Holocaust survivor Bep Gomperts-Gerritse was born in Amsterdam in 1938. She was two years old in 1940 when the war started in the Netherlands. Bep recalls:
“My parents understood that the future for the Jews in the Netherlands did not look very promising. One of my mother’s friends found a hiding place for us. On the day we were supposed to go into hiding, my father went to tie up some lose ends at his tobacco brokerage office. On his way back he was rounded up during the first raid in Amsterdam.”
Bep later learnt that he was taken to Auschwitz and murdered upon arrival.
Bep’s mother decided not to go into hiding at that point. One day the doorbell rang. Two Dutch “gentlemen” (probably policemen) summoned her mother to come with them. She refused and simulated a fainting fit. The men asked a doctor to attend to her. He happened to be her GP, who immediately understood what was happening and told the men that she was too ill to be transported. The men left, and the need to go into hiding was confirmed for Bep’s mother.
The family subsequently stayed at different hiding places in Amsterdam, The Hague and Scheveningen. Staying together soon became too dangerous so they separated. Bep ended up staying with a childless couple in Heemstede, posing as a “niece” who needed to regain some strength. When the couple was forced to accommodate a German pilot for a short time, the parents of one of Bep’s school friends were asked to look after her. They did not find out she was Jewish until after the war.
Bep was very young, so she did not realise what was happening:
“I do remember a time that I was frightened. I had to sleep in an attic room at one of the hiding places in Amsterdam. I was frightened, because I thought that I could constantly hear people walking on the roof. Now I know that actually happened: nobody was allowed to walk on the street after curfew and they were walking on the roofs.”
During the Hunger Winter of 1944-45 Bep stayed with a Dutch Reformed couple. “I learned prayers and went to church and Sunday school. When the children at school asked me when I would be baptised, I invariably answered, ‘next Sunday’.” Bep’s mother was arrested in 1944 and taken to the Oranjehotel in Scheveningen where she was reunited with her sister. Unfortunately they were on a list to go on a transport to Auschwitz. First they were sent to Westerbork, a transit camp in the Netherlands, but as the railway lines were bombed, this trip took three days, causing them to miss the last transport to Auschwitz. They remained in Westerbork until liberation.
Most of Bep’s family members died during the Holocaust in concentration camps. She was so young that she only understood years later what had really happened during the war.
“When a child is constantly taken from one family to another without understanding the reason behind it, it will have an impact on your development and your identity. You want to know who you are and where you belong. I was Jewish but had lived with a Catholic and Reformed family too.Who was the real me? I did feel displaced. Luckily it did not traumatise me; neither did it have psychological consequences for me, like many other children. But I must say that I don’t like it when doors are closed and I always want as many lights on as possible.”
Bep migrated to Australia in 1979 with her husband and three children. She has been volunteering at the Melbourne Holocaust Museum for many years, firstly assisting in archiving and now also speaking to students about her experiences.
View Bep’s oral history interview with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum here.