The United Nations’ annual observance of the International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust is Jan. 27 and this year’s theme is “The Holocaust and Human Dignity.”
On this day, we are all committed to remember. But it is not enough to remember. We must actively stand guard – by protecting the defenseless, by teaching tolerance, by opposing bigotry and racism, and by taking action when words will not suffice.
My father, Haim Roet, who lives in Jerusalem, is an invited speaker at the U.N. General Assembly for this important event.
Born in Holland in 1932, my father had two sisters and three brothers. The family was Orthodox and kept a kosher home. The girls attended a Jewish high school and the boys attended public schools.
In 1942, when my father was 10, the family was forced into the newly established Dutch ghetto where they were given two tiny apartments. The sisters moved in with their grandfather and the boys remained with their parents. During the last roundup (1943), the Nazis deported the girls to Auschwitz.
My grandmother succeeded miraculously in saving my father and his brothers from the same fate. When the Germans knocked, she did not open the door but yelled at them to go away, and they did. That night, my father was taken to a safe house. There his star of David was removed and his name was changed to Hendrik Drees.
For the next six weeks, he was moved from house to house until two members of the resistance, Arnold Douwes and Max Leons, brought him to a small farm belonging to a baker. The baker had agreed to take in a Jewish girl; they got my father instead. He stayed with Anton and Aleida Deesker for approximately two years.
My aunts and great grandfather did not survive Auschwitz. Just before her death, my aunt Adele managed to send her parents two postcards:
Auschwitz, 3/12/1945: “Dear loved ones, after a most terrible year in the Birkenau concentration camp, my sister Rossina died in Auschwitz without suffering. I was not present. Grandpa and Uncle Isaac were sent to the gas chambers upon arrival on 2/2/1944; aunt Riek died on 4/21/1943.
3/14/1945: “I survived because of willpower, the help of God, the unforgettable home, memories of Friday nights and the holidays. Looking everywhere for father, mother and brothers. Looking for help to return home soon, to see each other very soon, as soon as possible. Adele.”
My grandmother always carried these postcards in her purse. Adele, whose frail body could not recover, was 20 years old when she died. In her postcards she attributed her survival to the values her parents instilled in her. Adele’s postcards encouraged her parents and brothers to cling to life and to move on.
My grandparents, father and uncles immigrated and made Israel their home.
During my childhood my father rarely spoke about his lost childhood, or the horrors his family endured. I knew that I was named after his sister Rosinna and that my sister was named after his sister Adele.
This silence changed in 1989, after the Dutch government decided to release two Nazis who were responsible for the murder of Holland’s 107,000 Jews. In a demonstration in front of the Dutch embassy, the names of the victims were read. Instead of being a statistic, a person emerges – grandfather, mother, child.
My father, Haim Roet, initiated the commemorative project, “Unto Every Person There Is a Name,” which calls for a public recitation of names of Holocaust victims.
This year is the 25th year that the names are read throughout the world. While most of the Jews who perished in the Holocaust do not have a grave or a tombstone, this project ensures that each of them has an eternal resting place in the memory of the world at large.
These are the names of my immediate family members who died in Auschwitz:
My aunt Rosinna Roet (age 21)
My aunt Adele Roet (20)
My great grandfather Avraham Prins (77)
My great uncle Isaac Roet (54)
My great aunt Hendrika Slager Roet (55)
Vardit Lichtenstein, Ph.D., was born in Israel as the first child of Holocaust survivor Haim Roet. She and her husband moved to the United States to complete their education. Vardit settled in the Fresno area in 1996, and currently manages the California Pregnancy Center and is an active member of the Jewish Federation of the Central Valley.
Why Jan. 27?
The U.N. General Assembly’s International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust is Jan. 27 because on that date in 1945 the Auschwitz Birkenau concentration camp was liberated.