talmud schelvis 248.88.
(photo credit: Randal E. Steckel)
I took the day off from work.I am a judge in real life and I decided that for one day I will stare at the Olympic Mountains, watch the sun dance off the Puget Sound, pet my dog, Sadie, (a sedate wolf hound mix) and drink strong, black Cuban Coffee on my sun deck.
As Rosh Hashana has recently ended I promised myself I will only think good thoughts as I start the New Year of 5770. But I can't.
These last few years I've been dreaming of Amsterdam, cold and wintry, of the Portuguese Sephardic Shul on Mr. Visserplein 3, of Westerbork Camp in Holland, of long train rides in a stinking cattle car, hungry and huddling with my family, of gas chambers and burning pits filled with human remains. And most of all I've been thinking of a young man, actually, in my mind a thin, gaunt, confused and scared teenager named Emanuel Schelvis. He doesn't talk to me. He just stares. All he wants is remembrance.
Why would I, a middle-aged, bald, overweight, Jewish judge on an Indian reservation in Washington State care about one Emanuel Schelvis, formerly of Amsterdam, the Netherlands?
It starts back in January 2007. My son, Benjamin, is in his second year of college and I promised him a trip over winter break.
That wonderful trip started out in Israel, taking us to Jordan and we spent our last days in Amsterdam. While walking the cold, dreary, rainy cobblestones of Amsterdam, admiring the canals, the ancient bridges, the old architecture and the historic monuments, I stumbled into a musty, used book store.
As I am an avid book collector I seek out used bookstores in strange cities. In this place - whose name I can't remember - I was looking in the Judaica section when I came across a prayer book from 1937 Verlag Sinai, Wien & Budapest. (Sinai Press is now located in Tel Aviv). Inside the leather and marbled prayer book I found a stamp that said "Joachimsthal, Amsterdam" and a dedication page that read:
Gift to Emmanuel Schelvis
On the Occasion of
His Honorable Dismissal
16 Nov. 1938
It was signed by the school headmaster, secretary and others.
I was curious; who was Emanuel Schelvis? When I showed the book to young non-Jewish Dutch people they thought it was to given to a retiring teacher or staff member of the Talmud Tora School.
Only when I contacted the Jewish Museum in Amsterdam did I learn the significance - It was a book given to a student who graduated from the Talmud Tora Jewish School. The student would have been 12 or 13 years old in 1938.
I was no stranger to Holocaust research. When I was a lawyer I did a pro bono case for a Holocaust survivor in my community. This gentleman, a respected physician in our town, lost his parents during the war. Prior to their deportation from Paris his parents sent him to a village in the French countryside.
After huge amounts of correspondence, no assistance from the French authorities, internet searching and help from French scholars and lawyers, I pieced together the history of his parent's murder - from their arrest in July 1941 by the Paris police, to their transfer to Auschwitz and the discovery of a death certificate issued by the Nazis a few weeks after the mother's arrival at the death camp.
At least I could provide a yahrzeit date for my friend's mother.
And what of Emanuel Schelvis? He kept appearing to me in my dreams, my thoughts, my head anytime I looked at my sons and realized only by a quirk of fate they did not suffer like this young man.
I sent correspondence - in Dutch - to dozens of people in Amsterdam with the last name Schelvis that I found in the phone book.
Utilizing the database held in the Digital Monument to the Jewish Community in the Netherlands (www.jewishmonument.nl) and with help from the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam, I was able to locate Schelvis family genealogy records. It became a time consuming and sad endeavor to find Emmanuel Schelvis and learn what happened to him.
Friends asked me why I was doing this. Why was I being kept up at night? Because Emanuel needed a voice.
Although he was gassed and burned and his ashes dumped into the river bug in Poland, he had a name, a family and his only crime was being born Jewish. And as I listen to the insane Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad deny that the Holocaust ever happened and spew his Jewish hatred to a world audience I thought: "The best revenge we can have is to never let the world forget." And so I kept looking.
I learned that the Talmud Tora School, where Emanuel spent his formative years, was one of the oldest Jewish schools in Amsterdam to help children from poor families. In 1924 the school was moved to Tweede Boernaavestraat 7. In 1943 the school was closed by the Germans. Today it is a multi-family residence.
According to the Amsterdam Jewish Historical Museum, there were 150-200 people with the last name Schelvis murdered in the Shoah.
The last name Schelvis in Dutch means "Haddock." As Jewish family names usually correspond to a profession, the Schelvis family must have originally been fish mongers.
Using the date of November 1938 as the year Emmanuel received his Siddur and calculating that a 12 or 13 year old would receive his prayer book that year, only one Emanuel Schelvis fits the description of the boy I was searching for; Emanuel Schelvis, born November 25th, 1925 in Amsterdam, murdered in Auschwitz September 30th, 1943.
The Schelvis family lived at Ben Viljoenstraat 11-1 in Transvaalbuurt, Amsterdam. The Transvaalbuurt neighborhood was built in the 1920's and housed mostly poor and lower middle class Jewish families. By 1943 the Germans had deported all of the Jews in this neighborhood to the death camps.
Of 140,000 Jews in the Netherlands prior to the Shoah, 107,000 were deported and approximately 102,000 died in the camps.
Emanuel's father was Salamon Schelvis, born July 4th, 1881, died in Central Europe, January 31, 1943. His mother, Matje Schelvis-Canes, was born September 28th, 1893, died in Auschwitz October 8th, 1942. Emanuel had siblings; a brother, Mozes, born Sept. 29th, 1927 and died in Central Europe August 31, 1943. His sister, Rachel Eva, was born January 20, 1933 and, at age 9, was gassed in Auschwitz October 8, 1942.
Although this is only conjecture, I suspect the Schelvis family was deported as a family unit from the Netherlands and they arrived in Auschwitz on October 8th, 1942. Rachael, being only 9 years old, and Matje, being almost 50, would have been murdered by the Germans on their arrival. The rest were, I assume, enslaved and Emanuel's father, age 52, died according to my research in "Central Europe" January 13, 1943.
In my mind's eye I see him being sent to a satellite camp outside of Auschwitz where he was worked to death or outright murdered.
Then Mozes, at the age of 15, with a full life ahead of him, died on August 31st, 1943 alone, confused and abandoned by the civilized world. And Emanuel was the last to perish. Did he see his father and brother in the camp? Did he know what became of his mother and sister? It's too horrible to think about. And all of this horror flows through my hands as I look at the worn Siddur, published in 1937 and given to a happy 12 year old child on the completion of his Jewish education.
After finding this treasure trove of information I stopped. I felt as though I gave young Emanuel a life, a thought, an emotion of caring that was denied to him in his final days.
A few weeks ago I found the prayer book sitting on a pile of maps in my library and once again, I promised myself I would end my search, give Emanuel a public farewell and donate the prayer book to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem along with a copy of my research.
And so Emanuel Schelvis, son of Salomon and Matje Schelvis-Canes, brother to Mozes and Rachel Eva, citizen of Holland, apprentice draughtsman, forever aged 16, I say goodbye. Let your soul rest in peace and may we never forget.
The writer is chief judge of the Suquamish Tribal Court, WA.