Holocaust survivor Jack Leder was born in Belgium in 1939 to Richard and Hilda Leder.
The terror of the Holocaust began for Jack’s parents before he was even born; in March 1938, during the Anschluss of Austria, Jack’s parents’ leather business was attacked, and his father was beaten in the street. This incident motivated them to escape Vienna in June 1938, leaving behind several relatives.
While Jack’s mother was in the early stages of pregnancy, they fled to Belgium.
The invasion of Belgium
On the eve of the German invasion in May 1940, when Jack was just one year old, the Belgian government began deporting German males because they were worried that some men might be working for the Germans.
Jack’s father was arrested and interned in various camps in France over two years, including some time during which he was free.
When Germany invaded Belgium, Jack’s family tried to find a way to leave Belgium for England.
“By that stage, I was probably 16 months or so. My brother was 13, and with my mother and my grandmother, they left Brussels and travelled… by any means at all with hundreds, probably thousands of others who were trying to do the same thing, with the aim of getting to Dunkirk and finding a ship to get across to England.”
The family almost escaped, but the Germans got to Dunkirk first, and they were forced to retreat to Brussels, where they remained for the rest of the war.
Jack’s first memories
In August 1942, the Germans began deporting Jews from Belgium; most were sent to Auschwitz.
Jack recalls his first memory was of an incident when his family thought they were going to be arrested in their apartment in Brussels:
“One day, the doorbell rang. My mother looked down, and she saw somebody in uniform. I’m not sure what she thought he was. He may have been someone from the red cross and with some hope that she would find out what had happened to her husband or the progress was with her husband. So she went downstairs and opened the door, but in fact, he was a German in German uniform.”
The German officer entered their apartment building and found Jack, only three years old, inside. Thankfully, his mother bribed the officer with money and jewelry in return for striking them off the deportation list.
A close encounter
One day Jack’s family was visited by a woman from the Belgian underground. After undertaking mail-surveillance operations at the post office, she warned them of the potential leak of their whereabouts to the Gestapo.
She told Jack’s family they had two or three days to flee. In the darkness of night they ran to another hideout for the remaining six weeks of the war.
Liberation and life in Australia
Jack remembers liberation in 1945. The sight of German soldiers fleeing for their lives and chasing Allied soldiers who drove the streets asking them for chewing gum brought him pure excitement.
He lived in Belgium until early 1948 when he came to Australia with his mother, brother, and grandmother.
After the war, Jack worked tirelessly to find out what had happened to his father. Eventually, he found records of his father being deported to Auschwitz in November 1942 and murder in January 1943, almost to the day of his birthday.
Jack shares his story to:
“try and give some semblance of what my family went through. To highlight the role and celebrate the brave actions of the few who were not bystanders. In honour of a father I did not really know. To celebrate and recognize the resilience of an amazing woman – my mother.”
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