Only two people living today knew Rose Jakobs, who was killed in World War II. By publishing her diary, her sister, Edith Jakobs Samuel, has helped keep her memory alive.
By JERUSALEM POST STAFF
She's not a young woman, but there's something very energetic and vivacious that belies her 80-plus years. As I sit with Edith Jakobs Samuel, I'm carried away by her enthusiasm and commitment to memorializing her sister Rose, who was killed shortly before World War II ended, at the age of 19, by a shell explosion in the Dutch village of Beek where the family hid.
"It didn't make sense. To be in hiding for over two years and then just as we're about to be liberated, to die, just like that!" Edith recounts.
Edith knew Rose kept a diary throughout their travails, and finally published it in Dutch last year under the title The Rose That Never Blossomed.
"I did it [published the diary] for my family, first of all, so that they would know who my sister was. But I also wanted to let people know what terrible losses were incurred during the war," Edith says. "Multiply a Rose Jakobs six million times, just to get an idea."
An exhibition based on Rose's story opened in Groesbeek, Holland, this fall, and is scheduled to appear in other cities. Both the book and the exhibit received wide media coverage in Holland. The book has also been published in Hebrew, and an English translation is under consideration.
Sixty-two years is a long time to wait to publicize the dramatic and tragic story of your sister. What took you so long?
I used to read Rose's diary often. It always made me cry. We were so close - only two years apart - and we went through so much together. After the war I felt guilty that I remained alive when so many better people died. Finally when I was 80 years old, I decided it's now or never - I have to let others know who my sister was.
Was it difficult for you to pull it together?
Yes, it was very emotional. My husband, Bennie, and my younger brother, Berti Jakobs, who lives in America, encouraged me. It took me over a year to decide what to include and how to present it.
There's another reason that I decided to write the book now: I'm the only one alive, besides Bert, who knows she existed. I want people to know what an extraordinary person she was, to read her diary and to realize what potential she had.
Tell us about your family and how you went into hiding.
We grew up in Germany. My father was a businessman. Rose and her twin, Martin, were the oldest. I was two years younger and my brother Berti was the baby. Fortunately, my father had the fortitude to move us all to Holland in 1938. Unfortunately, the Nazis conquered Holland not long afterward. That's when we all went into hiding.
Were you all together?
No. At first Rose and Martin were in the home of mean and greedy farmers in one village, and my parents and the younger children were in another hiding place. Rose started writing her diary in August 1942 as a means of coping and to describe how much she missed being with the rest of us.
I'll read you an excerpt from her diary that shows how she felt during this period. It's dated September 30, when she was 17. "I wish I could write everything in this diary, what I really feel and think. Right now the only thing I will write is that for someone who is not used to being locked up, it is very, very difficult to be dependent on others."
What kind of a person was your sister?
She was a fun-loving, active student in Amsterdam. She had many, many friends and excelled in sewing and all kinds of handicrafts. She was also very good in math and literature. We were inseparable. I can imagine how hard it was for her to be in hiding and remain quiet and demure. She longed to be free, as did I.
Eventually you did get together again, right?
Yes. My father finally found a farmer in the village of Beek who let us stay in his attic and we were reunited with Martin and Rose. This is what she wrote in the diary on November 2, 1943: "I finally came to stay with papa and mama. They received me and Martin with so much love and happiness!"
By then the tides of war were changing, no?
Yes and no. The Allies were definitely making headway, but the Germans continued to chase Jews and persecute them, despite the losses they incurred. Here's what my sister wrote on November 18, 1943: "We have to stay in bed today - the whole day [so that no one would hear any movement overhead] - because downstairs they [the farmers] have company. But I do not think that this is the worst. What is terrible is that last night almost all the Jews that remained and who we knew, except for 23 families, were rounded up and herded into trains like cattle."
Can you describe what it was like for you and your siblings while you were in hiding?
It was very difficult, very confining. We couldn't go out; we were dependent on our hosts for food and water. Sometimes we had to go without for two or three days at a time. Our parents tried to keep up our spirits, but we were in very close quarters for such a long time. It's natural that occasionally we had arguments - that's what happens when you're under pressure and have little to do but think of your grievances.
But on the other hand, Rose was always so resourceful. She started to teach me what she remembered from high school, and I would then teach Bert what he needed to learn - geography, history and arithmetic. That kept us busy, and Rose, of course, had her diary.
When our farmer's daughter gave birth, a nurse came for the delivery and to care for the newborn. The whole time she was there we had to stay in bed and couldn't talk. We couldn't go to the bathroom and we got nothing fresh to eat for four days. But Rose encouraged us. She said, "We have to be happy with what we have. We must appreciate that we're alive and together."
How long did you stay in confinement?
In September the American army reached our area. I remember that on September 17, 1944, the Second Airborne Division parachuted hundreds of soldiers in and around Beek. My little brother, who was eight years old at the time, cried, "Angels are dropping out of the sky to save us."
Were you able to come out of hiding then?
Not at all. Heavy fighting broke out in Beek. There was house-to-house fighting all around us, and the tides of war changed from minute to minute. Most of the civilians fled from the region. The house we were in was bombarded and in danger of collapsing. We fled to a neighbor's house and hid in the cellar. The house had been the property of a Nazi collaborator, but he and his family had also run away. We had nothing to eat for days.
Our situation was precarious to say the least. We had no papers. We were all as pale as ghosts because we hadn't been outside in two years, but all around us there were American soldiers. Rose and I decided to take a chance. We left the cellar during a lull in the shooting and crossed the street where an American army field clinic had been set up. We knew English and we offered our services to help with the wounded. We were also very hungry. The Americans received us happily and we began going there daily. For the first time in years we were able to tell people that we were Jewish.
One day the door of our cellar opened suddenly. The shooting was still going on and we didn't know who was in control. We were so frightened. It was an American soldier who spoke to us in Yiddish. "Shalom Aleichem," he said and told us that he, too, was Jewish. He also said, "It's Yom Kippur today." We were dumbfounded - we had lost track of all time - that's how cut off from society we were.
What happened next?
What a tragedy. Rose and I were crossing the street as we did every day. It was October 2, 1944. A shell fell right in front of us. I was knocked down, but I was unhurt. At first I couldn't find Rose. The blast threw her a few meters away. I saw right away that she was badly wounded. An American army doctor attended to her. He said the most terrible words I ever heard: "I'm afraid it's too late."
It didn't make sense. To be in hiding for over two years and then just as we're about to be liberated, to die, just like that! I sat by her side all night. I said the Shema Yisrael over and over again and any other prayers I could remember, but Rose never opened her eyes. We buried her in the forest next to Beek. A while later we reburied her in Nijmegen and held a memorial service.
How did the rest of the family react?
My parents never really recovered from the loss, coming as it did on the heels of being in hiding and under constant stress for so long. My mother turned into a zombie. I had to take care of her for the rest of her life; I became my mother's mother. My father remained a broken man as well. Martin stayed in Holland, where he started a business and raised a family. He died a few years ago. Berti also married and raised a nice family, and lives in America.
Tell me about your own family.
After the war I married Bennie Samuel. He's a Dutch Holocaust survivor also. He lost 48 members of his family in the war. We have seven children, all married now, and in 1969 we moved to Israel. My oldest daughter is called Shoshana (the Hebrew word for Rose), and one of my granddaughters is called Orit Rosa.
How many offspring do you have now?
At last count we have 40 grandchildren and 28 great grandchildren. There's always one on the way. That's my family's answer to Hitler. Do you want to hear what Orit Rosa said at her bat mitzva, recently?
Yes, of course.
She wrote the speech all on her own. She said, "We are the generation of continuation. We will never forget those who perished. I am named after my great aunt, Rose Jakobs, who died in the Holocaust at the age of 19. I am her nehama [comfort]. Hopefully we will meet in the afterworld and then I'll be able to get to know my namesake personally."
Now that you've given me the background, tell me again how you came to publish the diary and how the exhibit evolved.
I knew that Rose's diary would be of interest to many other people, and as I said, I finally had it published last year. Indeed, it's been widely written about and read all over Holland. The Museum of Liberation in Groesbeek asked to do an exhibit based on the story. We agreed and even provided many of the display items used. For instance, there are drawings of dresses Rose and I used to sketch when we dreamt of what we'd like to wear after the war. There are samples of patched shoes that we wore, some with the front cut out, for Bert, who grew quite a bit during the time we were in hiding.
Was there a formal opening of the exhibit?
Yes, indeed. It was scheduled for October this year, on Yom Kippur. When we explained to the organizers the problem, they changed the day. Many members of my family came from all over the world, including Berti and his offspring from the States, some of my kids from Israel and the descendants of the farmer who hid us in Beek, even the now-grown baby who put us in quarantine for four days. We've maintained contact with them all these years, and they were honored by Yad Vashem as Righteous Gentiles.
The exhibit will move to Arnheim next. That's where the deciding battle of World War II was fought. It will be displayed in the Airborne Museum until April 15. Then it will go to the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam, where it will stay until the summer.
What about in Israel?
I've already begun negotiations [for an exhibit] with a Holocaust museum in Israel. The book came out in Hebrew recently, and is entitled, Rose Jakobs: The Diary of a Young Woman in Hiding. The reviews were also quite good. Now I'm thinking of having it translated into English.
Does it give you satisfaction that you've been able to memorialize your sister in this way?
I did it for my family, first of all, so that they would know who my sister was. But I also wanted to let people know what terrible losses were incurred during the war. Multiply a Rose Jakobs six million times, just to get an idea. But most of all, I would have preferred to have my dear sister here herself.
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