Den Bosch
Eric Alink

All life has a small beginning. A single cell which then divides. From this division come new cells which then also divide. The Jewish Annie Troostwijk-Samuel [27] knew that is how life begins. Just another six weeks, according to the calendar, and then her little baby would be due. But there were regular raids in  her home town of Arnhem. In October 1943 Annie fled to Amsterdam with her husband Abraham (24). She left her one year old daughter Greetje behind in a safe hiding place.

But Amsterdam was no safer. The Jewish couple took the gamble: to go by train to Belgium. But it all went wrong at ‘s-Hertogenbosch (Den Bosch) station. Together they ended up in a detention centre. From now on, dividing cells took on a new meaning. One had started miserably, the other was nearly complete after nine months. The child in Annie’s belly was waiting for liberation.


Pine trees

Saturday 13 November 1943. A cold day, according to the weather reports. Humidity 78 percent with possible rain in Den Bosch. It was a day of amniotic fluids and tears. Annie gave birth to her son Ivor in the prison hospital. Rarely was the word delivery so poignant.

One month later, Annie, Abraham and Ivor were transported to Westerbork. This transit camp looked out onto pine trees which sounds very similar to ‘pain trees’, also in Dutch. On 25 January 1944 the sky itself seemed to be giving its opinion.  While Annie, Ivor and 946 other Jews were being herded into goods wagons, the world witnessed a short solar eclipse, but for the people in the trains, life remained dark.

Three days later, mother and child arrived in Auschwitz. They were murdered the same day. Just 76 days had separated their cell in Den Bosch from the gas chamber in Poland. Abraham would die two months later, somewhere in Eastern Europe but those distant places remained silent about exactly where.

Is ignorance bliss? After her hiding place was betrayed, the toddler ended up in the Westerbork orphanage. On 13 September 1944 she left on the train that history has come to know as the Last Children’s Transportation. Destination: Bergen-Belsen. But Greetje survived the war.

In 1965 she married Robert Coopman, himself a Jewish orphan who had also been betrayed. New scientific research shows that they had travelled in the same goods wagon. They had met each other long before they fell in love. Robert was four years old at the time, Greetje almost two.


Female wing

Greetje never knew exactly what fate her parents and brother had suffered. They had been murdered, that much she knew. But what had happened between Arnhem and their death? In April 2017 she learned the true facts when the city council of Den Bosch tracked her down in Israel – where she currently lives.

In July 2017 she travelled to the Netherlands. Greet stepped hesitantly into the prison hospital cell in the in the now abandoned detention centre, the cell where her brother was born. She also visited the female wing. It’s not known behind which door her mother was incarcerated. Was it cell 1.01?  On the wall a lamentation has been scribbled: ‘God, love has disappeared.’

But Greet stayed. On 4 May 2018 she visited the old detention centre for a second time. On that day she unveiled a Stolperstein (lit. stumbling stone) for Ivor, the brother she had never met.

There is a photo of Ivor Arnold Troostwijk, to give him his full name. A grainy black and white photo of a crying child lying on a pillow. This photo has been on the www.joodsmonument.nl/en website for many years. But truth is often more insane than it appears to be. For the sake of accuracy, Greet revealed a secret in 2018 that Crossroads can now make public. That photo is not of her brother, it’s a baby photo of Greetje herself, taken in Arnhem. A white lie for a life, because she found it intolerable that there never had been a photo of Ivor.

The photo of Ivor Arnold Troostwijk as shown on joodsmonument.nl/en