Autumn

Review of "Sand Between Your Toes" in Drents Hunters Magazine, Drenthe, the Netherlands, 2006

On that special Sunday, it was a lovely autumn day.
We walked from the Memorial Centre Museum in Hooghalen, over the Milky Way path, we passed by the radio telescopes on our way to the former Concentration Camp Westerbork.
A lot of people around and everybody enjoyed the wonderful colours and the still warm sun, as well as the special smell of the woods in the fall and the diffuse light filtering through the trees.
It is quite a walk. They placed the camp as remote as possible from populated areas.
That seems the way to treat people who are spit out of society because of their race.
On arrival we saw a meticulously well-kept terrain, where you could still see remains of the camp, here and there with written explanations. People in colourful clothes and children playing under a beaming sun.
And I am ashamed to tell you: I did not feel a thing. It just wasn't right. The surroundings totally clashed with the atrocities committed on this spot...

That same evening I listened to "Looking at tomorrow", and [radio] host John Jansen van Galen started: "This morning I was at former Camp Westerbork. It was a fantastic morning. It was as if the woods were on fire, birds were singing, dewdrops like pearls on the freshly mown grass. At the edge of the camp, the Camp commanders house was hidden in green colours like in a fairy-tale. And I have to admit: I did not feel a thing".

And then we received a postcard from the son of the Jewish woman who spent the war [with another identity, trans.] at my parent's house. He lived in Norway, as a general practitioner. Making theatre as well, also because his wife, a woman from Drenthe, has her theatre background from Groningen.
They had made a production, a crossover between puppetry and theatre with actors.
They were now touring everywhere in the Netherlands with that production. Also at the Memorial Centre. And now they invited us to come and see the show, not least because it dealt with his family. We had reserved a ticket in advance, which was a good thing, because the place was packed. And lots of children as well.
On the stage, a peculiar looking kind of cabinet. A curiosity cabinet they called it, with all kinds of ingeniously constructed drawers, doors, windows and mechanisms, all fitting into the story as told by Jaap den Hertog and Coby Omvlee, playing a variety of characters.
The often humoristic story of a Jewish family with all their singularities and characteristics, familiar to any family. But also with a cultural and political consciousness. Until Hitler seized power and the Shoah began. Jaap and Coby managed to show with agonizing accuracy, the atmosphere of menace and treason leading to the "Endlösung" [final solution, trans.], which was executed with almost scientific precision. Also via Camp Westerbork.

Jaap's family was deported as well, but his mother decided not to join and "went underground" with my folks in Dwingeloo
And then the goose bumps, which had been lacking on that wonderful Sunday, came!

After the performance we served them a bite to eat at our house, before they travelled on to Austria. Jaap gave me a copy of the family history he had written for his little niece, and that formed the base of the theatrical play. I'm very happy with it.

Some time later when, after an afternoon of hunting, we stopped at the main building of the recreational park The Big Sand to eat a meal and first paid our respect to the animals we shot, one of the hunters said: "Look, do you see that light spot over there in the wood? There were the train tracks to Camp Westerbork."

And then my hat started shaking..



(Translated from the Dutch dialect of the Drenthe province by Coby Omvlee.)

Notes by the translator:
Note 1: In the Dutch Camp Westerbork 107 000 Dutch Jews and Roma were imprisoned before they were sent to the execution camps by train. In the beginning they were forced to walk in groups to the train station in the nearby village of Hooghalen. This caused outrage amongst the population. That is why the Nazis took care of leading the tracks into the camp so the trains could leave from there, unseen by the citizens. Only about 5000 of the prisoners survived.
Note 2:
Jo Omvlee, cousin of my father Johannes Omvlee, was a hunter. He found this article and gave it to my brother Jan, who mailed it to Teater Fusentast.
Note 3: Jaap den Hertog's grandparents and aunt were imprisoned in Camp Westerbork, only a few kilometres from where their other daughter, Jaap's mother, lived with the Wiechers family. They were transported to Theresienstadt with one of the very last transports. It was the only train from Theresienstadt that did not go in the direction of Auschwitz. They were among the Theresienstadt Jews the Nazis swapped with Switzerland for Trucks. We only discovered these last facts a couple of years ago while performing in Copenhagen.]