Alfred Münzer was born in the German-occupied Netherlands in 1941. At one year old, Al was placed into the care of a Dutch-Indonesian family for his protection. After liberation, Al’s mother, who survived several concentration camps including Auschwitz, returned and they were reunited.
Alfred Münzer: My name is Alfred Münzer.
I was born in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands and survived the Holocaust because a Dutch-Indonesian family and their Indonesian Muslim nanny risked their lives to save a nine-month-old Jewish baby.
My parents were born in eastern Europe, my father in a small town called Kańczuga and my mother in a neighboring town called Rymanów.
They immigrated to the Netherlands to escape antisemitism and to explore opportunities in a country that had welcomed Jews for hundreds of years.
My father was the first to arrive in the Netherlands and started a men's clothing business in the city of the Hague. My mother followed him a few years later and they were married in November 1932 just before Adolf Hitler came to power in neighboring Germany.
My father's business flourished, and my parents made many friends, many of them not Jewish, and in July 1936, they celebrated the birth of their first child, my sister Eva. She was followed in November 1938 by my sister Leah, another happy occasion marred unfortunately by news of Kristallnacht, the "Night of Broken Glass," when the full fury of antisemitism was unleashed in Germany. But still, my parents felt safe in the Netherlands.
All that changed May 14, 1940, when Germany invaded the Netherlands and installed a Nazi government of occupation. In 1941, my mother realized she was pregnant again. Her obstetrician told her it would be immoral to bring another Jewish life into the world and urged her to have an abortion. But my mother ignored the doctor's advice. And so, I was born eight months later, November 23, 1941.
Eight days later family and friends gathered in our living room to observe the first milestone in a Jewish life. My bris or circumcision ceremony. Photographs were taken at that occasion, and they were very significant because these two photographs were to be kept by my mother on her body through her stay in 12 concentration camps.
In August 1942, when I was nine months old, my father, like many other Jewish men, received a summons to report for labor duty, which meant going to a concentration camp. The summons was a sign of imminent danger, which forced our family to go into hiding.
My sisters were placed with two devout Catholic women who lived next door to us. And I was placed with a neighbor across the street, Annie Madna. My parents went into hiding in a psychiatric hospital, my father pretending to be a patient and my mother, a nurse.
Annie Madna had some bad run-ins with the Nazi government and felt it would be safer for me to be with her sister, Yorina Polak. But Yorina had a neighbor who was a member of the Dutch Nazi Party, and that is why I finally ended up with Annie Madna's former husband, Tolé Madna.
Tolé Madna was born in what was then a Dutch colony, the Netherlands East Indies, now called Indonesia. Tolé became my Papa, the three Madna children, my siblings and Mima Saïna, the Indonesian nanny who had cared for them, now became my mother.
Mima could not read or write but had a heart of gold and cared for me as if I were her own. I slept in Mima's bed, and she kept a knife under her pillow vowing to kill any Nazi who might try to come and get me.
Because I was in the house illegally, there were no food ration coupons for me and for three long years, she and the Madna family shared their own meager rations with me. They made sure I never came close to a window for fear that some passers-by might see a very different-looking child.
There were times when the house was being searched and I was told to hide in a closet. But I thought it was just a game and I remember playing with the Christmas decorations that were stored in the closet.
There were also times when I was very, very hungry, but what I remember most of the three years with the Madna family, was love and laughter.
Sadly, my sisters met an entirely different fate. After a year with the two Catholic neighbors, they were placed in what was assumed to be a safer home. But there, the husband of the woman who had agreed to shelter my sisters denounced his wife and my sisters to the Nazis. His wife was sent to a concentration camp where she developed typhus, but survived.
My sisters, however, were taken to Auschwitz where they were killed, February 11, 1944. They were seven and five years old.
My parents only succeeded in hiding at the psychiatric hospital for three months. On Christmas Day 1942, they enjoyed a surprise visit with my sisters. But one week later on New Year's Day 1943, all the Jews who had been hiding in the hospital were arrested by the SS.
My parents were deported, first to two camps in the Netherlands, and then to Auschwitz. My father remained in Auschwitz for six months and then was taken to a succession of camps in Mauthausen, Gusen, Steyr, and finally to a camp high in the Austrian Alps, Ebensee.
He witnessed liberation by the US Army but was so debilitated that he died two months later, still at Ebensee, July 25th, 1945.
Miraculously, my mother survived Auschwitz and a series of death marches that took her through nine other camps. She was liberated in April 1945 and she and I were reunited in July 1945. It's the first clear memory that I have.
I had been asleep when my foster sister Dewie came to get me and carried me into the living room where the whole family had gathered in a circle. They passed me from lap to lap, but there was one lap I refused to sit in, one woman I kept pushing away. That woman was my mother.
To me, she was a complete stranger. I already had a mother and that was Mima Saïna. My mother thought it best that Mima continue to care for me. But unexpectedly, Mima passed away two months later, and that was when I finally bonded with my mother, a bond that lasted until she died 56 years later at age 94.
Sadly, the Holocaust did not spell an end to hate, bigotry, or mass murder. I asked Tolé Madna why he risked his life and the lives of his family to save a Jewish baby. His answer was a simple one, "What else was I to do?"
To him standing up to hate and bigotry wasn't a choice, but a given. That's the lesson I want the world to learn, that even when surrounded by unbridled hate, hate that robbed me of my father and sisters, and hate that took the lives of six million Jews and millions of others, it is possible and incumbent on all of us to stand up and do what is right.
Bill Benson: Welcome. Thank you for joining us for First Person: Conversations with Holocaust Survivors.
My name is Bill Benson. I've hosted the Museum's First Person program since it began in 2000.
Each month, we bring you first-hand accounts of survival of the Holocaust. Each of our First Person guests serve as a volunteer at the Museum. We are honored to have Holocaust survivor Al Münzer share his personal first-hand account of the Holocaust with us. Al, thank you so much for agreeing to be our First Person.
Al Münzer: Delighted to be with you, Bill.
Bill Benson: Thank you, Al. And I know you have so much to share with us so we'll start right away.
Before you tell us what happened to you and your family during World War II and the Holocaust, let's begin with you telling us about your parents and their lives prior to the rise of Nazism.
Al Münzer: Well my parents, both my parents, were born in Eastern Europe. My father, Simcha, was born in a small town called Kańczuga and my mother, Gitel, or Gisele, was born in a neighboring town
about 40 miles away called Rymanów. They both came from fairly large traditional Orthodox families.
These towns were were part of the Austro-Hungarian empire or the province of Galicia until
the First World War. After the First World War they became part of Poland. And with—as time went by, there was a rise in antisemitism and also there were very few opportunities for young people.
And, you know, a real desire on the partof young people to get away from the
strictures of Orthodox Judaism.And so many of them decided to
seek their fortunes elsewhere. Both my parents left their homes when they were about 18
or perhaps 21 years old, the earliest time that they could get a passport to get out.
Both my parents went initially to the big go-to city in Europe at the time
and that was Berlin. My father remained in Berlin for a relatively short period of time,
then went on to the Netherlands, to the city of The Hague, where he started a men's
clothing business. My mother on the other hand remained in Berlin where she had joined two older
siblings: a sister, Faiga, and her brother, Abraham, and she remained there until the end of 1932.
And at that point she joined my father in The Hague, and that's where they were married in December
1932, just about the time, by the way, when Adolf Hitler came to power in neighboring Germany.
Bill Benson: And here of course we see them on their wedding day. Al Münzer: Yes. Yes, yes.
Bill Benson: Your parents would then have two daughters. Will you tell us about your older sisters Evaand Leah?
Al Münzer: Sure. My sister Eva—my father's business really flourished. He did quite well in his clothing business. He had picked the city of The Hague for his business because
it was the seat of government and also had many embassies and so it was very much
a city where people are dressed in suits, in suits and ties, and so this was good for his business.
Anyway, my parents also made many friends during that period of time. And then in July 1936
is when they celebrated the birth of their first child and that is my sister Eva standing on the
right. And two years later on November 11, 1938, they celebrated the birth of their second child
and that was my sister Leah, here on the left. That date November 11th, 1938 you will remember is
actually just three days after Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, when the full fury of
antisemitism was unleashed in neighboring Germany, but in Holland just a few hundred miles away,
my parents continued to feel very safe as didother Jews.
Bill Benson: Al, you mentioned that your parents had large families. In the Netherlands did you have uncles and aunts and cousins?
Al Münzer: No I do not. In fact I know very little about their siblings. The only sibling I
know anything about on my mother's side is my Uncle Abraham who managed to leave Germany
with his family, with his wife and son, for South America for Bolivia. And to this day I
still have relatives in South America and specifically in Bolivia. And on my father's side
the only person I know about, the only sibling, is my Uncle Emil. He joined my father about a year
after my father came to the Netherlands and also worked at the same business as a tailor.
And here he is on the far left, Emil, my uncle Emil, holding my sister Leah. And on the right
is my father holding my sister Eva. And of course my mother sitting somewhere in the middle.
A photograph that was probably taken some time in 1939, looking at the ages of my sisters.
Bill Benson: Al, on September1st, 1939, Germany's invasion of Poland launched World War II.
The following May of 1940 the Netherlands was attacked by Germany. Please tell us what the German invasion meant for your family and for the other Jews in the Netherlands.
Al Münzer: Well until the actual invasion, Jews had felt very very safe in Holland.
Jews had lived in the Netherlands for hundreds of years and in addition to that, Holland had
succeeded in remaining neutral during the First World War and so did not have any—had every
hope of not to be invaded by Germany this time around. But that of course did not happen. My mother
has shared a very distinct memory of what happened on May 10, 1940. She told me that the evening
before, they had been asked to host a man who was a member of the Dutch resistance movement. And
he had a briefcase with him, according to my mother, to preemptively destroy the railroad center
in the city of Utrecht in the hope that that would slow down any invasion coming from Germany.
But the following morning as they turned on the radio and listened to the news, they heard that the port city of Rotterdam had been bombed by German
planes. And of course, you know, that was sort of the beginning of the end.
The first person to speak up that day, my mother told me, was their guest, the man
from the Dutch resistance movement and he said in Dutch, "G-d dank, het is de einde."
"Thank G-d, it's over." As far as he was concerned, he had been part of the resistance movement,
he had done what he could to slow down any invasion, but he felt that it was now inevitable
that the Netherlands would be taken over by Germany and he felt that any future sacrifice of
Dutch soldiers would be unfortunate and so would be a loss
and so that's why he said, "Thank G-d, it's over." But for him, he would have to accommodate to the occupation, but for my parents,
they knew what had happened to their relatives in Germany and in Poland and they knew they
were going to be in for a very, very difficulttime. Bill Benson: And Al, as they obviously anticipated, it would not be long after their occupationthat the Nazis began
imposing restrictions on Jews in the Netherlands. Tell us about some of those restrictions that your family faced.
Al Münzer: Well the earliest restriction that was put in place was a ban on ritual slaughter of animals
for kosher meat something that might seem benign but then after that all sorts of other regulations
were put in place Jews had to take on a new middle name men Israel women Sarah so they could
always be identified as being Jewish eventually their identification documents were stamped with
a big "J." Eventually they had to surrender their bicycles even and you know they had to register
all their property so that it would be easier for that property eventually to be confiscated
so a gradual gradual imposition of all sorts of of regulations meant to isolate
the Jewish community and to humiliate the Jewish community you know for example there was one rule
prohibiting Jews from going into public parks which made absolutely no sense.
Bill Benson: And will you tell us about an incident that your mother described to you?
Al Münzer: Yes. My mother—you know, when you have a regulation that makes absolutely
no sense you tend to ignore it. And so my mother continued to take my sister Leah in her baby
stroller into the park in our neighborhood. And then one day, my mother told me, a German woman
approached the baby carriage and my mother told me her heart almost stopped because she knew
she wasn't supposed to be there. But then the woman approached the baby carriage started playing with
my sister's blonde curls, pointed to her blue eyes and smiled and said to my mother, "Ah, you can tell
that this is good Aryan blood." That crazy racist ideology suddenly coming to the fore. My
mother thanked the woman and of course left the park, and never went back into that park again.
Bill Benson: Now did your sisters have the ability to start school during that time?
Al Münzer: My younger sister Leah probably was not old enough to go to school, but very soon Eva was prohibited
from going to a public school. And so at that point for my parents
with the help of two neighbors that they had befriended, the Van Leeuwen sisters, my sisters were placed in a Catholic school. My older sister at least at that time was
placed in a Catholic school. Eventually she was joined there by my sister Leah as well.
Bill Benson: Al, you were of course then to follow your two sisters you were born November
23rd, 1941, almost 19 months after the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands began. In the
midst of such circumstances, your parents joy over having another child must have been accompanied by
profound fears. What can you tell us about how your parents were feeling
at that time with respect to your birth? Al Münzer: When my mother found out that she was pregnant again,
she consulted her obstetrician. And this was of course at a terrible time. Not
only were Jews being subjected to all of the regulations that I mentioned earlier but in
addition to that, there had already been a roundup of Jews in the city of Amsterdam who ended up
in a concentration camp in Mauthausen. And this was fairly well generally known actually. So
under those circumstances, my mother must have been terribly, terribly afraid and it was no wonder that
her obstetrician advised her in no uncertain terms to have an abortion to terminate the pregnancy.
Now my mother wasn't particularly religious at the time, but she did turn to the Bible for advice and
she read the story of a woman called Hannah. And Hannah you might remember was a woman who would
go to the temple every year and pray that she might conceive. And it was in reading of Hannah's
agonizing desire to have a child that my mother decided she could not possibly have an abortion.
And so indeed November 23rd, 1941, I was born at home without the obstetrician who refused to
have anything further to do with my mother but with the help of a nurse.
Bill Benson: And of course, this is you shortly after your birth.
Al Münzer: Exactly. Bill Benson: Al, it's a custom in Jewish tradition for male babies to have a circumcision ceremony.
That created a dilemma for your parents as well. Will you tell us about that? Al Münzer: Sure. Well my parents' friends advised them very strongly,
"Don't have him circumcised, it will always identify him as being Jewish." But this time
the answer to my parents' dilemma came in the form of the worried look on the face of a pediatrician
who had just examined me, and my father asked him, "Is there something wrong with the baby?"
But then the pediatrician smiled and said, "No, it's just that your son needs a minor operation we call
a circumcision." And so my father told him of our Jewish tradition and indeed eight days later,
family and friends gathered in our home for the observance of this first milestone in a Jewish
life. It may well have been the last such gathering in the city of The Hague. Certainly one of the last.
Bill Benson: Al, this picture is of great significance to you. Will you tell us about it?
Al Münzer: These pictures are very, very special. They're only about oneby one and a half inch in size. They were taken at
the circumcision ceremony. And my mother was to keep these two small photographs
hidden on her body through her subsequent stay in 12 concentration camps, and she developed
this superstition that if she ever lost these photographs, it would mean that I had been killed.
Fortunately my mother survived, I survived, and the photograph survived, and the photographs are now
part of the collection of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and here—
Bill Benson: I was just going to say each of—the fact that you, yourmother survived is remarkable,
but the fact that these photographs remained with her throughoutthat entire ordeal is really stunning.
Al Münzer: Yes it is. It's really, really amazing and they are, and remain, very, very special
to me and I'm glad that they're being saved, cared for at the Museum. And here on the
photograph we see a few people that I've mentioned earlier. Circled on the far left, you can see
my father and then right below him is my sister Eva, and then to the left or their right
is my sister Leah looking actually at my sister Eva. And then in the circle above
you can see my Uncle Emil, the man with the hat, and to his right is his fiancée
Ellie, whose last name I unfortunately never learned.
Bill Benson: Al, in the summer of 1942 the Germans began systematically deporting Jews from the
Netherlands to killing centers in German-occupied Poland. As conditions worsened by September, your
parents decided that the family must go into hiding. What convinced your parents to do that, and
tell us about their decision to to find hiding.
Al Münzer: Well my father received a notice to report for so-called labor duty which he knew meant going
to a concentration camp. First the concentration camp in Holland but then with a stronglikelihood of being sent
actually east. And so he first avoided going to that labor camp by submitting to a hernia operation that he had
delayed for a long time and that, you know, gave them some time. But then of course he knew that
he was going to be called again, again and he did receive a second notice. And at that point the
family decided, my parents decided, that we ought to go into hiding like so many other Jews were doing.
Now some Jewish families like the famous family of Anne Frank went into hiding as one family unit.
But in the case of my family, my parents decided that as a form of insurance, so that if they were
taken, at least their children would have a chance to survive, We would hide in separate places. So the
first one to go into hiding was my father since he had received that notice and he hid, went into
hiding in a psychiatric hospital, the Remarkkliniek where he joined 250 other Jews who were in hiding there
after pretending to commit an act of suicide. That's what gained him admission there.
Bill Benson: How did your mother, then with your father in this psychiatric facility as a patient, how did your mother care for the three of you? She now
has three young kids. How was she able to do that? Al Münzer: Mymother told me that that was one of the most frightening times of her life. She told me that
she was so afraid that the doorbell might ring indicating that a German or Nazi officer might be coming to the house that she covered the doorbell,
the clapper of the doorbell, with a piece of cloth. And then she told me she spent the entire night
sitting on the stairwell watching the clapper to see if it moved. Incredibly, incredibly
frightening times until she was able to find a place for my sisters and myself.
And this is a photograph that I absolutely adore. It's the only picture that I have
of me with my sisters, and I imagine that in this photograph I was probably about six, seven months
old. And you can see my sister Eva holding on to my arm and my sister Leah pulling her short arm
around me in a protective way. This expression of protection of their little brother
just is incredibly, incredibly moving for me whenever I look at this photograph.
Bill Benson: Al, what what arrangements then did your mother make to put your sisters into hiding?
Al Münzer: My sisters were placed initially with two neighbors, two women, who were very devout
Catholics. And they agreed to take my two sisters at least until a more permanent
hiding place could be found for them. They were the Van Leeuwen sisters who lived right
next door to us. That left my mother with me. And then a neighbor who lived across the street,
a woman by the name of Annie Madna, agreed to take care of me. And it's at that point of course my
mother brought me to Annie Madna across the street with a bundle of my blankets, ration stamps
so I could have food, and some toys. And then my mother at that point joined my father
in the same psychiatric hospital where he was in hiding. In her case not as a patient
but as a nurse, a nursing assistant actually. Bill Benson: So she actually found employment in that same psychiatric hospital.
Al Münzer: Yes. My mother told me that it was really her first exposure to to mental illness and sometimes when
she thought about the world outside, she wondered where the mental illness really resided. Was it
inside the hospital or in the world gone mad all around her? My parents had a surprise
on Christmas Day 1942 when my two sisters were brought to them
on a visit and so for a short time at least part of the family, the Münzer family,
was reunited in that psychiatric hospital. And it's probably during that visit that
my parents gave permission for my sisters to be baptized which happened January 14th, 1943.
Bill Benson: And Al you were not able to have any such reunification or visit as your sisters did.
Al Münzer: No, I did not. Bill Benson: No. I imagine all of our viewers are just trying to
think about and imagine the profound decision that your parents made to go into hiding and to
hide their daughters and then you separately from them. I just just can't imagine how
terrifying and heartbreaking that must have been. Al, in December 1942, your parents along
with other Jews who were hiding in that hospital were arrested by German police. Tell us about that.
Al Münzer: On December 31st, 1942, New Year's Eve, the hospital, the Remarkkliniek, was invaded
by the Nazis and all 250 patients who had been hiding there were arrested and
sent first to a temporary prison in the former home of Spinoza, the Dutch Jewish philosopher.
You know, a prison created in that place, part of, I guess, typical Nazi mentality.
They only remained there for a very short period of time because at that point all
of them were taken to Westerbork. Westerbork was a concentration camp in the northern part of Holland.
And that was the first of a whole series of concentration camps my parents were to visit.
Bill Benson: Your mother I think shared with you what daily life was like for her when she went to another camp called Vught. Will you tell us about that?
Al Münzer: Yes. Well, my mother told me first of Westerbork, she didnot found too unpleasant. It had been built as a
receiving center for Jewish immigrants, for Jewish refugees. Of course eventually it became massively
overcrowded. My parents after a few months were taken to another concentration camp that you
just mentioned: Vught. And in Vught they were assigned to do slave labor again. Initially I don't know exactly
what my father did, but my mother initially was assigned to making fur coats which to her
great unhappiness were actually for the wives of Nazi officers. But then after a while she was
assigned to do work for the Phillips electronics factory. The actual factory had been bombed but
then the head of the factory, Fritz Phillips, had been persuaded by the Germans to reopen a
place of work, a factory, in the concentration camp so they could use slave labor for things that were
essential for the German war effort. He agreed to that on condition that the prisoners would
be well-treated, be adequately fed, and have a place to eat and would not be abused. And my mother was
fortunate to join that group called the Phillips Kommando where she was assigned to make
radio tubes which she soon learned were essential for the German war effort.
Bill Benson: Although your mother had initially hidden you with a neighbor Annie Madna, it soon became
unsafe for you to stay there. Tell us about the arrangements that Annie then made for you.
Al Münzer: Annie was somewhat older and so she almost immediately passed me on to her younger sister
and that was the Polak family. And Yorina and Tunis Polak. And Deenie Polak, who fortunately is
still alive, their youngest daughter who was then six years old, filled me in on some of the details.
She told me that I slept in bed between her parents but that unfortunately I wasn't very happy
and that I was crying a lot, just unhappy about the big change from the home that I had been
with my parents probably. And so the Polaks were afraid that a Dutch Nazi neighbor might
hear me. And so after three weeks being there, they reluctantly parted with me and that's why I ended
up being placed with the Madna family, Annie Madna's former husband, the three children,
and of course, most importantly, the nanny who had taken care of the three children
and who now for all practical purposes became my mother.
Bill Benson: What can you tell us about Mima? Al Münzer: Yes. Mima Saïna was Indonesian just like Tolé Madna. Tolé Madna had come to the Netherlands,
he was born in Indonesia but came to the Netherlands in 1916.
And Mima came to the Netherlands probably around 1926. Mima had never learned
to read or write, came from a very poor background, and did not speak a word
of the Dutch language, only her native Indonesian language. And she always wore
her traditional Indonesian Javanese dress. And here I am being held by Mima.
Mima had a heart of gold and she would walk miles every day, I'm told, just to get milk for me.
I was with the Madna family illegally so there were no ration coupons to get food for me,
so they all had to share their meager rations with me, and Mima had to go out and find milk for me.
And I'm told that I slept in Mima's bed and that she kept a knife under her pillow vowing to kill
any Nazi who might try to come and getme. Bill Benson: What are some of your earliest memories
in your adopted household? Al Münzer: Most of the memories that I have with the Madna household
are very happy ones. I didn't know what was going on on the outside
and so here is a photograph that shows me being held by Mima I'm probably about, oh
two, three years old here. And on the right is Tolé Madna
who I always called Papa for the rest of his life. Dewie Madna in the middle.
Then Wil Madna hold a little dog And all Jewish children who were placed in hiding
were given a new name and I was given the name Bobbie.
And to this day that's what members of the Madna family call me. And for many years I thought I was called Bobbie after the little dog
But then a few years ago I shared that with Dewie Madna standing here in the middle
And she started to laugh and she said, "Oh no," she said, "You're wrong! The dog's name wasn't Bobbie, the dog's name was Teddy." So there went that particular
theory. There were times when I would have to go into hiding in a closet or a small cellar
because the house was being searched buts that's when I thought it was a
game of hide and seek, and I would play with the Christmas decorations that were hidden there,
that were kept there. And so again, that wasn't an unhappy memory either.
Bill Benson: Al, during that time that you were with the Madna family, were you ever able to go outside?
Al Münzer: Probably perhaps very early on, Papa Madna, according to the family and speaking to
them, took me out in a stroller. And you know when people pointed to the baby, the little
boy in the stroller, and asked him, "Who is that?", he would simply say, "It's my son." And they might have a puzzled look on their face but that's all he would tell them.
And then, but later on subsequently, I was really never allowed out of the house. That would have
been much too dangerous. In fact the only view that I had of the outside world was what I
could see through a mail slot. That was all I could see. I was not even allowed to come close
to a window for fear the people on the outside might see a very different looking child.
There was one exception. There were some children who were allowedof course to come in and play with me, and they are portrayed in this particular photograph. And it shows the third of the
children—I'm on the tricycleand behind me is the third of the Madna children, Robbie or Rob Madna.
And I was probably called Bobbie because that name is so close to Robbie. So people would just confuse
one with the other. And then the two other children are Helga Friederizi and Arthur Friederizi.
Until about a year ago I did not know their first names, only the last name. And then Arthur
Friederizi read an article in the newspaper that had a photograph of me being held by Mima
and he said, "I recognize that little baby, I used to play with him." He contacted the author, it was
actually the review of a book about the Indonesian Dutch resistance movement,
and the author put him in touch with me and we started corresponding. And then last
October, Arthur Friederizi and I were reunited after 75 years. I had no memory of him, I was
only four years old when we were last together but he was six so he had more of a memory of me.
Bill Benson: And Arthur was the little boy on the right-hand side in that photograph. And Al, thatwas just last year?
Al Münzer: That's just this last October, and then we saw each other again in May when I was back in Holland.
Bill Benson: Oh, amazing, amazing. Al, while you were in hiding with the Madnas of course the rest of your
family had a very different experience. After staying with the next-door neighbors for a year, your two sisters Eva and Leah were moved to the home of a Catholic woman.
Will you tell us about what happened to them afterthat?
Al Münzer: Yes. The local, the parish priest, Father Lodders, had been charged or had taken charge of finding what he thought would be a
safer place for my sisters. And he found one, he thought, with a woman called Roza Mazurowski
and her husband who operated a small guest house and they thought that that might be, as he thought,
might be a safe place for my sisters. So that's where they were placed sometime in October 1943.
But then a few months later in February of 1944,
the husband of the woman denounced his wife as hiding two Jewish children,
and his wife was immediately—they were all—my sisters and his wife were immediately arrested. His
wife was sent to a prison near The Hague and then on a few months later to several concentration
camps, but survived. My two sisters, however, were immediately taken to Westerbork and from there
to Auschwitz where they were killed February 11th, 1944. They were only five and seven years old.
And this is probably the very last photograph taken of them while they were attending
a Catholic school while in hiding with either the van Leeuwen sisters or with Roza Mazurowski.
So I never got to meet my sisters. They were two of 1.5 million children who lost their lives in the Holocaust.
Bill Benson: And Al, on that same transport that took your sisters to their deaths, you
also lost another family member. Al Münzer: Yes. On that same transport, looking at the list of people deported, was
the name of my Uncle Emil. And we surmised that he found out that my sisters had been taken
and that they were going to be deported, and he did not want them to go alone. So he joined my sisters
in that same transport and he was killed that same day on arrival in Auschwitz, February 11th, 1944.
Bill Benson: In March of 1944, your father was also sent to Auschwitz. Tell us what happened to your father.
Al Münzer: My father on arrival in Auschwitz was fortunate, if you will, to be selected for labor duty
rather than being sent immediately to the gas chambers. And for a long time I did not know
exactly what kind of work he did in Auschwitz, but then a researcher at the Holocaust Museum
showed me a small piece of paper or old card actually, which had his number as a prisoner
175-442, no name. And then it said that he was entitled to a premium payment,
a payment of course not going to him, but a payment going to the command center in Auschwitz.
And so I assumed if he deserved a—was worth a premium payment that he was probably
doing you know fairly light, you know, brainy type of work. But then much more recently
I noticed those words at the very end: Kdo. Fürstengrube. I'd always assumed that that was the
name of a person doing the authorizing but then I found out that that was the name of a coal mine,
a terrible, terrible place to work. So my father actually worked in a coal mine, mining for coal
that was destined for the IG Farben factory which was also located next to Auschwitz.
Bill Benson: And Al, as it turned out, your father was able to survive till the end of the war but not much
longer than that, right? Al Münzer: That's correct. As the Soviet Army approached from the east,
all of the prisoners who were in Auschwitz were taken on forced marches, death marches as they
were called, to a whole series of other camps. My father was taken first to Mauthausen,
then to camps called Gusen, Steyr, Ebensee, all of them located in Austria. Ebensee especially
a beautiful place high in the Austrian Alps where actually "The Sound of Music" was filmed.
In that area there was this terrible camp where the prisoners including my father worked
in tunnels underground, abandoned salt mines, assembling V2 rockets for the German Army.
Terrible work, never seeing daylight, almost no food. Nonetheless, my father survived long enough
to witness liberation by the U.S. Army in May 1945. But he was so ill, so debilitated
that he actually died two months later after being cared for in a convent in
Ebensee, and he lies buried in the Ebensee concentration camp, which is one,
now one, huge cemetery. So I never got to know my father and all I have of my father
are some mementos. This is one especially dear to me. It's my father's pen, and it's one my mother
told always to carry with me whenever I took a difficult exam as a good luck charm.
My mother was also taken to Auschwitz. She remained in Vught
until June 1944 and then she was taken also to Auschwitz. Now fortunately, because she had worked
for the Phillips Kommando, that group she was with was somewhat protected, so she was sent on
from Auschwitz to another camp called Reichenbach, home of the Telefunken electronics factory, and
there she continued to do the same kind of work that she had done in Vught assembling radio tubes.
And she told me that radio tubes were really became a symbol, a token of her survival.
Bill Benson: And would you tell us about the acts of not just defiance but sabotage that your mother engaged in while she was there?
Al Münzer: My mother—after a few months the prisoners were joined by German soldiers who had been repatriated
from the Eastern Front because they had been severely injured and they had become so anti-Nazi
that they did everything possible to sabotage the workings of the factory. And
so this encouraged my mother to engage in her own small acts of sabotage. So on occasion
she would spend a whole day assembling one radio tube, then at the end of the day when the siren
was sounded to go back to the barracks, she would disassemble the radio tube, put all the parts back
in the drawer and start the process all over again the following day.
The other act of defiance that my mother told me about was remarkable, was the
celebration by the prisoners, by the women in her contingent, of the Hanukkah
holiday, the Jewish Festival of Lights. Obviously they did not have a proper menorah.
And so my mother went to the infirmary where she asked for a wad of cotton, telling them that
she was having her menstrual period, before she hadn't had periods for many, many years. And she
impregnated that little wad of cotton with some of the oil from the machine she worked on, it was then
planted in a potato, and then the women placed that potato at the window in
their barracks, lit this makeshift candle, and sang the traditional songs that go
with Hanukkah. The kind of act of defiance that I think is what kept my mother alive.
Bill Benson: What a remarkable lady she was, Al. I wish we could hear a lot more about her
and your time together after the war. And speaking of that, tell us a little bit about how your mother was actuallyliberated.
Al Münzer: My mother was eventually liberated at the Danish border throughthe intervention of Count Folke Bernadotte.
And she and a group of women were then taken to Sweden to recuperate and she remained there until
August 1945. And it's at that point that she was returned to the Netherlands
and that's when I was reunited with my mother. Bill Benson: Will you tell us about what you recall of that
reunification with your mother? Al Münzer: That's probably the very first clear memory that I have.
I had been asleep in one of the back rooms of the house and then my foster sister Dewie came to get
me and carried me into the living room where the whole family had gathered in a circle. I was cranky,
unhappy at having been awakened and so they did what you do with a cranky child:
you passed it from lap to lap and that's what they did with me. But what I remember is that
there was one lap I refused to sit in, one woman I kept pushing away and that woman was my own
mother because she was a complete stranger to me. My mother at that point was Mima Saïna.
Bill Benson: What was it like trying to rebuild a relationship with your mother after being separated from her at such a young age?
Al Münzer: My mother decided that as a first step it would be good for Mima to continue to take care of me. But
then sadly at the end of September, September 30th, 1945, Mima passed away. This is a very remarkable
photograph by the way, that was also taken by Arthur Friederizi's father, and it was taken
the day after I was reunited with my mother. And you can see that it's Helga Friederizi
who is holding on to me while my mother is still standing in the background. But gradually,
actually very quickly after that, especially after Mima was taken away from us, I bonded very closely
with my mother and that really came quite easy. My mother, you know, made it very easy. She told me
that her reason for living, what gave her a reason to continue living, was having to take care of me.
Bill Benson: Tell us a little bit about this photo. Al Münzer: Well this photo was taken a few years later.
My mother initially tried to make a living selling some of the fabrics
that were left behind from my father's business, but then eventually she acquired this
cosmetic store and that's how she continued, that's how she actually made a living. And here's
a photograph, very nice photograph, of the two of us. I'm probably about seven or eight years old
but you know my mother was, it was really remarkable how my mother adapted, if that's
even the right word, after the loss of her husband and two daughters and I don't know how she did
it. Again it is probably because just like she said she knew she had to take care of
me and it was really also part of her continuing defiance. She did not want Adolf Hitler to have the last word.
Bill Benson: Al, do you know when your mom learned what really happened to her daughters and toher husband?
Al Münzer: For my part, you know, it took me a long time to realize what happened to my sisters.
I would overhear conversations of people saying well such and such a person came back, and that person did
not come back. And I gradually came to understand that my sisters had been taken somewhere
and did not come back and eventually was able to find out that that meant they had been killed.
I don't know exactly when my mother found out what happened to my sisters and my father.
Details about my father probably she did not learn until about 1952.
That's when she found out where he died and she visited Ebensee. For my sisters, shortly
after her return to the Netherlands, my mother testified against—to provide a testimony
against a man who had arrested my sisters. His name was Dirk Vas and I viewed the criminal record. He
was a Dutchman and he was tried for treason and my mother offered testimony and then in the course of
the testimony, she was asked by the examiner, "And where are your daughters now?" And her answer was,
"Nog niet teruggekomen" in Dutch. Have not returned as yet.
I don't know whether she was just saying that in the hope that my sisters might be alive
or whether she actually knew that my sisters had been killed. Bill Benson: Al,I have a final question for you today and that is: in the
face of rising global antisemitism, please tell us why you continue to tell and share
your first-hand account of what you and your family experienced during the Holocaust.
Al Münzer: The story of my family, like the story of a million families just like mine, shows the terrible consequences of hate and bigotry and that's an important lesson that the world sadly still has to learn.
And that's one reason I continue to tell the story.
By the same token, the Madna family and all the others who tried to save my sisters
and Roza Mazurowski and certainly the Polak family who had intervened with me but especially the Madnas
show that even when surrounded by a sea of hate, it is possible to do what is right
and that too I think is a very important message especially for young people, and that's I think what I hope will be the lesson that people will take from my story.
This conversation has been edited in length for educational and classroom use. View the full First Person: Conversations with Holocaust Survivors program here.