Although I was twenty, my family still saw me as a child. Since Clara and I were so much younger than Louis, David and our cousins, we were always seen as little girls, and when our parents and brothers went to family events, the two of us stayed home and waited for them to return from the party with cakes. So it didn’t occur to my father – nor me, in fact – that I might be in danger when I went out. Only on my way home, when I saw boys and girls being loaded into trucks, did I realise how risky it was. I covered my Star of David and fled homewards, my heart in my mouth, praying the Germans wouldn’t catch sight of me.
Uncle Arie and Aunt Sara had been trying for some time to travel to Switzerland with their son Maurits, who was already married. After my warning they made another attempt. Maurits’ father-in-law was a wealthy diamond merchant, so their family had a large sum of money to pay anyone who could help them cross the border. They waited in a café for their smuggler as instructed, but instead of being brought to safety they were arrested by the German police. The man to whom they’d paid so much money had betrayed them.
I assume that informers didn’t know then of the deadly consequences of their betrayal – they were just greedy. In addition to the money from the Jews they’d offered to help, they would have also received a reward of seven guilders for each Jew they turned in. That was a lot of money in those days – as much as a week’s welfare payments – and the temptation for some was simply too great.
For Jewish people it was impossible to know who you could trust, but Uncle Arie and his family were so desperate that they’d taken the risk. After their arrest the German police sent them home, but a couple of weeks later they were captured during the systematic round-up of Jews. Their eldest son, David, who was studying medicine, had gone into hiding in a fellow student’s house in Hilversum. He should have been safe. But one evening he decided to go home to fetch some books. That very evening the family was arrested by the Sicherheitsdienst – the Nazi intelligence and security service – and transported to Auschwitz. David too. We never saw any of them again.
Whether people lived or died often depended on a coincidental split-second decision. My father had also talked about fleeing to Switzerland, but after what happened to Uncle Arie and his family, he no longer had the courage. And at that point we didn’t know what happened to the people who were transported to Eastern Europe. We still thought they were going to work camps.
Meanwhile, the Allies were dropping bombs. One landed close to our house – fortunately, it destroyed only the window. Despite the danger, we welcomed the bombs. After all, we knew that the Allied forces were fighting to destroy the Nazis and we lived in the naive hope that the war would soon be over. But it only came closer.
By Selma van de Perre
Translated by Anna Asbury and Alice Tetley-Paul
Extract from MY NAME IS SELMA
Published by Bantam Press (2020)
Buy this title through the European Literature Network’s The Dutch Riveter bookshop.org page.
Selma van de Perre was a member of the Dutch resistance ‘TD Group’ during the Second World War. She worked for the BBC in England and as a foreign correspondent for a Dutch TV station. In 1983, she received the Dutch Resistance Commemoration Cross.
Anna Asbury is a literary translator of Dutch into English. Her translations include The Eschatos Betrayal by Robin E. Flennok and the graphic novel Rembrandt by Typex.
Alice Tetley-Paul is currently the translator in residence for New Dutch Writing. In September 2020, she also published her co-translation of Selma van de Perre’s My Name Is Selma, alongside co-translator Anna Asbury.