Sunday, 4 May 2008

Leny's Lime Tree

On the 4th of May we commemorate the victims of WWII. On the 5th of May we celebrate our Liberation Day to commemorate the fact that the Nazis were defeated, the occupation was over and that we could start rebuilding our bombed cities. But then the survivors of the destruction camps came back and the horrible facts became known to those who never had a clou of what had been going on.
This is about a woman who lived in Bathmen, where my sister now lives. Her name is Leny Polak and she was born in 1919. Her father David and his brother Jacob had a drapery and a furniture shop. THey were neighbours and lived happily in Bathmen, where they were members of a drama group for which they wrote plays and played roles in them. They were respected citizens of this village and socially involved in all kind of matters concerning the village. They knew everybody and everybody knew them. Life was good to them.
In front of the house of Leny's uncle was a lime tree, which stood there before Leny was born and which is still there. This tree was very important to Leny. She confided her dreams to it and often played under its branches.
Leny grew up and became a teacher at the local elementary school. She taught needlework, sewing and knitting.
At that time there were all kind of rumours about the behaviour of the Nazis in Germany towards the Jewish people. The cruelties they had to put up with and the humiliations became known to the Dutch, but everybody thought that this couldn't happen in our country. But.....
The Netherlands were invaded on 14th May 1940 by Germany and already
in July 1940 the first of a series of anti Jewish measures was taken: Jews were not allowed to be a member of the Civil Defence. On 22 November 1940 Jewish teachers and civil servants were dismissed., Leny was one of them.In the begin of 1941 the Jews were forced to register and from 3rd May 1942 they were obliged to wear the yellow Star of David. On 10th April the little group of Jewish people in Bathmen were transferred to the Dutch concentration camp Vught. Leny and her husband Hartog de Leeuw were tranferred to Auschwitz where Hartog died. When the Russians were approaching Auschwitz the prisoners had to leave for Ravensbrück It was a long walk to the railroad and those who were too slow or too tired were shot. Leny did her utmost to keep in pace with the rest .For three days and nights they walked. When they reached the railroad they had to climb in an open freight train. There was no place to sit: they all stood squeezed together. They were hungry and the thurst was unbearable. They tried to eat icicles from the train. Leny had to face more hardships and when she finally got back in the Netherlands she found some relatives in Goor. During all that time she had thought of the lime tree, which was now a symbol of freedom, of comfort. So she went to Bathmen and was glad to learn that her old friend had survived like herself. From that time on the tree was called Leny's Lime Tree. There is a small plate on the tree with Leny's name on it.She is the only survivor of the whole family


Janice Thomson said...

Reading history like this serves to make me unbelievably thankful for what I have and for the freedom I have. Thank you Wil for this post.

Old Lady Lincoln said...

I agree with Janice. We who have always had freedom can't even begin to imagine what some people had to endure. It makes me so sad when I think about how the Jewish people and others have been treated. Thanks for the story.

reader Wil said...

Hi Janice, I agree with you we should be very grateful to live in a free country and to be spared the life of a prisoner. I was a prisoner as a child in one of the Japanese concentration camps in Indonesia with my mum and two younger sisters. I am grateful that's over, but I shall always have an open eye for the misery in our world.

reader Wil said...

Well Patty I can understand quite well what it is to be in a prison camp, though it was not a destruction camp with gaschambers, there were many people who died daily from starvation, malaria and dysentery.

Dina said...

Thank you, dear Wil, for the sensitive telling of Leny's story and a little bit of your own too.
May each of us have a lime tree to get us through the tough times.
Love to you from Jerusalem on Israel's 60th birthday.