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< Echoes of Memory

Reinkensstraat 67


By Al Munzer

Reinkenstraat 67 is the address in Den Haag of an ordinary two-story home next to a fish market. It is an ordinary house on an ordinary street lined with ordinary small businesses and cafés. The address is less than a mile from the house where I was born and that my family called home until October 1942 when our family was torn apart, and we were forced to go into hiding. Reinkenstraat 67 is an address that Hannah Arendt might have called “banal,” an ordinary address where evil and mass murder assumed a personal dimension. A house I needed to see with my own two eyes, not to achieve closure, but to feel and bear witness to the depths to which the human soul can descend. 

Reinkenstraat 67 was a small guesthouse called Rust en Vrede, “Serenity and Peace,” which Roza Mazurowski had inherited from her husband Gerardus Kuyper whom she married in 1934. He died in 1940 and Roza remarried in 1942 and continued to operate the guesthouse with her second husband, Johannes Schermel. Sometime in October 1943 Roza and Johannes agreed to a request from their pastor, Father Lodders, to hide my sisters, Eva and Leah, from the Nazis. Four months later, February 3, 1944, a Dutch policeman, Dirk Vas, turned the lock at Rust en Vrede and arrested Eva, seven, and Leah, five, for the crime of being Jewish, and Roza Mazurowski, for the crime of hiding Jewish children. All three had been betrayed by Roza’s husband, Johannes Schermel. He compounded the severity of Roza’s crime by calling her out as a Polish Jew. He thus sealed the fate of my sisters who were murdered at Auschwitz on February 11, 1944, and the fate of his wife who was imprisoned in a hellhole called Bergen-Belsen where she barely survived typhus. Johannes Schermel’s likely motive? Ownership of Rust en Vrede. 

I learned the fate of my sisters shortly after I was reunited with my mother, when I was only four or five. People would shake their heads and tell me that my sisters “zijn jammer niet teruggekomen”—sadly, did not come back. Tante Jo, the very devout, Catholic, white-haired teacher, who with her sister Tante Ko, had been my parents’ neighbors, consoled me by telling me that Eefje and Lia, as they were called in Dutch, were now “with God,” like the little angels she pointed to in a children’s catechism, a book, she added, that Eefje had been able to read when she was only five. That colorful little book with angels and devils whispering in a child’s ear and the small black and white photograph of my sisters participating in a Catholic procession told me that my sisters had been given a new Catholic identity as a way of hiding from the Nazis. 

My mother regaled me with stories about my sisters throughout my childhood. But the only time she hinted at the specifics of how they had been hidden and betrayed was when she took me on a visit to thank a woman who, she said, had tried to save my sisters from the Nazis. My mother wanted to comfort the woman by showing her that at least one of her three children had survived. All I recall of that visit was that my mother was unusually quiet as we rode the tram to her house, and that I felt terribly sad. It would not be until 70 years later that I learned that woman’s name, Roza Mazurowski. That is when two researchers of the Netherlands National Archives, Ron van Hasselt and Erik Mul, and Trees Krans, a volunteer archivist at the Elandstraatkerk, the church where Father Lodders had served as pastor, helped me uncover the sordid story of Reinkenstraat 67 and the details of the betrayal of my sisters. 

I discovered the archivist, Trees Krans, when I did an internet search of Pater Lodders and found an article that she had written for the church bulletin of the Elandstraatkerk about his efforts to save Jewish children from the Nazis. She pointed me to the Gedenkboek van het Oranje Hotel, the memorial book of the Nazi prison in Scheveningen dubbed by the Dutch “the Orange Hotel,” Orange after the Netherlands’ Royal House of Orange. The book listed Father Lodders as having been imprisoned for baptizing Jewish children, and the sisters Jo and Ko van Leeuwen for hiding Jewish children. Through a diligent search of the church records, Trees provided me with details about my sisters’ baptism and the marriages of Roza Mazurowski. Trees and I became close friends over a two-year exchange of emails. Not all of our emails related to her sleuthing for records about my sisters and for the fate after the war of Roza Mazurowski, whose efforts I desperately wanted to find a way to honor. Trees confided in me about a medical problem she was experiencing, which required surgery, and she taught me something about her persona when she told me that although she was in her mid-eighties, she absolutely refused to stay in the hospital overnight, and instead relied on the care provided by her nieces.  

My spouse, Joel, and I visited Trees on our first full day in Den Haag, immediately after a talk to students at the American School of The Hague about my family’s story during the Holocaust. Trees had provided me with her address, Prins Hendrikstraat 114, a street in the Zeehelden kewartier, the quarter where the streets bear the names of seafaring heroes. That quarter also included Zoutmanstraat where I was born, and van Kinsbergentraat where I was hidden with my own rescuers, the Madna family. Trees issued more specific instructions during our very first telephone conversation. “It’s a store converted into an apartment,” she said, and then added “look for the brass umbrella over the door.” We walked from our hotel close to the Binnenhof, the seat of the Dutch parliament, along the street facing the Royal Palace where 70 years earlier I had watched the annual parade of the Golden Coach taking the queen to the opening of parliament. We had no problem finding the brass umbrella identifying Trees’s home. I rang the bell, and we were immediately embraced by an elderly, slightly stooped woman with sparkling eyes, reddish-blond hair, and wearing red horn-rimmed glasses and a brightly colored flowery dress. I knew then and there that our visit to Reinkenstraat would not be the somber lone pilgrimage I had expected and feared, but a shared experience.

After introductions and a brief tour of her apartment, Trees suggested we proceed immediately to the Elandstraatkerk, the church where Father Lodders had served as pastor. “There is music in the church Wednesday afternoons,” she said, implying that it would enhance our visit. She put on a quilted blue jacket and a scarf, and we were off on our walk tracing the story of my sisters. I smiled as we passed by the eye clinic on Tasmanstraat that held painful memories of my mother chasing me around the rooms we were renting on Laan van Meedervoort immediately after we had been reunited, as she tried to instill drops to dilate my pupils for an eye exam. 

I was familiar with the exterior of the large neo-Gothic Elandstraatkerk, clearly modeled after Notre Dame in Paris, but I had never been inside. Now, as I walked up the steps, opened the massive doors and saw the imposing interior, I pictured my sisters doing the same on a cold January day almost 68 years ago. Trees introduced Joel and me to some other volunteers whose names I do not recall, and then pointed right to a large, brass baptismal font, saying, “This is where Father Lodders baptized your sisters.” As I touched the font and closed my eyes, I could see two little girls, the older, six and self-assured, and the younger, four and more timid, holding hands and gently urged on by two white-haired women, Tante Jo and Tante Ko, who had prepared them for this event. Trees gently broke the trance; “This font is no longer in use,” she said with some audible regret. “There is a new one on the opposite side. I wasn’t baptized here, but my brother was.” 

Walking on, Trees pointed out Father Lodders’ confessional. “Before Easter there would be a long line of people waiting their turn,” she said, “and he would come out and encourage them to be heard by one of his colleagues in the adjoining confessionals.” “But no one would move,” she added, “that is how much people loved him.” Even as a youngster, I had felt Father Lodders’s charisma from his visits on a motorcycle to my mother’s cosmetics store. Guiding us to the altar, Trees said, “Ignore the warning,” as she pointed to a sign forbidding people to mount the steps, “you are very special guests.” She then opened a door behind the altar into the sacristy. “This is where Father Lodders prepared for Mass.” She then led us to two enormous old books laid out on a table, one a record of baptisms, the other a record of marriages performed in the church. Trees had sent me photographs of the books and significant entries, but as she opened one volume to a page she had marked, I read beneath headings in Latin, the slightly faded, handwritten entries of the baptism of my sisters including their newly assigned baptismal middle names. Eva Maria Münzer, baptized 18 January 1943, born July 10, 1936, and Lia Anna Münzer, baptized 18 January 1943, born November 11, 1938, followed by the names of their Patrinorum, their sponsors or godparents, Jacoba Cath, Maria van Leeuwen, and Johanna Maria van Leeuwen—Tante Jo and Tante Ko. In addition to the slanting signature of Father Lodders, there was another entry on the far right, de licentia parentum, “with permission of the parents.” I wondered whether that permission had been granted on Christmas Day 1942, when my sisters were taken on a visit to my parents at the Remaerkliniek where they were hiding, just days before they were deported. Trees had marked two pages in another register, the marriage of Roza Mazurowski to Gerardus Kuyper on November 5, 1934, and her ill-fated marriage to Johannes Schermel on September 14, 1942, just as Jewish men like my father were being called to “labor duty,” setting in motion the search for a place of refuge from the Nazis. 

We returned to Trees’s apartment, where she had prepared an array of Dutch treats. She had lived in the house since birth, she told us. The apartment she now lived in had been her parents’ umbrella store. “In my family we prayed for rain,” she said, “there was nothing worse for business than a season without rain.” The family lived on the two floors above the store and one brother, she said, still lived there. When her parents died, Trees inherited the lower floor where the store had been. She turned it into an apartment, leaving the large former store window in place, to give a nice view of the goings-on on the street. Trees told us about her career as a teacher in a girls’ middle school and about her many travels around the world. She never married, but had had many opportunities to do so, she added, always preferring her independence. 

After filling our stomachs with sweets, we set out for what had been my primary goal, to see Reinkenstraat 67. Along the way, however, Trees insisted that we stop at Zoutmanstraat 98, the two-story home above my father’s store where I was born. The sign Siegfried Münzer, Schneider aus Wien, which Joel and I had seen on previous visits was still there, quiet testimony to what had been, and what was lost. I discerned my mother’s hand in the art deco design, just like she had picked the latest Bauhaus furniture for his business, some of which I was fortunate to enjoy after the war when we lived behind my mother’s cosmetics store. They were a link to the father I never knew, just like his Parker pen and his typewriter. Trees pointed out that her beauty parlor was next door to what had been my father’s store, immediately beneath the apartment of Tante Jo and Tante Ko. 

There was a cold wind, and I worried that our walk might be too hard on Trees. But she waved away any concerns and quickened her steps, dodging traffic and leading the way along Obrechtstraat, until we made a right turn on the busy corner of Reinkenstraat. Halfway down the block, I saw the number 67. As I stood in front of a plain, harsh green door, all I felt was anger, an urge to cry out at the hapless passerby, “You are walking on blood-soaked ground.” A deep-seated anger would not dissipate when I read the post-war criminal proceedings for treason against Dirk Vas, the policeman who had arrested my sisters, and the 20-year prison sentence levied against him. Trees and Joel understood my feelings and did not offer meaningless words of comfort. Words like “They are now with God,” or “May their memories be for a blessing,” would have been nothing more to me than an empty nostrum. 

A few days after we stood at Reinkenstraat 67, Joel and I visited the National Holocaust Names Monument in Amsterdam, which had been inaugurated two weeks earlier. It consists of 72 concrete walls, which when viewed from the air form four Hebrew letters, spelling “l’zecher,” (in memory of). The walls are covered with golden-yellow bricks, each brick bearing the name, date of birth, and age at the time of death of a Jewish or of a Romani victim of Nazis from the Netherlands. There are 102,000 bricks bearing the names of Jewish victims and 220 bricks dedicated to Romani victims. It was there and not at Reinkenstraat 67, that tears welled up in my eyes as I touched the bricks bearing the names of my father and sisters. That was where anger gave way to regret, and to the duty to remind the world of the thousands of addresses like Reinkenstraat 67, that had served as entryways to Auschwitz and Sobibor. Shortly after our return to the United States, I read of former Queen—now Princess—Beatrix’s visit to children of collaborators like Dirk Vas, in recognition of the humiliation they suffered because of the actions of their parents and grandparents. I hope she also reminded them that they too have the power and responsibility to bear witness and help prevent future tragedies like the Holocaust. 

After our visit to Reinkenstraat 67, Trees insisted that we have dinner, not in any of the many neighborhood restaurants, but at her favorite restaurant in Scheveningen. Did she sense a need to get me as far away as possible from Reinkenstraat 67? I couldn’t help but smile and gain heart, as this woman in her mid-80s led us to the right tram, then, after we got off, sped us through wind and rain to the fishing port on the far edges of the beach resort, and to what was indeed a terrific Greek restaurant. We ordered wine, and clinked our glasses to a friendship and a bond grown out of reliving together one of the saddest chapters of humankind.

© 2022, Alfred Münzer. The text, images, and audio and video clips on this website are available for limited non-commercial, educational, and personal use only, or for fair use as defined in the United States copyright laws.

Tags:   alfred münzerechoes of memory, volume 14denunciationauschwitzbergen-belsenmemorialspolicehidden childrenamsterdam

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