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- First Person Watch Alfred share his Holocaust experiences at a First Person program
- Oral History Access Alfred's Oral Testimony
- Podcast Listen to Alfred discuss the difficult decisions his parents made shortly before his birth
Alfred “Al” Münzer was born on November 23, 1941 in The Hague, Netherlands. He was the youngest of three children born to Simcha (Siegfried) and Gisele (Gitla) Münzer (sometimes Minzer). Simcha owned a men’s tailoring business and Gisele remained at home to look after Alfred and his two older sisters, Eva and Leah (Liane).
When Alfred was born, the Netherlands was already occupied by Nazi Germany. The Nazis implemented anti-Jewish restrictions and life for Jews in the Netherlands became increasingly dangerous. The Germans began carrying out mass deportations from the Netherlands to killing centers in July 1942. Simcha was ordered to report to a German labor camp but evaded the order by checking himself into the hospital for a long overdue hernia operation. By September it became apparent that the entire family would need to go into hiding. Simcha faked a suicide attempt in order to be committed to the Ramaerkliniek, a psychiatric hospital in The Hague. Meanwhile, Gisele sold the family’s possessions and settled her children with friends and neighbors before joining Simcha at the hospital as a nurse’s assistant.
Eva and Leah were initially placed with two sisters, Jo and Ko van Leeuwen, who lived next-door to the Münzer family. About a year later, the girls were moved to the home of another woman, Roza Marie (Rosalia) Mazurowski. But in early 1944, the woman’s husband allegedly denounced her and the girls to the authorities. All three were arrested. Roza Marie was detained in the Scheveningen prison, known colloquially as the Oranjehotel. The girls were then sent to Westerbork transit camp. On February 8, 1944 seven-year-old Eva, five-year-old Leah were deported to Auschwitz. Seemingly by chance, Elische (Emil) Münzer, Simcha’s youngest brother, was on the same transport. They arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau two days later and they were presumably all killed in gas chambers almost immediately upon arrival. After the war, Al learned from Red Cross documentation that Eva and Leah died in Auschwitz on February 11. On June 6, 1944, Roza Marie, who had hidden the girls, was sent to the Vught concentration camp, then to Ravensbrück concentration camp, and eventually was liberated.
Alfred was put in the care of a family friend and neighbor named Annie Madna, who placed him with her sister, Jorina Polak. However, after three weeks Jorina became too nervous to keep him because her neighbor was a Nazi collaborator. Annie then placed Alfred with her ex-husband, Tolé, a native of Indonesia. For the next three years Alfred remained in Tolé’s home, looked after by their Muslim housekeeper, Mima Saïna, who became his surrogate mother. The Madnas treated him as one of their own children, but he was not allowed to leave the house for fear that someone might see him and become suspicious. He remembers hiding in the cellar when German authorities came to the house. Despite their difference in appearance, the blond-haired, blue-eyed Alfred had no sense of being different from the rest of his Indonesian-Dutch family.
On December 31, 1942, the German police carried out a raid on the Ramaerkliniek, where Al’s parents and others were hiding. Alfred’s parents were arrested and deported first to Westerbork then to Vught. In March 1944, Simcha was sent back to Westerbork and from there deported to Auschwitz, where he was registered as prisoner number 175442. In January 1945 Simcha was sent to Mauthausen concentration camp and a number of other camps before being liberated at Ebensee. He died two months later at a nearby convent where he was receiving medical treatment.
After Simcha’s transfer, Gisele remained at Vught, where she was part of a work detail called the so-called Philips commando. This group worked for a factory run by the Philips electronics company. The hope was that this specialization would protect them from deportation. But, in June 1944, the prisoners of Philips commando were deported to Auschwitz. Many of them, including Gisele, were then sent to Reichenbach, a subcamp of Gross-Rosen. At Reichenbach, Gisele and other Dutch Jews from the Philips commando worked at one of the nearby Telefunken factories. She was sent to a series of other camps, ending up in a subcamp of Neuengamme concentration camp in northern Germany. In the spring of 1945, Gisele was ultimately liberated at the German border with Denmark in the spring of 1945 and evacuated to Sweden. In July she was repatriated to the Netherlands.
When Gisele returned for Alfred, the three-and-a-half year-old had no memory of who she was. In order to ease the transition, Gisele invited Alfred’s surrogate mother, Mima, to continue to care for him. However, a few months later Mima died.
When Alfred was six years old, his mother opened a cosmetics store in Holland. In 1952 they moved to Belgium where they lived until they immigrated to the United States in 1958. Today, Alfred is retired from his work as an internist and pulmonologist and lives in Washington, DC. He still maintains a close relationship with Tolé’s children and grandchildren. In 2003, Tolé Madna and Mima Saïna were honored by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations.