Ab Schuster was 5 when, in 1942, he and his family were rounded up by Dutch police during an Amsterdam razzia and sent to the Westerbork transit camp. From there they were deported to Bergen-Belsen.
His wartime story is told in an article in a Dutch daily, “De Telegraaf” (April 29, 2017).
The whole article is very interesting. However, it is the last part of his wartime experiences that has stuck in my mind.
In April 1945 as the allies were closing in on nearby Hannover, the Germans decided to move the prisoners to Theresienstadt that was then farther away from the front line.
There were three trains that left Bergen-Belsen on April 10, 1945.
The first two were stopped within days by the allies and the prisoners freed.
Ab was on the third train that is referred to as "The Lost Train", since allied bombings prevented it from going to Theresienstadt and instead it ambled, seemingly aimlessly, through eastern Germany.
After two weeks it was stopped by the Russians.
600 of the 2,500 people on the train died, mainly from malnutrition.
A month after being freed, Ab and the other Dutch prisoners were put onto American trucks and driven back to the Netherlands. They were housed in a castle that was guarded by “marechaussee” (Royal Military Constabulary). This is a Dutch gendarmerie force performing military police and civil police duties.
When the trucks arrived at the castle, Ab overheard one marechaussee talking to a colleague.
He said in Dutch, “Oh, there they are again. Could they not all have been gassed by the Germans?”
Ab is now 80. He has not been sleeping well for the last ten years. No more than two or three hours a night.
Those words in Dutch from the marechaussee keep him awake the most.
I live near a synagogue in Amsterdam. It is guarded by marechaussee. If they were given the order, they would round up the Jews inside instead of protecting them. Not that much has changed.
A depressing thought.