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1940 Amsterdam occupied
© Beeldbank WO2 / NIOD

Hélène Egger - ‘The war had started, but I didn’t really care’

’10 May 1940, I remember it really well. You saw them coming over, the airplanes. The war had started, but I wasn’t really bothered because my mother was ill, really ill and I was more concerned about that.

She had a brain tumor. On 8 May she had just had her operation. It was a very difficult operation and it didn’t go well. It took nearly 9 hours. Her whole head was opened up. The tumor had to be removed. The professor who operated on her emigrated that same evening to America. Why? Because he was Jewish.

After the operation I went with my two older brothers Daniël and Julius to live with grandfather and grandmother in Amsterdam. They looked after us. The house on the Koninginneweg was far too small to raise three children. But there was no other choice. My parents had separated before my mother became ill.

I had been staying for a few days with the de Jong family when my brother Julius came to collect me. “Mummy has died” he said and I could see he was trying hard not to cry. We walked home together. I know exactly what I was wearing: a sailor suit with a large white collar.

When we arrived at our grandparents, there were small chairs everywhere. Jews do that when someone has died. They sit on the small chairs. For seven days. It’s known as sitting shiva.

I didn’t see my mother again. They buried her in the Jewish Cemetery in Muiderberg, a village near Amsterdam. I wasn’t at the burial. They kept me away from it all. I’m not quite sure why. I think they thought it was better for me. Later, after the war, I often went to her grave. I stood there for hours. Hours on my own. I was eleven when my mother died on 23 September 1941. Eleven years old and inconsolable.


Source: Extract from Ik ben er nog. Het verhaal van mijn moeder Hélène Egger. In cooperation with the author Debby Petter and Uitgeverij Thomas Rap.

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Hélène Egger

Hélène Egger is a 10 year old Jewish girl when the war breaks out in 1940. When her mother has to undergo a serious operation she goes to live with her grandparents. After being arrested, Hélène manages, with the help of her grandfather who has connections in the Jewish Council, to escape from the Hollandsche Schouwburg (Dutch Theatre). She goes into hiding and eventually ends up at a farmer's family in Brabant.

More about this person

1938 Many Jewish refugees after Kristallnacht

Many Jewish refugees flee to the Netherlands after Kristallnacht. Princess Juliana also feels connected to the Jewish community. But while more attention is drawn to the admittance of more Jews, NSB members threaten more intervention.

1940 Amsterdam occupied

Nothing changes too much for the Frank family in the beginning. Opekta moves to the Prinsengracht. During air raids bombs cause death and injury in Amsterdam.

1940  Amsterdam occupied

1941 Jews allowed to do and less

It starts with a cinema ban but rapidly Jews are banned from virtually all public places. Jewish children must attend separate schools. This also applies to Anne and Margot Frank.

1941  Jews allowed to do and less

1942 It becomes more dangerous for Jews

On her thirteenth birthday Anne Frank receives a diary. A few days later she writes about the situation in Amsterdam. The introduction of the Jewish star and the raids. In July the Frank family goes into hiding.

1942  It becomes more dangerous for Jews

1943 Deportations and attacks

While the Frank family is in hiding thousands of Jews are deported from Amsterdam. The resistance tries to hinder the deportations by attacks including one on the Public Registry. It doesn’t stop them.

1943  Deportations and attacks

1944 Discovered and arrested

On 4 August the people in hiding in the secret annex are discovered and arrested. From Westerbork they are taken to Auschwitz. When the Allies land in the south of the Netherlands there is hope that the country will be liberated. German soldiers and NSB members flee the country after Dolle Dinsdag (‘Mad Tuesday’).

1944  Discovered and arrested

1945 Joy and sadness

A celebration at the Dam on 7 May is ruined when people are killed after German soldiers shoot at the crowd. On 8 May Amsterdam is officially liberated. Otto Frank returns. He knows that Edith is dead. He only hears later that his two daughters have not survived.

1945  Joy and sadness

1946 Slowly the threads are picked up again

On 3 May 1946 the first official commemoration for those who died during the war is held. Anne Frank’s diary is published on 25 June 1947. Life in Amsterdam slowly gets back to normal. Of the 70,000 Jews who lived in the city in 1940 only 10,000 have survived the war.

1950 Lasting memory

Even five years after the liberation the reverberations from the war are still clearly noticeable. The Jewish community thanks Amsterdam for the help given to Jews with a monument.

1950  Lasting memory
  • 1950
  • To those who protected the Dutch Jews during the years of the occupation. Protected by your love. Encouraged by your resistance. Mourning with you.

    Part of the citation on the monument ‘Jewish Gratitude’
  • picture:Once a year, two minutes silence

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