NEW YOR K – As a seven-year-old Jewish boy in Holland in the early 1940s, Haim Roet had to adjust to Nazi-imposed restrictions on his daily life. He was no longer allowed to join his friends at playgrounds or parks and had to leave the public school he was attending to go to a Jewish school instead.
“One day, the Germans came with the police and took us,” he told The Jerusalem Post. “We lived with my grandfather and they took us to the Jewish theater.
That’s where they gathered the Jews before sending them to concentration camps in Holland or to Auschwitz.”
People in the theater slept on the seats, and didn’t have access to the bathroom, he recalled. “The conditions were horrible.”
For reasons he still does not know today, perhaps just luck, Roet and his family were released from the theater and sent to live in a ghetto instead of going to a concentration camp.
In the ghetto, two of his sisters and his grandfather lived in one apartment while he lived with his brothers and parents in a second one next door.
But on the night of Rosh Hashana 1943, when the Germans knocked on his door, Roet knew that it was not luck that saved him. It was his mother.
After the Germans took his grandfather and sisters to Auschwitz from the first apartment, she knew they were next.
“My parents decided not to open the door,” he said. “But the next morning they came back again with lists of names, and they knew that we hadn’t been taken yet.”
“They knocked and knocked on the door. They threatened to break it,” he said.
Roet’s parents then knew they had to open the door, but his mother, who had learned German in school, began yelling and arguing with the soldiers.
She was so aggressive that after a few minutes one of them said, ‘I’ve had enough,’ and they left.
“This is in fact one of the reasons why I can speak to you today,” Roet told the Post.
Roet’s mother’s protective instinct began a series of events and encounters that saved his life. His family then got in touch with the resistance and were, although separated, taken in by people, including other Jews, who helped them hide from the Nazis until the end of the war.
Today, Roet has made it his mission to make sure that people who were not as lucky as he was are remembered – not just as part of a seven-figure number, but by name. In the early ‘90s, after the Dutch government decided to release two Nazi criminals from prison and a group of Jews held a protest against it, he initiated the commemorative project “Unto Every Person There Is a Name,” which consists of a public recitation of names of Holocaust victims.
Haim then read out loud the names of Dutch Jewish Holocaust victims, and since then, victims’ names have been recited on Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel and abroad.
On Wednesday, Haim Roet will tell his story to officials at the United Nations, as the body observes its annual International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust.
It will be the first time he speaks in front of such an audience. His son, David Roet, Israel’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations, said he is proud to have his father address the forum.
“Last week, while making a speech at the GA podium, I suddenly realized that in a week my father will be standing there telling his story,” he told the Post
“Having my father relate his story to the nations of the world at the hall I know so well, with my children listening in the audience, symbolizes to me his ultimate victory.”
“I’m particularly proud that my father chose not only to tell his story and the story of the Jewish people in the Holocaust, but to call on the nations of the world to work to end genocides of all people everywhere,” the deputy ambassador said.
Haim Roet will be joined by two other survivors of the Holocaust, including 81-year-old Marta Wise, who was chosen by Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon to speak in his place at the event, on behalf of the State of Israel. It is the first time a UN ambassador invites a Holocaust survivor to take his place on the podium for the occasion.
Wise said she was “very moved” by Danon’s invitation.
“As a child in Auschwitz-Birkenau, I could have never imagined that one day I would represent the State of Israel at the UN,” she said.
Danon said that it is for him “a great honor” to let Wise “represent the State of Israel in the parliament of nations.”
“Marta represents the story of the Jewish people, and the speech that she will deliver on behalf of Israel will reflect the values our state was founded on,” he stated.
The event, organized by the UN’s Department of Information, which is in charge of the United Nation’s Holocaust Outreach Program, will also be attended by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, General Assembly President Mogens Lykketoft; US ambassador to the UN Samantha Power and other officials, many of whom are also expected to deliver speeches during the ceremony.