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Encyclopedia Judaica, Bk. 8, page 831
My memories of the war years are quite unpleasant. I have successfully managed to block out part of the past that deals with my childhood years. I try to remember, and when I do I see mostly still pictures before me. However, I vividly remember the following episode involving one of my friends. I was thirteen years old at the time. My family and I lived in Assen in the north of the Netherlands and the year was 1943.
We were a close-knit group. George's father owned and operated a house painting business. George passed away shortly after the war at the very young age of nineteen. Piet Tielrooy was the son of an army colonel who spent the war years in a German POW camp. Piet became a school teacher. His picture can be seen on the left which was taken during war time. Piet passed away at the age of fifty-four. The picture of George was sent to me by his nephew Max Manak for which I am very grateful. However, my story concerns itself with my third friend, Israel Berty van Oosten. However, we knew him by his common name, Iwan (pronounced Eewan). Iwan's grandfather, Jonas van Oosten, had opened and operated a bedding and furniture store in Assen.
Iwan's father, Machiel (Mau), and his unmarried brother Maurits (Mie) took over the business after Jonas retired. The store affectionately was called "de Walvisch - the Whale" after the Bible story of "Jonah and the great fish" by most town people. Certainly no harm was intended considering the similarity between his name and that of the prophet Jonah in the Biblical story. The sad story of the van Oosten family follows here below.
Iwan, whose Hebrew name was Israel Berty, was born on 27 December 1927. That Iwan was born Jewish was not an issue with us teens. All that changed on 2 May 1942, the day when Dutch Jews over the age of five were singled out by the Nazis to wear the humiliating yellow star which openly exposed and branded them. The first year and a half of the war Iwan attended our public school, but new directives coming from the Nazis changed that also. Even so, we continued to see each other after school time.
Gradually we were also robbed of this small pleasure. The Nazis placed severe restrictions on the lives of the Jewish people. And, to a lesser extent on those not born Jewish as well. The Nazis introduced a detested curfew which no longer allowed Jews to be outside their home between 8 PM and 6 AM. This curfew was imposed upon all Dutch citizens later on in the war as well.
On 2 October 1942 Iwan excitedly told us that he and his family and all other Asser Jews were going on a long journey. He was nervous about that voyage because it involved the entire Jewish community of Assen. First they had to relocate to a transit camp near Assen called Westerbork. None of us had any idea that it not only affected the local community but all the Jews of Holland. In a macabre sense we anticipated that journey with him. We talked at length about it with each other. We had no idea what the journey was about or where it would lead. No one really knew. But we had a sinister foreboding that it was going to be an unpleasant journey. Especially because of the uncertainties attached to the ominous Nazi order.
The Jews of Holland had been deceived. They were led to believe that they were settling some- where in Poland. But why Poland? Could they not have stayed in Holland? Poland was so far away. Of course we had read stories about Poland in the newspaper because of the war. We were familiar with Nazi propaganda pictures. We were fed a biased newspaper account of initial Nazi victories on the Eastern front. Then what was the purpose of relocating Jewish people there, resettling them? Resettling them for what? That burning question would remain unanswered for almost three years.
The Jewish population of Assen was not subjected to large-scale razzia's - round-ups like in other major cities of the Netherlands. A simple written order from the SD office in Assen, in cooperation with the local police usually sufficed. Whoever did not respond to the call-up notice was arrested by the Asser police and transported to Westerbork. I remember the day when the Jewish population of Assen received orders to report to the railroad station. The appointed place of assembly was near a side-track of the railroad station where cattle cars waited to bring the hapless ones to Westerbork. Prior to this, the van Oosten family first had received instruction to vacate their home and business to make room for a German representative who simply took over the business.
After the war in Europe had ended we heard for the first time that atrocities had been committed. Not only against Jews, against other minorities of Europe's subdued nations as well. We were aghast at the viciousness with which these atrocities had been carried out. Slowly we became aware of the unthinkable truth regarding the ultimate measures that were put in motion to systematically carry out the extermination of the Jews. This particular ethnic cleansing is known today as the Holocaust.