Vermonter’s Story of Friendship Uncovered

by Mitriam (Denneboom) Rosenbloom

courtesy photo
Albert Fischer Sr., and his wife, at 73rd wedding anniversary, Zeist, The Netherlands.

HYDE PARK – I am Miriam (Denneboom) Rosenbloom of Hyde Park, and I am the daughter of Holocaust survivors from The Netherlands. My parents both survived in hiding through the goodness and courage of Dutch citizens – Gentiles – who stepped forward and provided shelter at tremendous personal risk. My father was the only survivor in his family; the full details of what actually happened the day his family was rounded up has just now been uncovered, almost 80 years later.

These new details came through the website of the Jeffersonville, Vermont-based Holocaust educational organization I had co-founded with other Vermont women who are immediate descendants of Holocaust survivors, and who made their post-war homes in the United States and Canada: the Vermont Holocaust Memorial (VTHM) (holocaustmemorial-vt.org/). Our families’ stories are highlighted there.

Earlier this year, the VTHM website received an email seeking to connect with me, and to exchange information about my family’s Holocaust story of survival. The words “astonished” and “grateful” cannot adequately describe my reaction to receiving this email, 80 years after this had all transpired.

Albert Fischer, Jr. of The Netherlands, had written:

I am exploring the history of my father’s good friend Ezra Denneboom. Ezra is an uncle of Miriam and was murdered in Sobibor [a Nazi concentration camp]. My father is 97 years old and doing reasonably well, his name is also Albert. As I told him about Miriam, he is keen to get in touch with her.

My father still has the personal letters from Ezra which Ezra wrote from the Dutch camp Westerbork [a Dutch “transit” camp, from which Jews and others were sent to Auschwitz and Sobibor for extermination] to him. In those letters he described the camp and some other details of life there. My father also has Ezra’s Star of David. [The yellow cloth badge mandated by the Nazis to publicly identify all Jewish men, women, and children]

Let me offer related history: Since 1925, my grandfather, Izak Denneboom, was the Director of the “Rudelsheimstichting” in Hilversum, a home for children who were mentally challenged. My grandmother, father and two uncles resided there, along with the staff and some 69 children. When the Nazis invaded The Netherlands, dark times followed and on April 16, 1942 the students and all their belongings were transferred to another location and the staff of the Wehrmacht confiscated “ Rudelsheimstichting” and transformed it into a regional headquarters. On March 19, 1943, Izak, his wife and family were rounded up, and soon after, all of them were murdered at Sobibor. My father was the only one to have escaped the roundup that fateful day. He eventually made his way to Amsterdam, where he remained in hiding until the end of the war.

courtesy photo
Denneboom family portrait from 1926 in Hilversum, Holland. Miriam’s uncle, Ezra (center) was the youngest of three sons. He was born in 1924 and murdered in 1943, along with his oldest brother and their parents, in the Nazi concentration camp Sobibor. Miriam’s father, on the far right, was able to escape and made his way to Canada after World War II. He survived owing to the courage and shelter provided by a Righteous Christian family. It is estimated that of the 140,000 Jews who lived in the Netherlands in 1940, 102,000 were murdered by the Nazis during the Holocaust.

Albert Jr., continued:

Firstly, during the war itself, anything you knew could be fatal to you and the ones around you. So, forgetting as much as you can was a mantra. In case you got tortured you could betray others and therefore knowing as little as possible was a protection for the people around you. And after the war there was the national spirit of “rebuilding this country” and “the past is the past ” and “let’s move on, everybody had a hard time, isn’t it?”

Being silent was a sign of love for the ones who lived on. People wanted to protect their beloved ones for what they had experienced themselves. My father was a soldier after the war in Indonesia and went there to “liberate” the country. You will be not surprised to hear that he never spoke about that experience, even though he met my mother during this time. Similarly, [for] my mother, speaking of the wartime was a no-no. No healing ever took place. Keep silent so as to protect us, the children, from all atrocities they had experienced themselves.

Nevertheless, I was therefore happy to note that a few months ago [Albert Sr.] suddenly came up with the letters [he had received] from Ezra with the request that he wanted to see his commemorative stone. [A personalized memorial stone unveiled at the new Amsterdam memorial to Dutch Holocaust victims.] And this week he was very happy to hear from you [Miriam] and is keen to talk. I guess I am trying to manage expectations in advance. And to indicate that his recollection is much tainted by history, but we should try. It is not that he is not willing, more my fear that we may disappoint you.

And so, a video call was arranged for March 7, with my sister Anne (from Banff, Alberta) and brother Jack (from Collingwood, Ontario) with Albert Sr., and we learned much about Ezra’s life and ultimately, tragic story:

At 17 years of age, Ezra and Albert Sr. were good high school friends in Hilversum and walked home together every day after school. They knew each other well and shared good times together – one Jewish, one not. Through the Resistance, of which Albert Sr.’s mother was a part, Ezra was able to secure a hiding place in a home on the Amstel, in Amsterdam. Albert Sr. often brought food to Ezra and word of the outside world to him while in hiding. After visiting frequently for some three months, Albert Sr. arrived to find that Ezra was no longer there – he had been rounded up by the Nazi’s and taken to Westerbork, a transit camp in the north. He left behind his ID card and yellow Star of David, which Albert Sr. found.

But contact with each other did not stop. Ezra wrote two postcards and a letter in June 1943 — asking for warm clothes, shaving gear and food — which were packaged and sent. Ezra writes that he doesn’t see his parents or brother but does see many friends and acquaintances from Hilversum in the barracks. He tells of life in the camp and hard work he endures. However, there are many “cryptic” references – most probably for security reasons. It appears he knows nothing of his pending fate, as he writes his last letter on June 26 and is murdered in Sobibor soon after.

At age 97 years, Albert Sr. finally felt it time to share these artifacts and stories with his children, and with my siblings and myself.

From this improbable and distant connection, over geography and time, I plan to soon visit the entire Fischer family in Zeist, The Netherlands, for the anniversary of the liberation of our beloved home country for what will, undoubtedly, be an emotional and heartfelt reunion.

For more on Miriam’s family story of survival and other Vermont Holocaust connections visit the Vermont Holocaust Memorial website: HolocaustMemorial-VT.org.