A fragrant tale of survival

When she saw the German soldier was so young, she could not proceed with the plan to kill him.

LEESHA ROSE (photo credit: ICEJ/Matthias Guggisberg)
(photo credit: ICEJ/Matthias Guggisberg)
Leesha Rose had every reason to kill German soldiers.
The Nazis had deported her entire family, their whereabouts unknown.
She had witnessed countless atrocities by the occupying Wehrmacht forces in Holland. She had been on the run for years, fearing for her own life.
Yet as World War II was coming to a close in 1945, she could not bring herself to help fellow members of the Dutch resistance set a trap for a 17-year-old German conscript that would have ended his life.
“I had seen enough killing by then,” Leesha said recently. “As a Jew, we value life and I could not bring myself to do it.
I knew I would have to give account for that.”
At age 88, Leesha Rose is still a sprightly, energetic lady, volunteering her time for the past 40 years at Yad Vashem to tell of her experiences as a Holocaust survivor and member of the Dutch underground. In recent years, she has been engaging more with pro-Israel Evangelicals through the Christian Desk at Yad Vashem, established in partnership with the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem. She believes this is an audience which needs to hear her life story, which is already recorded in the book The Tulips are Red but is so much more gripping when told from her own lips.
Leesha recently sat down with The Christian Edition on the first day of Nisan – the start of spring according to the Hebrew calendar. Still sharp and smiling, it is hard to believe she is a day over 65.
Leesha was born in the Netherlands in 1922. She was just finishing high school when the Germans invaded Holland on May 10, 1940.
“This day remains engraved in my mind,” said Leesha. “It was a Friday and that evening, for the first time in my life, I saw my strong father cry while our family sat down around the table for the weekly Sabbath meal.”
At that time, Leesha’s family included her father Yeshayahu Bornstein, her mother Hannah, and her younger brothers Paul and Jackie.
“It was a time I was not really prepared for. I was concentrating on finishing high school and very involved in every activity. All of a sudden, the planes were flying, soldiers were dropping from the sky,” Leesha recalled.
“It was a terrifying thing for Holland, which is such a tolerant, peace-loving country. We were just immobilized. The Nazis came in and everything just started going down, down, down... Every little thing was punishable. They had us by the throats. Nobody dared to do anything in the beginning.”
Before long, the German occupation had inundated Holland with an oppressively stifling bureaucracy, and the Nazis embarked on a brutal campaign against the Jewish community. They burned synagogues, Torah scrolls, prayer books and other Jewish symbols. With time, Jews were removed from government positions and other prominent posts, and segregation laws were used to single out the Jewish population. Jews were no longer allowed to visit restaurants, cafes or theaters, and signs declaring Verbooden voor Joden (“Forbidden for Jews”) became common.
“It soon became compulsory for each Jew to wear the yellow star,” Leesha explained, “and we even had to pay for it from our own pockets.
“My whole family was deported, and I learned only after the war that they were all killed in the camps. My father, mother and youngest brother Jackie were all murdered in Auschwitz, while my other brother Paul was sent to Sobibor, where he was gassed almost immediately upon arrival because there were no barracks yet.”
In addition, more than 100 other members of Leesha’s extended family in Warsaw and Lodz died in the concentration camps.
“Except for a distant uncle, I was the only one in my family who survived. I had no idea what happened to my family until after the war, and upon finding out from the Red Cross, I felt I had no right to live myself. That’s how I felt,” she said.
Leesha herself managed to evade deportation on three separate occasions, while working as a nurse at two different Jewish hospitals in Amsterdam. Each time the German troops came to the hospitals to round up Jewish staff and patients, she would hide her yellow star and walk out into the crowded streets.
“I saw the baseless fear in others, and I decided I wanted to live,” recounted Leesha. “I didn’t even find that I was brave. I just acted on an instinct of selfpreservation.
But every time I escaped, I was put on a blacklist, which meant a shoot-on-sight order was placed against me.”
Leesha decided to join a cell of the Dutch resistance network and received a false identity card under the name Elizabeth Bos, which allowed her to move around and take part in operations. This included breaking into the local German offices at night to steal official documents, which could be used to forge more ID papers. She also helped hide more than 180 Jews, mainly with Christian families in the countryside.
As a result of her bravery and selfsacrifice, the Queen of Holland later awarded Leesha the special medal honoring those who took part in the Dutch Resistance.
“These are the colors of our flag, and the orange is for belonging to the Dutch underground,” she beamed while displaying the medal.
Yet as the war was winding down, there was one resistance operation which she refused to go along with. By then, the underground had acquired weapons and other means to carry out attacks on German troops, while a number of soldiers wanted to be hidden themselves as the Allied forces approached through Belgium. So the resistance had started demanding uniforms, guns and ammunition in exchange for concealing German soldiers, but would then kill them once in custody.
Leesha was ordered to take part in one such ambush. She was to meet a German soldier in an open field and hand over a list of items he needed to bring the next morning to secure his safety. But when she saw he was so young, she could not proceed with the plan.
“It just came out of my mouth, to tell him the wrong time to meet us. I jumped on my bicycle and wondered why, but I just could not do it,” Leesha recalled.
Her commander was not happy, but she felt she had done the right thing.
“You see, our Jewish religion wants only that we live together. We should love our neighbor as ourselves,” she insisted. “I could not cause anybody’s death, because I would feel it every second for my whole life.”
Leesha soon married a Canadian Jewish soldier who had helped liberate Holland, and in time they made aliya to Israel. Coming here had been a lifelong dream, as evidenced by a scar on her hand she has carried for 70 years.
It turns out that before the war, Leesha had hoped to come to mandatory Palestine as a teenager to help build the Jewish state. But her parents refused her permission to leave.
“I got so angry that I broke my mother’s crystal bowl and cut my hand open. That is how much I wanted to go, and it hurt my heart,” she said.
Part of her longing had been fed by her own father’s story of walking as a young man with a group of Jews all the way from Poland to the Land of Israel in order to take part in pioneering work.
Once in Israel, she was able to process her thoughts and experiences and set about to write a book about what she had been through during the Holocaust. The result is her book The Tulips are Red, named after a password used by the resistance movement.
When told that her book is addictive, she smiled and reassured that others have said the same. “Everyone who reads my book can’t believe that a person can go through it and still come out a reasoning and functioning human,” she said.
Since the 1970s, Leesha also has been a volunteer “witness” at Yad Vashem, the Israeli memorial and museum established to honor the heroes and martyrs of the Shoah. There she has been teaching the world about the importance of never forgetting the horrific genocide against European Jewry.
“When I am at Yad Vashem, I feel closest to all those family members that I lost,” she confided.