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Eyewitness to History: Louise Lawrence-Israëls

Louise Lawrence-Israëls was born in Haarlem, the Netherlands, in 1942. When she was six months old, her family went into hiding in an attic in German-occupied Amsterdam. Louise’s parents tried to provide as normal a childhood as possible for Louise and her older brother. When Louise was almost three, Canadian forces liberated Amsterdam and her family was finally able to leave their hiding place.



Louise Lawrence-Israëls: My name is Louise Lawrence-Israëls.

I'm a Holocaust survivor and Museum volunteer.

My country the, Netherlands, was invaded and occupied by the Nazis in May 1940.

Almost immediately, antisemitic laws were enacted, and Jewish businesses were confiscated, including my family's thriving textile business.

All valuables owned by Jews had to be handed to the Nazis as well.

The nice life that my parents had was abruptly terminated.

I was born in 1942, in Haarlem, just before the deportations of Jews from the Netherlands to the death camps in Poland began.

When I was 6-month-old, we received orders to relocate to Amsterdam.

It was there, to escape deportation, that my father, with help from the Dutch resistance, secured a secret hiding place for us.

Our family was provided false documents with new identities by the Dutch resistance.

I received a new name, Maria, which I had till I was almost 3-years-old.

My dad, mom, and my brother and I, along with a family friend, went into hiding in a storage attic in the middle of Amsterdam.

Only a couple of members of the Dutch resistance knew we were hiding there.

The attic had a toilet with a small sink with only cold running water.

There was no kitchen.

It was important to bring in the right things when we moved in because my father only left the attic to bring back food or medicine.

Bringing back anything else might have called attention to where we were.

Mattresses for the adults, and my brother, and a crib for me, as many warm blankets and clothing, a camping stove to heat water or to cook, some pots and pans and utensils.

There was a table and chairs, a broken sofa, and a cupboard already stored in the attic.

My father was always thinking ahead, and he brought a lot of scrap paper, pencils, and crayons with him.

He figured that they would have to keep my brother and I busy.

We didn't know how long we would be living that way.

We were often hungry and cold in the winters.

But my brother and I did not know any better.

My parents always gave us something to eat before we went to bed.

Sometimes, my brother and I shared a cracker.

My parents always saved something for us, even if they had to go hungry.

At times, my father was able to barter for food and other necessities, like medicine, through the resistance.

My father had some small art collections stored with trusted friends that he used to barter with.

My parents did not talk about the outside world with us, thinking that if we did not know what went on outside, we would not ask questions, and would not be frightened.

For us children, living in an attic was normal.

We did have some frightening moments, but our parents were always with us to comfort us.

We were homeschooled using the paper and the pencils that my father had brought with him, all in the form of play.

As a result, I could read by the time we were liberated.

However, when we were first able to leave our hiding place, we were so afraid of the outside world, a world that we didn't know.

When Canadian soldiers, who liberated us in May 1945, gave us Hershey bars and we tasted chocolate for the first time, my brother was not afraid anymore.

He wanted more chocolate, even if that meant going outside.

For my parents there was but one thought during the horrible years of Nazi occupation—trying to keep their two children safe.

Although we were able to rebuild our lives after the war, my parents continued to worry about our safety, always fearing that something terrible would happen again.

Over time, and through my volunteer work at the Museum, I learned that the Holocaust started with a four-letter word, hate.

As the number of Holocaust survivors dwindles, we need everybody's help to tell the world what happens when we let hatred win.

Hatred against people who have a different religion, a different skin color, different language, or a different way of dressing.

Genocide never stopped after the Holocaust.

Think about Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur, and Syria, the Rohingya people in Burma, and the Uyghurs in China.

This history must be told so that people will be inspired to make different choices and ensure it is not repeated.

We survivors are counting on you, on you to carry our message forward into the future.

Thank you.



Bill Benson: Welcome. Thank you for joining us for First Person: Conversations with Holocaust Survivors.

My name is Bill Benson. I have hosted the Museum's First Person program since it began 22 years ago.

Each month we bring you first-hand accounts of survival of the Holocaust. We are honored to have Holocaust survivor Louise Lawrence-Israëls share her personal first-hand account of the Holocaust with us. Louise, thank you so much for agreeing to be our FirstPerson today.

Louise Lawrence-Israëls: It's my pleasure Bill, and I'm very happy with to be with all of you this afternoon.

Bill Benson: Louise, you have so much to share with us in our short one hour so we'll go ahead and get started.

Before you tell us what happened to you and your family during World War II and the Holocaust, tell us about your parents and their life in the Netherlands before the war began.

Louise Lawrence-Israëls: Before the war began, my parents lived in Amsterdam. My father worked with his father in the family textile business. They manufactured clothing, they imported clothing, and they had a chain of stores where they sold what they manufactured. My mom was an artist and a fashion designer and they were very happy together till my father was mobilized in 1939.

Bill Benson: Louise, did you have a large extended family?

Louise Lawrence-Israëls: Yes, extended family. The immediate family wasn't that large but there were many, many cousins and second cousins and third cousins yes.

Bill Benson: and and when grandparents that time were still alive?

Louise Lawrence-Israëls: yes.

Bill Benson: All four, okay. You mentioned your father being mobilized into the Dutch Army which happenedin 1939, and then of course Germany invaded and occupied the Netherlands in may 1940. Tell us what you know about your father's experience in the Dutch Army.

Louise Lawrence-Israëls: So my father was a reserve officer and was called up pretty fast during the call-up of every Dutch man above the age of 18. He was stationed in this southern part of Holland, most southern town of Maastricht, and he was part of an engineering battalion and they were planning to blow up the bridges over the Meuse River what is a natural border between Germany and the Netherlands, and to try to prevent the Nazis from coming into Holland in case they were going to come in. My parents had planned to move together to Maastricht they found a little house my mom started making drapes and curtains but she never moved because in the first week of May 1940, my father called her just a week that she was supposed to join him is that you can't come couldn't say why but my mom figured out that in an invasion bythe Germans would be imminent and it was because they came into the Netherlands in 1940.

Bill Benson: AndLouise after they came into the Netherlands and occupied your country, they passed a number of antisemitic laws soon after the occupation. Will you tell us about some of those laws?

Louise Lawrence-Israëls: Right. SoJews had lived in the Netherlands for more than 500 years. They were integrated in the country.

There was no antisemitism at that time, they just lived out of their own life or they lived alife in the Netherlands and all of it and it was I always say it was a big life and that life became slowly smaller and smaller. It was very gradual.

What happened to my family is that their family business was confiscated because it was a Jewish business and Jews were not allowed to have a business. Then the orders came that you had to hand over your valuables because you were not allowed to have valuables like cash savings books, gold, silver, jewelry, copper, tin, bicycles, radios, cameras, anything that was of value, he had to hand in. When you handed your stuff in, you did get a receipt and they said it was just for safe keeping, but I'm here to tell you that anybody that survived the war never saw their stuff again because it never stayed in Holland, went straight to Germany.

Then also Jews were not allowed to use any public transportation.

Jewish children were not allowed to go to public schools. You had to be treated by a Jewish doctor, a non-Jewish doctor could not treat a Jew. If you were sick you had to go to a Jewish hospital if you had to be hospitalized. So life really became smaller and smaller.

Bill Benson: At some point your parents then moved to a towncalled Haarlem west of Amsterdam where you were born. Tell us about Haarlem if you don't mind.

Louise Lawrence-Israëls: Right. So I don't remember very much about Haarlem.

I know now that it's a very lovely town. Haarlem had a good-sized Jewish community. So the largest Jewish community was in Amsterdam, but Haarlem had a really good size. They had a synagogue, they had two rabbis, you could buy kosher food. And my parents found a small house on a very quiet street and they rented the house. My father, my mother, and my two-year older brother, and I was born in that house and we lived there for another six months till we had to what the Germans called "evacuate" to Amsterdam.

Bill Benson: And here of course I think we see a a photograph of Haarlem.

Shortly before you were born in July 1942, the Germans began systematically deporting Jews

from the Netherlands to killing centers in German- occupied Poland. Life also became more restrictive

for Dutch Jews when they were forced to identify themselves with a yellow star of David badge. Will you tell us what this waslike for Jews including your parentsto have to wear this?

Louise Lawrence-Israëls: So in the Netherlands, the yellow star orders

for Jews above the age of six in the Netherlands came just around the time that I was born and

around the time that the trains deporting Jews to the death camps in Poland had started to run.

So there's always a question: so why - so you were ordered to wear a star, why did people really do it?

It singled you out. People might have known that you were Jewish, but like I said before, in

Holland it was not such a big thing, Religion - no matter what kind of religion, what religion you had

was accepted. But now all of a sudden you wear your religion on your chest and you couldn't really leave your house without this star sewn on your clothing.

The problem for not about not wearing it was that you didn't know at that time who you could trust.

There was an incentive to turn in Jews for the collaborators so if you had a neighbor

that you were friendly with and that you said hello with every morning, and he knew, he or she knew, that you were Jewish but that person could have turned collaborator

and if that person saw you walk outside without a star, they could turn you in and

they would get actually money for it. Bill Benson: Money forit. Louise Lawrence-Israëls: Yes.

Bill Benson: You know the Nazis heaped, of course, abuses large and small constantly, and oneof the ones that you shared with me was that

you had a very limited ration to get textiles fabrics for clothing, and yet you

were forced to use that ration to purchase the yellow star to sew on your own clothing.

Louise Lawrence-Israëls: That's correct. Bill Benson: Your family was close with another Jewish family who lived on your street in Haarlem.

will you tell us about them? Louise Lawrence-Israëls: Right. It was a very exceptional family. They lived all together.

The father of the family was the president of the Jewish congregation.

You can see here before the war how people lived. They worked hard but they also went on vacation.

The father of the family across the street from us, you see him here in the middle,

and one of the daughters in the front, her name was Selma, and she became a very good friend of

my mom's. And Selma's mom is right behind her. So this family lived in their house with their five

children and their two adopted cousins so there were seven children in the house all the children

were about my mom's and dad's age, around 30. None of them were married, some of

them were engaged. Also the father's parents lived in the house and two unmarried aunts.

They were very religious. They pooled their ration coupons for food every week

- because all food for all Dutch people was rationed - and they cooked every Friday night a Shabbat meal.

My parents were very often invited, as often as they wanted to go, and they could cross the street

and they loved it. And they celebrated Shabbat, the Jewish holiday that comes back every week.

It starts at sundown on Friday night. And they were very friendly. Bill Benson: Louise, tell us what

happened in January 1943 that had a major impact on your community and your family.

Louise Lawrence-Israëls: Right. So I have to track back a little bit about Selma. Selma was my mom's friend. Selma had been a teacher,

and she was fired because she was Jewish. So to have something to do, she used to come over to

our house just across the street quite often and help my mom with the two little children.

After the war she actually became my best friend. A wonderful person. So in January 1943,

the underground, the resistance - and I call them heroes because they all risked their lives to help

people that needed help - they worked against the occupying Nazis. But they got very organized. Since

deportations had started they tried to do anything in their power to sabotage

any of the Nazi rules or things that they were doing. They had also towards the end of January

shot one of the German sergeants, and as a form of reprisal the

occupying Nazis took 10 of the most prominent Jewish men - Selma's dad was one of them

and so was the rabbi - and you see the rabbi here on the left and Selma's dad is the third from the left.

And they shot them in front of the population. They also took another about 104 Jewish men

and sent them to a concentration camp in theNetherlands, and from there they were deported to death camps in Poland.

Bill Benson: So every man we see herewas executed. Louise Lawrence-Israëls: That's correct. Bill Benson: Along with another 100 plus people at that time. Tell us then whathappened to the rest of that wonderful family

that you described to us, that lived across the streetalso around that same time.

Louise Lawrence-Israëls: All Jews in our area, the coastal area, got orders to move to Amsterdam.

The Germans tried to make it easier on themselves and have Jews concentrated in Amsterdam, and

then all they had to do is pick them up and and deport them from there. So they wanted to makethat whole coastal area

what they called "Judenfrei" what means "free of Jews." So after Selma'sdad was murdered, she was again in our house and she heard a lot of noise across the street. This was a couple of days after her father was murdered.

And she looked out of the window and she saw a large truck. It had stopped in front of her house and some screaming people jumped off, they kicked in the door, and they rounded up

all her family members that were left in the house, of course, except for herself and her father who

was already murdered. Two of her brothers escaped through the backyard but one of the brothers had

promised his father that he would take care of the mother. And he, from his

having escaped, he actually came back so he was also pushed onto the truck. The truck drove

away and this family was deported to Auschwitz, one of the death camps, where they were murdered.

So Selma and her brother were the only ones that eventually survived.

Bill Benson: And Selma witnessed that taking place from your home.

Louise Lawrence-Israëls: Correct. Bill Benson: Where did your family and - including Selma now - where did your family and Selma go

when youarrived in Amsterdam? Louise Lawrence-Israëls: Right so my father was so scared after this happened to Selma's family

that he figured that same night we had to move to Amsterdam. He had waited with, about moving

but he figured we had to get out of there, and we moved in temporarily with one of my father'strusted resistance friends

in a small apartment. So it was my mom, my dad, my brother, and myself. I was six months old at the time.

And our friend Selma who stayed with us duringthe rest of the war most of the time.

And my father went out to look for a place to hide. He knew that he could not live in the open anymore,

and he was very lucky, he had studied in Amsterdam. His headquarters the family headquarters was in

Amsterdam, and he knew Amsterdam really well. He had trusted friends that at least

they showed that he could trust them, they had not turned to a collaborator, because they helped us. And he found a more permanent place in a storage attic in part of an Amsterdam row house.

Bill Benson: The resistance, the heroes that you've mentioned, they were obviously a huge factor in your

survival. Tell us whatactions that they were taking to try to slowthe deportation of Jews from the Netherlands. Louise Lawrence-Israëls: One of the very important things that they did

is they realized how easy it was for the Nazis to find out where Jews lived. We had this amazing

registration system, really thanks to Napoleon so many hundred years before, and when you were born,

within 24 hours, your father had to register your birth. Your name - your first name, your last name,

your address, and your religion. So all the Nazis had to do was go to a registration

office and they knew they could find where Jews lived. So to make that hard on them

the resistance bombed these registration offices, and you can see what the results are of one of

those bombings in Amsterdam. And then they burned the registration cards. You can imagine that

if this was done that the Nazis were very angry. So reprisals were left and right, and they tried

to find the people that actually did it but didn't always work. But then they took somebody else and killed them or sent them on an early transport to a concentration camp.

Bill Benson: I can only imagine that the retaliations were beyond brutal. And what we're looking at here then is like, hundreds if not thousands of file cabinets and the cards stored, and they're all

destroyed in this image. Louise Lawrence-Israëls: It's pre-computer times. Everything was on little cards.

Bill Benson: Louise, your father was able to manage to getfalse identity papers for the family. Will you tell us about that?

Louise Lawrence-Israëls: Right. So this was another thing that was organized through the resistance. They found a specialist who could work with different chemicals and they were able to

make false identity papers, because everybody had to walk around with an identity card and for

Jews there was always a letter 'J' written in it. So it was important to have a different name but

also not with that 'J.' It was very difficult to do, it's not like anything that people can

do today. If I see a fake identity card today I have no idea what the difference is between real

and the fake one, but at that time it was difficult. You had to take the old card, use chemicals and

erase certain things, but you had to leave certain stamps to make it real. So it was a lot of work and

people did it and we got fake identity papers. My brother and my name was on my mom's card

and my name became Maria. That you're supposed to have a family name I had no idea. I was too young

and my parents never told my brother and myself our real names. This is allfor safe-keeping.

Bill Benson: So until after the war you only knew yourself as Maria. Louise Lawrence-Israëls: That's correct.

Bill Benson: You mentioned that your father was able - with the help of the underground, he was able to find a permanent hiding place. Tell us more aboutthat. And I think we have an image.

Louise Lawrence-Israëls: Right. So this is an Amsterdam row house. These houses are morethan 700 years old but are

very well kept up, so it still looks exactly the same. And you see alittle indicator that points to the top part so that's where

the storage attics are. It's a little different than what most people expect. The storage attic

has its own walk-up, so its own entrance, and its own four flights of stairs

And you can rent space, so it's owned by a different person than the people that necessarily

live in the apartments. So my father was able to rent that. He paid 10 years of rent. He still had

that kind of money with the help of his father and he figured going out every month at a certain time

to pay the rent would probably be dangerous. The landlord, I have no idea who he was. He must have

been a good person, he never questioned it. He took the 10 years and he left us alone.

Bill Benson: 10 years. So your father anticipated that you mightneed that for that long of a period.

Louise Lawrence-Israëls: He had no idea. It could be a week, could be a year, it could betwo years. He just didn't know.

Bill Benson: Tell us - I'm just looking at that picture realizing that that's four stories up. That's where your

your attic space was. Tell us about the attic space. What was it like for you and your family?

Tell us about moving in there, what you know aboutit. Louise Lawrence-Israëls: Right. So it was a rough place right underneath the roof. It's not very well-insulated

soit's really very cold in the winter time.

These storage attics had a toilet - with a toilet that you could actually flush. It had

a small sink with cold running water. There was no kitchen, no bathroom with a tub or a shower,

and there were already a couple of things stored in that attic. There was a table and chairs, there

was a couch that was actually a broken down couch, but for my brother and myself it was wonderful, we

could jump on it. It was really one of the very few things that we could do. It had a dormer window,

and there was also a cupboard with some things stored in it. So it was very important to figure

out and to discuss before going in what we would need right away. So with the help of

the underground my father had stored some of my parents' stuff with a trusted friend, again from

the resistance, but we were able to borrow mattresses. They took in four mattresses, so for

my mom, my dad, Selma, and my brother, a crib for me, as many warm blankets and warm clothing as

they could get. They took in some food supplies. My mom took in a camping stove because there's

no kitchen, so if there's anything to cook or water to boil had to be done on a camping stove.

And she took in some oil lamps just in case the electricity would go off. My father also

thought ahead because he thought, I'm going in with these two little kids. So he brought in a

lot of scrap paper and a lot of colored pencils and crayons. Bill Benson: Tell us what you can about what your family's life was like then in the attic,

in the circumstances that you've just described. Louise Lawrence-Israëls: So I was six months and I could only crawl atthat time, but I was very alert and I

saw that most of the time mom and dad, Selma, my brother were sitting around the table.

Here you see me on the broken down couch. I loved to sit on it because it's nice and soft

and you also see that I really have very pretty clothing on. That was because mom and

Selma were always sewing, sitting around the table, they were mending clothes, cutting up

some of their old clothes making new clothes. I did not have shoes, I had booties because by the time

I started walking and my mom couldn't take me to a shoe store if there are still shoes to be found

because we never went outside. The only person that went out was my dad to try to get food, medicine, or

whatever else we needed. So I saw them sitting around the table most of the time, mom and Selma

sewing, but they were also playing games with my brother. And I learned as soon as I started walking

and talking and I could sit with them that the games were really fun, but what were they doing?

They were teaching my brother color and later on me too, we played games with colors.

They taught us letters and words and numbers and easy math. It was a form of home schooling.

It was clever to do that because it was a form of schooling, but it was a way of keeping us busy.

And we didn't know that it was actually a form of home schooling, we just thought that

they were paying attention to us what they were, and that they were playing with us.

Bill Benson: Before the war Louise, your father had been an avid collector of art and other objects.

How important was that to your survival? Louise Lawrence-Israëls: It was very important because my father used his art, and this was not Rembrandts

orPicassos, this was small artifacts that were actually stored by one of his friends so if he needed

to buy food for us or medicine, we had no income, so he was able to barter for things that we needed by trading his artifacts, and he

more or less used everything that he had. There was very little left after the war so

again, that is very lucky and he just had enough. It wasn't always enough like if he

wanted a whole loaf of bread maybe a little bowl would give him six slices so it was never what

he thought that it would be, a lot of stuff, but it was just enough to keep us from actually starving.

Bill Benson: And to use those items it meant, as you described a little while ago, he had to leave the

attic. He had to venture out at great risk to get the basics: some food to eat, probably

some fuel for the little camp stove that you had, and certainly if you ever needed medicine. So

tremendous risks for him to go out there. Louise Lawrence-Israëls: It was, but I don't think he thought about it because this was survival.

So the rest of us did not go out, he did, and sometimes he was actually warned because he always

made contact with - we had three people in the resistance that kind of took care of us.

Two of them survived, one of them did not. One of them was betrayed. The resistance, when they got organized, they had a special system, so he was sometimes warned,

you're planning to go out next Monday. Don't go out because we're expecting something.

'Something' was always a roundup in the area, or it was too dangerous to go out if he hadn't been out

for a while. One of these three people from the resistance used to come and visit us they were the

only people who knew where we were. Even relatives had no idea where we are. When you were in hiding you

don't exist anymore and nobody should know where you are. So they would come and see first of

all if you were still there. We could have been betrayed. And then always how they could help.

Pretty amazing heroes. Bill Benson: They sure sound it. They sure sound it, Louise. Despite the difficulties of living in the attic, as you've described to us so far, in July 1944 your family decided to have

a celebration. So you have to tell us about what they were celebrating.

Louise Lawrence-Israëls: Right. So again backtracking a little bit, myparents were really amazing people and of course

you always discover that when you're getting a little older, not right in the middle of our

occupation and hiding time. But they had one thought during that time of

hiding, and that was to try to keep their children safe. They wanted for the children to

stay together and have a life and they tried anything. And one of the things that they did

is they never talked to us about the outside world. They didn't tell us that our country was

occupied, they didn't tell us that we were persecuted because we were Jews, and they didn't tell us anything that we were hungry, and if we were cold in the winter

they never made a big deal out of it. We as children always got something to eat

before we went to sleep. Sometimes we shared a cracker because there was not more, but our parents always saved something for the children, was always about the children. So my

father had gone out again in June 1944 and when he came back his face looked different. I guess

my parents always looked worried but I didn't know my parents different. That was also normal for my

brother and myself, but my brother said, Papa you look different. What happened? And my father tried

to explain but my brother and I of course did not understand, because we didn't know what was going on in the outside. But my father explained to Mom and Selma that he had heard from the resistance

that the Allied Army had landed in Normandy, northern France. Here you see one of the landings.

And he became more hopeful. He said, so there is help on the way. When that will come we don't know

but I'm hopeful that we might make it. Because if he worried or the adults worried every

hour of the day, every minute of the day, because we could have been betrayed and betrayal would

mean deportation to a death camp. Bill Benson: Right. And the image that we see here are American troops landing at

Omaha Beach, June 6, 1944. So on top of celebrating the Normandy invasion and the hope that that would bring

liberationsoon, it was also your birthday. Louise Lawrence-Israëls: Right. My birthday was a couple of weeks later and my father picked that day. He said we need to celebrate this moment

of help on the way. And they had to really organize this because they couldn't

go to a store like today, you can organize a birthday party within a day or really a couple of hours, but that took a while. So mom cut up an old blouse and made a beautiful dress for me.

Selma from old rags made a doll like the Raggedy Ann doll, was my first doll I was going to get.

My brother had only one toy when we went into hiding he was two years old and he was allowed

to bring one toy and he brought a little wooden pull horse. I was allowed to look at it but I was

not allowed to play with it. It was his toy. So he wrapped it and he was going to give it to me

on my birthday. My father also talked to one of his friends and this friend said, I'm going to come

over on the birthday, and he brought over socks and shoes that I didn't have. Shoes were a little

bit too small, but for the picture they put them on my feet. He brought a little wicker chair, a doll's

chair. He said, she's going to get a doll, now she can play house. So it was really a fantastic birthday.

My best gift when I opened it was my brother's toy because I thought, now it's going to be

mine. Except he told me it was just for the day and I had to give it back at night, but at least it was

mine for the day, it was fine. I saw the chair and it was little, it was a doll's chair, but I was little

and I could sit in it. So here I'm sitting on this chair, but this picture that I got after the war

because my father's friend took the camera and the film with him and said, if she survives she'll

get the picture. And I also realize it's a tribute to my parents because you see a perfectly normal

little two-year-old without a worry in the world because my parents didn't want us to grow up

worried. They never told us what was happening and they never told us about their relatives they were worried about, and all their worries. So I'm perfectly happy,

and that's really a tribute to my parents. Bill Benson: And that's such a incredible photograph in so many ways, but you're wearing that special

dress that your mom made for you for your birthday. You're holding the doll that I believe Selma made for you, and you've got your brother's toy for the

day that's yours at your feet, and the shoes and socks. That's an incredible photograph.

And you're sitting on the little wicker chair so let's see that.

Louise Lawrence-Israëls: So this is the wicker chair, what wasreally one of our very few toys and

it's very beautiful. It was 150 years old, was already an antique of course by the time I got it.

And now it's way older because that's over 80 years ago, 78 years ago. So

we were rough with this chair. We stood on it, we threw it at each other when we were angry,

and but it survived and of course it was pretty damaged after liberation.

And you can see a lighter area on the bottom where my mom had the chair restored. It stayed with us

during when our children grew up but it was fragile, and you always had to have

a lot of room around it. And I asked one of our daughters if they wanted it and they said, no Mom

then we have to be careful with it. So I said well what if we donate it to the Holocaust Museum in Washington? And they said, that's a good idea, so that's where it is now. They

stabilized it and they take good care of it, and once in a while they show it, and sometimes it's

in the Permanent Exhibit. And we're all very happy that the Museum has it now.

Bill Benson: In late 1944, Allied Forces made their way to the Netherlands in the hope of liberating your country

but they were forced to stop short. Will you tell us why they stopped - what stopped them-

from reaching Amsterdam and being able to liberate you at that time? so the country

Louise Lawrence-Israëls: So the country south of the Netherlands is Belgium, and whenthe Allied Army liberated

western Belgium and they crossed the border into the Netherlands, one-third of the Netherlands is separated from

two-thirds, the northern part, by three rivers, large rivers, that run horizontal.

They really cut the country and the largest river is the Rhine River that most people know about.

So when the Allies came to the rivers and they had liberated the southern part of Holland,

they realized that we had an early onset of a very severe winter 1944-1945 in northern Europe,

that they didn't have the right equipment to cross three rivers. So they left the Canadian

part of the Allied Army, Canadian Army, camped by the rivers and they were told when the

rivers thaw in the spring, liberate the rest of the Netherlands. And the rest of the Allied Army went

into liberated eastern Belgium and into Germany. So the southern part of the Netherlands, people

are dancing in the streets, supply lines are coming through, no more ration or there was still ration,

but I mean there is food at least that they can buy with their rations. They can sing

in the street, they can wave Dutch flags, and they're happy. And then we in the north

have another eight months of a terrible winter. We actually called it the 'Hunger Winter.' It's for

all Dutch people, not just for people in hiding. Supply lines are closed off by the Nazis,

winter crops are frozen because the winter startedway too early, and we have eight more months of Nazi occupation.

Bill Benson: How do you think yourparents were able to get you through that terrible winter of 1944 to 1945?

Louise Lawrence-Israëls: Yeah, I have very vivid memories because we were hungry, but my father had emergency food. When he found out that the southern part was liberated,

he was able to trade a lot of his things for a lot of butter, sugar, and flour, and he

baked cookies that he sealed in tins that he had gotten from his friends. And that was

emergency food. There was so much butter in those cookies that it would keep you for a little while,

but I do remember being hungry and and getting to eat things that made us really sick because

they were not really edible, like tulip bulbs. But the other memory is that we were so cold

that we developed chilblains on our hands and feet. Chilblains are very, very painful

and that's caused by the cold, and it still exists today, but you can get a cream for it.

And a cream existed at that time but it was nowhere to be found. We cried, my brother and I,

we were in so much pain. So my father remembered that farmers in the 1930s, when they had to

feed their livestock in the wintertime, they also had chilblains because it was so cold outside.

And they knew exactly what to do. They put their hands and feet in cow or horse's urine.

And the uric acid in the urine is the same thing that's actually in the cream that will take care

of the pain. We didn't have horses or cows of course upstairs, and my father made us pee in

a potty before we went to sleep and put our hands and feet in our own pee-pee. We did not know it was

yucky or disgusting, all we knew is that the painwould go away. We could fall asleep without pain. So we were fine with that.

Bill Benson: And that's a memory that you still have to this day, doing that.

Finally on May 5th, 1945 Canadian Forces liberated Amsterdam. You were three years old at the time.

Tell us what you know about what it was liketo come out of hiding for you and your familyand Selma after all that time.

Louise Lawrence-Israëls: When my father heard all the noise on the street, he actually

pulled a chair next to the dormer window. He opened the window and he looked out and he said, I

think it's over. Well we didn't know what was over because we didn't know what was going on.

But miraculously he had one tin of cookies left and he was hungry, so he stuffed his face and put

the tin on the table and told us we could all take a cookie, a whole cookie - we'd only share

the cookie before. So my brother said, oh that is what it means. Being free means eating cookies.

We had no concept. So after a few days, my parents wanted to be absolutely sure that it was safe. My

father said we're going outside. So my brother and I, holding on to each other for dear life, followed

my father four flights of stairs. My father opened the front door, it was a beautiful sunny spring day

and the sun blinded us. We walked onto the street and we looked left and right. It was

very strange for us and we were scared. We didn't know what a street was. We thought if

you walk to - we lived in the middle of the block - but if you walk to either side of the street, you will fall off the street. We didn't know that the street goes into another street

or into a square, we were just afraid. My brother started crying. I mimicked everything he did and

I cried too. My brother said, I don't want to be free like this, I want to go back upstairs.

So it was a tough thing for my parents because they had succeeded. They had no idea what had happened to any of their relatives because communications were not

there yet - took a long time - but they have saved their children, and then the children don't want it.

So they took us back upstairs, also explained that my real name was

Louise, so from then on, no more Maria. And after a couple of days they said we're going out for a walk.

So we walk outside again, again crying, holding on to each other, my brother and I. And we see all

these people on the streets. My parents took us to the end of the street, it took us to a square, and people were celebrating freedom. They were climbing on Canadian military vehicles, they

were just happy. Everybody is wearing rags because nobody was able to go to a store and buy

new clothes if they were even in the in the stores. And so Canadian soldiers were mingling with

Dutch people and talking to them, and then they see these two kids crying, so they came over to us.

I have no idea what they were saying, I didn't speak English, but they gave each my brother

and I a Hershey bar, and my mom said we could taste the chocolate. You have no idea, the first time

you taste chocolate is magic. We couldn't finish the bar because our stomachs were so little. We

took the rest home. But the next morning my brother wakes up he jumps off his mattress and he screams,

"Can we go outside again?" He wanted more Hershey bars. So that shows you how resilient children

are. No more crying. Hershey bars. Bill Benson: So at that point,you were able to begin to sort of normalize life outside in the world.

What did yourfamily do following the war? Where did you live? Louise Lawrence-Israëls: So we went to the country as soon as myparents could, and then my father had a friend in

Sweden - Sweden had been neutral - in Stockholm who came over maybe two months after liberation.

And he offered my dad a job because there was no job for my father anymore. The business was really worked into the ground. All the machinery and everything was sent to Germany. There were

just four walls left. So my father needed a job. My mom of course was pregnant again and -

my parents had three more children after the war. And so we moved to Sweden for a couple of years.

Just before - my father went first so the first month that we lived in the country,

my parents had enrolled my brother and I in a Montessori school system where everybody

is not on the same page. We were so far ahead in certain things and so far behind in other things.

And we lived in Sweden for two years. My father was asked by the Dutch government to come back

and restart his business. So we moved back to Holland in 1948 and we, my brother and I, went back

to the Montessori school. We stayed there for the whole grammar school and that really was a very

good thing for us. The rest of my siblings followed, we all went to the same school.

My father was able, with the help of the Marshall Plan, monetary help like a loan, to restart

his business and it took five years of very hard work. In 1953 the business became profitable again.

Bill Benson: Louise, at what age do you think - do you recall - that you began to understand the enormity

of what had happened during the Holocaust? And what was the impact on you when you finally had that realization of what it reallywas about?

Louise Lawrence-Israëls: Right. So I knew that we were different. I knew different things that happened to us,

but myparents didn't want to talk about it. I did ask my friend Selma some things but I realized what the

Nazis had done to Jews when I started working as a physical therapist in Amsterdam.

I joined alarge practice and a lot of my patients were

camp survivors that had all kinds of ailments, most of them caused by being

in the camp and the hard labor they had to do. And they talked. Nobody else in the

Netherlands talked, but they talked. You have a special rapport when you have patients,

and you try to put them at ease and they talk, and I realized what had been done.

And then I wanted to know more about it and I read as much as I could but really everything

- not everything, nobody knows everything - but I learned most of course when I started volunteering at the Holocaust Museum in 1994. And every day there's something new that we find out.

Bill Benson: I've been amazed at what you're still learning about your own personal story to this day.

I have one more question for you today and that is in the face of rising global antisemitism,

tell us why you continue to share your first-handaccount of what you and your family went through during the Holocaust.

Louise Lawrence-Israëls: Right. So during the Holocaust approximately 12 million people were murdered by

the Nazis. Out of those 12 million, there were 6 million Jews, and out of those six million Jews,

there were a million and a half innocent Jewish children. They had never done anything wrong

in life. They were murdered because they were Jewish, and people let it happen. People stood by

and did absolutely nothing. I want people to be aware what really happened. The Holocaust was

genocide, and when you learn about it, you think that should never happen again. Never, never. But people didn't learn. It's still happening today. In late '70s, there's a genocide

in Cambodia, 1992 in Bosnia, 1994 in Rwanda. And look in this age that we're living in now.

Genocide in countries in Africa. There was genocide in the Middle East. And today still the the Uyghurs

in China - there is a Muslim group that lives in China - they're being persecuted by the Chinese.

And the Rohingya people in Burma. We cannot be silent. So if I tell you that a million and a half

innocent children were murdered and people didn't do anything, that is so horrendous. And when people learn that, my hope is that they will join me. I don't know how long I can still talk.

I will talk till I can't talk anymore, but I need everybody's help. People need to speak up when

they hear that there's something horrible going on, and you need to learn about it and then speak up.

So the website of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum can keep you informed of what is

going on in the world, and it can also help you and give you ideas what you can do. My advice is though,

always do something together. Do it with a group. For instance, if you have a bully in your school

and that bully wants you to do something and you confront that bully by yourself, that bully doesn't want to be confronted. He or she will bop you over the head and hurt you. But if you confront

that bully as a group, he or she has nothing more to say. You will succeed so don't be silent.

Tell people what happens when you don't respect other people, when people have a different religion than you, have different color skin, dress differently, have a different language.

We need to respect each other and we need to help each other, and that's why I'm still speaking. If

you've heard from me and people tell you the Holocaust never happened, you can say, but I heard

it from somebody who was there. Yes it did happen.That's why I'm still speaking and I will speak till Ican't speak anymore.

Bill Benson: Louise, thank you so much. There's just so much that you shared with us but one of the

most compelling for me is you gave us such an insight into that small world. You talked

about the big world your parents had, the big life, and then you had that very small life, but

your parents did everything possible for that small world, that small life to be your normal

life. That is just extraordinary. So thank you, thank you, thank you for that.

Louise Lawrence-Israëls: Thank you very much, Bill. Thank you all for listening. And pleasedo not forget: help. It should never happen again.

This conversation has been edited in length for educational and classroom use. View the full First Person: Conversations with Holocaust Survivors program here.