van het Zuiden (Echo of the South). She even ensured that Simon and his brother were baptised as Catholics on 24 December 1944. They took communion that same day, which would protect the children against the persecution of the Jews, which was still in full swing above the rivers. The visits that they paid to the synagogue in Amsterdam with their father now seemed to be something from a distant past.
Simon became a journalist and worked for various organisations, including the KRO (Catholic Radio Broadcasting). He had three children: Chaim (1957), Esther (1958) and Simon (1959). In 1981, he made a documentary called ‘Er vertrokken 93 treinen, over de Joodse familie Van Dijk’ (’The departure of 93 trains, about the Jewish family Van Dijk) for the KRO. Every Tuesday, from 1942 to 1944, a train left from Camp Westerbork to the German extermination camps: 93 in total. Trains with regular people, people like the Van Adelberg family.
“My father wanted to protect us and that is why he chose the name Van Dijk, but in reality he documented his own story, it was his therapy. He always insisted that the war didn’t traumatise him, he never told us what he went through. He was always cheerful, sweet and kind”, said his daughter Esther van Adelberg (1958). Ten years after the creation of the documentary about the train transport from Camp Westerbork, Simon van Adelberg converted to Judaism.
Aunt Maaltje again
Only then could his biggest wish come true: a reburial for his father on the Jewish cemetery in Amersfoort. “It was strange to attend the funeral of my grandfather in this way but it was what my father wanted. Later he suffered from a brain disorder and lost his perception of time and place. I found him crying on the sofa. ‘They gassed aunt Maaltje’, he sobbed. That was when I saw the war through his eyes for the first time”. Simon van Adelberg passed away on 10 October 2000 at the age of 72. He was buried at the Jewish cemetery in Amersfoort, close to the grave of his father Louis.
The Van Adelberg family celebrating the twentieth wedding anniversary of Louis and Anna on 23 May 1943. The much-hated Star of David is pinned on several jackets. (Image: private collection of the Van Adelberg family, 1943)