Finding light in the shadow – Bep shares her story with new generations

Finding light in the shadow - Bep shares her story with new generations


“My first birthday was on the fourth of May 1938, the second was on the fourth of May 1945 when the Netherlands was liberated,” she said.

Bep is a survivor of The Holocaust. Her story and that of the remarkable families who sheltered her are told in her memoir, Amsterdam 1940-1945, The Shadow of My Life.

“Many people have heard of the story of Anne Frank, but many more are not aware of the Holocaust survivors who did not go into the camps,” she said. “That is what happened to me, although my father was in a camp. He died at Auschwitz.

“In 2022, my husband Herman and I went to Amsterdam to see the National Holocaust Names Memorial. The names of the 102,000 Dutch Jews who were taken during the war are inscribed on bricks in alphabetical order. I went there to find my father’s name because it is the only tangible link to him that I have.”

During the German occupation, many brave Dutch men and women fostered Jewish children at great risk to themselves. Those who were caught by the Gestapo were also sent to concentration camps.

“I lived with one foster family and was even able to go to school, but when the family learned they were getting a German pilot (billeted with them), I had to disappear,” she said.

“A friend of my foster mother agreed to take me, not realising that I was Jewish. The family had a boy and a girl, so I was also very happy there. The boy, Cor, was exactly one day younger than me and we became very good friends.”

Cor’s father worked for the Ministry of Water which extracted water for the city of Amsterdam through the sand dunes.

“We would play in the dunes and used to imagine that the waterworks bunkers in the sand were castles where people lived,” she said. “In those same dunes were V2 rockets pointed at England.”

At some time in 1944, a seemingly innocent remark nearly brought everything undone.

“Unlike some other children, I lived openly under my own name,” said Bep. “One day, my foster mother was talking about Rebekah from the Bible. I piped up and said, ‘my grandmother’s name was Rebekah’. After that, the conversation went very quiet. I think it was only then she realised that she was harbouring a Jew.”

The atmosphere in the household changed but the family continued to keep Bep safe until the liberation of The Netherlands on 4 May 1945 – her seventh birthday.

“Afterwards, I wanted to contact Cor, my war-time brother as I called him, but his mother refused to tell me where he was. I understand that she wanted to protect her family,” she said.

Over the decades, stories of great heroism emerged, along with a greater understanding of what everyday Dutch men and women risked during the war.

“I later learned that the waterworks bunkers, where in my childish imagination I thought people lived, did indeed shelter folk, right under the Germans’ noses,” said Bep.

“And as for Cor, we found one another again ten years ago and he is still my friend.”

Bep was persuaded by her children to turn her childhood memories into a book. Since moving to GemLife Woodend and following the pandemic, Bep now uses Zoom to tell her remarkable story to the school children who visit the Melbourne Holocaust Museum.

Amsterdam 1940-1945, The Shadow of My Life is available on Amazon – Click here