|Sender: Pinkhof Helene Adele
From: JerusalemDear Hetty,
Since I don’t know if you still speak Dutch, I’ll write to you in English.
I too, was one of Lubba’s Children on the list I was Pinkhof Helene Adele born 14.10.38 in Amsterdam.
Now, my name is Helene Eolan Pinkhof (I am divorced). I have three sons and 4 (nearly 5) grandchildren.
I write to you because I just read your book. Since I was so little when everything happened, I didn’t remember everything; only certain circumstances.
First of all, your book is in my opinion very well written! In your book I was “one of the little ones ” (5+ years old or maybe 6) I had also all the illnesses possible (Typhoid etc) also I want to thank you if you helped taking care of me. Since, I didn’t remember I could not thank you before.
But another reason I write to you is on page 294 (Dutch version of your book), it shows a picture of Sister Luba with a child on the swing. Are you sure that is Mieke, because I think it is me and looks very much like my face on the picture of that time. I was small for my age and started growing only when I was 13 years old. Maybe you can find out if it was me?
I couldn’t go to Luba’s reunion, because I don’t leave my address in Miami. But she was very ill. After a few lovely letters she stopped writing and I hope it is not what I think (reason she stopped writing).
How are you doing? I usually don’t think for contacts with my past but I wanted to write to you after reading the book. It is good I finally got a more general picture of what happened to us.
All the best to you, thank you again.
From Ursala – PerthI saw you at the street Fair a few months ago and after reading your book, I felt I had to thank you personally for sharing your amazing story with your readers. It was a privilege to meet you and to now have a your signed book . Hope to meet you again some time. From Ursala. Maylands Perth WA
|Sender: Fred Saunders
Dear Mrs Verolme,
My daughter and son-in-law gave me your book “The Children’s House of Belsen” for my birthday end of December last. Thank You for sharing it with us, I sincerely hope many Australians as well as others read it and take it in.
To help you understand my appreciation of you writing your book I must give you a brief history of myself. I was born in South Wales (UK) Dec 1932 and lived in a rural area we experienced bombing mainly because not far from us was a munitions factory, from our bedroom window we could see the lines of Avonmouth, but we had nothing compared to Bristol, London or Conventry or cities on the continent.
Of course we read about Belsen and many others, but your book brought back the memory of a friend of the farmer my father and I worked for, he came home on leave after the war, and was an army Truck driver into Belsen, and all he would say was “it is soo horrible to talk about”.
Thank you again for the story and for being such an assett to Australia and ambassader for both Holland and Australia.
Sender: Alexander Cortese
Hello, How are you? You don’t know who I am but I feel like I know you, or at least the young you from your book. “The Children’s House Of Belsen”. I hope you don’t mind me calling you by your first name. I don’t mean any disrespect on the contrary I have enormous admiration for you. I have just this morning finished reading your book and I felt in my heart that I should write to you and let you know how much your book meant to me.
This very morning I wrote to your publishing house asking them to forward your mailing address. If and when I receive it this letter will be waiting to be mailed to you. That will explain the early date above. I wanted to write to you while the book was fresh in my mind.
What does one say to a person that has been through so much, spends years recovering from such horrors and then has the courage to relive the whole nightmare again by sharing it with the world? Well done!
Congratulations. Good for you. The only word that comes to mind is simply thank you. I do not come from a Jewish home or background nor do I know very many Jewish people. In fact the very first time I was made aware of the Jewish race was back in the 70’s when they screened Holocaust on television. Up until then I was completely oblivious that in the modern world man could stoop to atrocities to fellow man. I was above 13 at the time and it made quite an impression on me.
Over the years I have picked up the ocassional book or article relating to “those years”, but never had I read an account written through the eyes of a child. You wonder about what it must have been like for those innocent babies you seldom read about it. I’m sure there are books out there but I have not gone out of my way to find one. Your book was sent to me as a replacement to the one I had actually ordered through the book club I belong to. I decided to keep it and read it one day.
Well as I said, I’ve just finished reading it and it stirred and moved me so much; I spent most of the time reading through blurred vision. As I continued to pore over the the pages, I too became attached to the children and I kept flicking to the back of the book to look at their little faces and as I did this you all became more real to me. I think what your book has accomplished for me is that it has made me realise that the whole appalling event actually occurred, it was real, with real people who felt real pain and bled real blood.
Hetty, you are truly a remarkable person. I applaud your strength and resilence to the shocking things you and your kin have endured. I am born again Christian and I know that my God is the same as your God and I believe he spared you and your wonderful family for a reason. We don’t always understand why things happen the way they happen, I know I certainly don’t but I live by the rule that states simply “Trust in the Lord with all of your heart and lean not on your own understanding”. Proverbs 3:5.
Please write back if you wish, I would love to hear from you.
Sender: Barbara Moret
I have just finished reading your very moving account of your experience during the second world war in Europe. It is not my habit to write to authors but I do wish to thank you for sharing your very disturbing story. It is so important that the war experiences of civilians, especially children not be forgotten. Until my recent retirement I worked as a teacher and have built up a small library of books on children’s war experiences, yours is a very important addition to my collection.
Like you I hail from Holland. I was born in 1936 and together with my sister Magda who was born in 1938 I share war memories of that terrible period of the occupation of Holland as it affected us. On her last visit to Australia in 1986 my sister talked extensively about the emergence of the denial of the Holocaust, the growth of the New Right and Neo-Nazism in Europe and said:
“We are the last generation that were eye witnesses to that war and the terrible atrocities that were committed. We did not see all of it, but millions of people saw a part of it and together we must witness”. Your book certainly contributes to that task.
In 1986 I was not ready to go back into my personal history and dig up painful memories, but eventually it happened. As a child I did of course not have the larger picture and when the questions came my sister sent me two heavy Readers Digest times that cover practically every aspect of the war experience in Holland, both from a historical and personal perspective. It is not light reading, but I use the books to look up things and they often are quite revealing.
I admire your book for its honesty and straight reporting of the facts together with your feelings around them. I felt terribly sorry for your initial poor welcome on your return to Holland and shared your disappointment and that of Sister Luba who had cared so lovingly for all of you for such a long time. It must have been such a shock to you, because you had left such a different Holland.
When you left there was still sufficient food to keep the population going and the average Dutch Family was still ensconced in their own homes. When you came back people in Randstad Holland were still dying of the after effects of starvation (200,000 in hospital with 22,000 casualties) because not until August that year would the tide turn and people stop dying. My own grandmother experienced liberation but did not survive for long after.
Thousands of Dutch people had been evacuated to other parts of the various provinces during the fighting on Dutch soil of August/September 1945 and the offensives from March/April/May 1946. The population was still in the process of returning to their homes within Holland when survivors of the camps and huge numbers of slave labourers returned home. There were so many people on the move and the infra-structure to recieve them just was not there. What foresight of your father to plan ahead and arrange for the family at the Pomstra Family.
As a staunch life long supporter of the Red Cross I hope you did not carry your resentment towards the Dutch Red Cross into adulthood. The history of the Dutch Red Cross during the war years is worth telling. As you are aware Holland had always had a very active Red Cross. Their last important international action took place in Finland 1939 when they sent a large team over to that country to relieve the effects of war.
When the Germans occupied Holland, you, probably better than I, remember what happened, as I was only three years old, and you will know that from then on everything was scrutinised by the Nazi’s or NSB. The Dutch Red Cross stood it’s ground and insisted on it’s independence when there was a major move to amalgamate all Dutch charities under the Nazi “Winterhulp” organisation. It was still important to the Nazi’s to be seen to support the International Red Cross and they relented for once. (One of their presentations to an International Red conference at that time was actually a propaganda film named “Hitler presents a City to the Jewish people”. Theresienstadt was portrayed as a sort of a new Jerusalem that the generous Germans had set aside especially for the purpose in the New Reich).
For a long time the Dutch Red Cross managed to stay independent, but of course nothing much could be done for people held in camps without special permission from the ruling Nazi system. Most of the work the Dutch Red Cross did involved emergency aid and trying to get mail through, especially to and from countries that were not occupied. Eventually they were allowed to distribute parcels to imprisoned Dutch officers in camps such as Colditz and New Brandenburg as the Nazis respected the Geneva Convention related to military prisoners of war to some extent.
The Dutch Cross Red Cross was given more of a free hand in aiding victims of bombardments, the setting up of emergency hospitals etc. Mid war the writing was on the wall, even though the Dutch Red Cross did not become part of an amalgamation of charities, the organisation was to have a NSB head. When the man (Mr Piek) arrived for his first day at work, all personnel had left, gone underground, and had taken all stores with them. You will understand that from then on the Dutch were not going to support a Nazi Red Cross and it is unlikely that a Nazi Red Cross would have sent parcels to camps. I am very, very sorry for you and the Dutch children who shared your ordeal.
From then on the “Dutch” Red Cross emblem was misused for various Nazi activities. For example ammununition was transported down the rivers in “hospital” ships with big red crosses painted on them so that the Allies, who bombed anything that moved, would be misled. Etc. Etc.
During the hunger winter of 1944/1945 Holland itself needed Red Cross Aid and after Queen Wilhelmina had visited Sweden and had appealed to the Swedish population for aid, they responded magnificently and the Nazi’s allowed the Swedish Red Cross to send their shipments of flour and medical supplies, which were to us what your Christmas white bread was to you. A miracle.
The Nazi’s allowed liberated countries in other parts of Europe to send Red Cross parcels to their compatriots still held in Nazi Camps. These countries were all rebuilding the infra structure that in occupied Holland were still being destroyed. After the war the practice of countries sending Red Cross parcels to their own in camps that were inhabited by people from many nations has been severely criticised and I understand that a more co-ordinated international approach has since been in use.
You would have known none of this would have envied the groups who did receive parcels. What an isolating experience. You probably know that the Allies had been told about the conditions of the concentration camps and the various methods of destroying people but did not believe it. You also know that once they found the camps and saw for themselves what was going on, that it made headlines around the world, and that the first films and photographs caused a sensation of revulsion. You even played a small role in the spreading of information. All this is as it should have happened. It should never be forgotten.
In the meantime, the Dutch lay quietly dying in their own spotlessly polished homes, like I and my family did. Hardly, headline stuff and it does not really matter that the plight of the Dutch during that winter has slipped away into the mist of time as far as the rest of the world is concerned, but it does explain why the real Dutch Red Cross was not in a position to send food parcels to Poland and Germany to ease the suffering of their fellow Dutch in horror camps. Like you I was not very impressed with the performance of the Dutch Red Cross when I read your book. I am glad that my sister sent me those tonnes so that I could check the Dutch Red Cross story and pass it on to you.
I mentioned above that I am a staunch supportor of the Red Cross and have been involved with that charity most of my adult life. I am presently secretary of the local branch here in Bellingsen. It is seen as an “old fashioned” organisation and is taken very much for granted. Many people have a very negative attitude towards the Red Cross because the emblem has time and again been misused even though it is not legal. Dictatorships like the Nazi’s don’t care about that, but it has not helped the charity. Nevertheless, I am proud to say that we in Bellingen with a population of about 4000 people raise and collect $8000 – per year, all of which is sent to head office to support both national and international Red Cross activities.
I wish you and your family all the best for your futures,
Sender: Alexia Lennon
My Dear Hetty,
On behalf of the President of the Karakatta Club Mrs. Jane Thompson, members, guests, and particularly myself, may I offer you our sincere thanks for making yourself available to address us. I know you made a special effort to return to Australia to keep your date with us and we are deeply honoured that such an inspiring woman as yourself took so much trouble to share with us the experiences so gently written in your book.
As I stood at the lectern during Question Time I could see how deeply moved your audience was. Since reading your book I was unable to find the appropriate words to express my feelings. However, on reflection, the word is “profound”.
To see you now, with your beautiful smile, in your glowing pink suit, profound is the only word to describe the admiration I and the members of the Club felt as you described experiences that defy understanding.
It is seldom that one is priviledged to meet a person who has overcome what is unspeakable to become a human being of such significance.
Stories like yours need to be told. We grandmothers need to give your book to our children and our children’s children to remind us to be ever vigilant. Your presence with us today reminded us that wars are won but the battle continues. Each one of us left encouraged by your example. We have all manned the barricades from time to time, indeed, that is what the Karrakatta Club is all about. Women of ability who might be long in years but keenly aware that without our experience and expertise, the younger members of our community could easily lose their way.
Those of us who listened to you today, and all who read your book can only be uplifted by your indomitable spirit. May I say again that it was an honour to meet you and your words, so gently spoken, with your smile that is so genuine, will live with us for a long time to come.
God bless you – Shalom.
With Sincerity and humility,
Sender: A. Richards
I hope my letter finds you in good health. My name is Allan Richards and I am from Leonara in WA. I am 41 years old with two teenage kids and two young girls aged 6 and 3. I have read dozens of autobiographies of people’s experiences in war zones from 1914 – 1992. My wife and I sponsor a boy in war-torn Uganda.
When one reads about the suffering of soldiers or adults in war you hope that the result of a better country or democracy will somehow justify the turmoil of the period. But, when children get involved nothing can justify their suffering.
I often wonder how an intelligent race of people can let themselves be conned and tricked by megalomaniacs and fools, with a gun in their hand and a crazy idea in their head. This applies to countries all over the world, not just Nazi Germany.
But anyway, back to your wonderful book. It really made me feel alive when I read your “in your face” book. It pricks at the conscience, and your own concepts of good and evil. Most rank the holocaust and genocide as the most evil. Sadly, six million people’s lives were taken in the battle, but good did triumph over evil and that in itself must be a good thing.
Your book affected me like no other I have read. At times I could only read five or six pages at a time as the emotions your book stirred in me were so strong. I just wanted to reach into the book and offer the children some help. When I read the last page and realized that you and your immediate family had survived the war I was elated. I closed the book, but could not put it down on the table for fear I would lose the bond I felt I had built up with you by reading your book. It was the most moving story I’ve read. So, Hetty, thank you very much for giving myself, and others, the privilege of reading about yourself and your family and friends.
As a father, and having felt the pain of losing a two year old son many years ago, I believe the feeling of despair and foreboding your father must have felt as he left the camp on the back of a truck and waved goodbye could never be put into words. I just admire everybody who kept their dignity and faith. As for the SS and their supporters, I’m sorry, but I have nothing but pure hate in my heart for them. But that is my problem and I’ll live with that.
I believe you have done proud the memory of those people who never came back through those gates. May you see many mild summers in the future. Thanks again.
Sender: Wilhemus Heggers
Thank you for writing your story on “The Children’s House of Belsen”. I consider it a great privilege that you have let us read what you and your family have had to endure at the hands of the Nazi’s.
Even though I was born in Netherlands shortly after the war, I have strong memories of the war, from many stories told by my parents and other family and friends. As a young man, I immigrated to this beautiful country in the late sixties and I have been blessed with a wonderful wife and four children. I now realise how fortunate my life has been and still is in being a successful emigrant.
I am truly thankful that you have found the courage to recite so much of your horrendous experience that you have given us to the privilege of receiving little comprehension of the suffering endured by so many. Your story is very valuable for us to reflect and appreciate how extremely fortunate we are. Thank you again for a wonderful narrative, which captivated me for a few nights and felt reluctant to put down when I ran out of pages to read. I am looking forward to reading a book on the rest of your life story.
I praise God for your gift of writing.
Wilhelmus (Bill) Heggers
Sender: John Fransman
I don’t know if you remember me from our meeting with my cousin Maurice in Belsen during the 1995 commemoration trip. Maurice recently gave me a copy of your book which I am finding very interesting and reminds me of some of my own experiences there the first time. I know it will also appeal to some of my friends who were also in the camp there and I wonder whether your Mala knows of the book yet? I can make contact with her and would be pleased to get her a copy as well as for the others. Do you know how I can get further copies in the U.K?
The Imperial War Museum in London is about to open a new Holocaust section in June with the Queen doing the opening. Again, I am sure they would want copies if they do not already have them. I look forward to hearing from you.
My best wishes,
Sender: Margaret Forrest
To Hetty Verolme,
I have just finished reading your book about the Children’s House of Belsen and it is good to read of your survival and other survivors – your own survival has enabled the story to be told. It was absorbing reading.
To gain full dictatorial powers it is usually expedient to fain majority support by giving them someone to hate and reinforcing this by constant one sided propaganda, which is what Hitler managed to secure so convincingly. In this setup the fanatics, bully boys and thugs always rise to the top. Jews were not the only ones to suffer but to a Jew it would have seemed so as so many were affected.
I was born in 1922, a 3rd Generation Australian. My school years were blighted by the Great Depression, and this was followed by World War 2. You experienced the European horrors, and the threat from Japan dominated our thinking.
The man I married spent almost 4 years as a prisoner of the Japanese. When he returned home he was bony with tropical ulcers and eyes staring as though in a nightmare, but he returned to health and sanity. He never condemned the Japanese. He always said that soldiers are brutalised first by their training, then more so by their experiences in war, especially if they are on the winning side and have disarmed their opponents.
Like most people my life has been dominated by my own troubles, tribulations, struggles, successes, failures, joys, griefs. I reached my forties before I began to study the experiences in life of people of other backgrounds, religions, cultures and so on. Through my studies I came to feel that no race, religion, or political system is perfect – there is a mixture of good and bad in one and all, but if the extremists in any group assume power, then look out!
I am a widow now, aged 78, and one of my pleasures is to read biographies and autobiographies. I feel I have gained some wisdom over the years, but there is little time left to use it.
I am so glad you managed to make a new life in Australia and I wish you and your family all good things.
Sender: Gaye Smith
I hope you don’t find this letter intrusive but I feel compelled to write a few words regarding “The Children’s House Of Belsen”.
It is so sad and so difficult to try and comprehend such atrocities could take place in this world, brought on by man for his own selfish desires (or whatever other reasons). How any human being could inflict such pain to another is beyond my understanding, let alone to make innocent children suffer as the way you and thousands others did.
I know your story is only a “tip of the iceberg”, so to speak, and to think there are millions of people “out there” who maybe still suffering one way or another, directly or indirectly due to war is inconcievable.
My father served in the WWII and even though he didn’t speak much about it, I knew at an early age that he was affected by terrible memories. His brother (my uncle) was a POW and escaped 13 times, which didn’t go down well with the Germans. He was later awarded the BEM. Unfortunately, no medal or any other award could erase the pain people endured (my thoughts).
Hetty, I wish you well and I’m so sorry you and thousands of other children and adults had to experience such atrocities and sadness. No child should be robbed of their innocence.
Take care & God Bless you and your family.
Sender: Muriel Love
Dear Mrs Verolme,
You may not remember me but I met you at The Melbourne Hyatt. When you were in Melbourne.
As a result of that meeting I have acquired your book. I found it one of the most informative books I have ever read and can’t imagine how you had the courage to write this. I just had to congratulate you and also the way you have grown. I feel very proud to have met you and am only sorry that I didn’t get you to sign my card.
Believe me I have told everybody I know about you and you have all our admiration for all you have done for all your life.
Thank you once again for your courage all your life.
Siebe C. Grieve
Zeer geachte Mevrouw,
Na de bespreking van Uw boek over het Kinderhuis in Bergen Belsen in de Australian van 14 Januari was ik zeer geinteresseerd het hele verhaal te lezen. Gelukkig was ik in staat een exemplaar te kopen bij een Dymocks store waar het het laatste bleek te zijn.
Ik heb Uw geschiedenis in een ruk ademloos gelezen. Wat een heerlijk wonder dat Uw familie als gezin er levend uit gekomen! Die juffrouw met haar kaart-lezen (wat haar geloof verbood) had het dus good gezien! Ongelofelijk zou je zeggen.
Fantastisch how U zich also jong meisje wist te gedragen in die onvoorstelbare angstaanjagende omstandigheden. En hoe U zich door alle moeilijkheden in Australie heeft geslagen. Geen wonder dat U die hoge onderscheiding ontving.
Mocht U een volgende keer in Sydney zijn dan zou ik het een grote eer vinden U te ontvangen in ons bescheiden huis in Asquith, even buiten Hornsby waar mijn vrouw en ik U met plezier een bed aanbieden. U bent net 5 of 6 weken ouder dan ik (4.4.1930) end dus kan ik me alle oorlogs-ervaringen heel goed herinneren. In feite zijn emoties sterker dan de 44 jaren in Australie en ik heb natuurlijk neits van Uw ellende meegemaakt.
Ik wil U verder niet van UW drukke praktijk houden en teken met. Grote hoogachting,
Siebe C. Grieve Sender: Siebe C. Grieve
After discussing your book on the Children in Bergen Belsen in the Australian of 14 January I was very interested to read the whole story.Luckily I was able to buy a copy at Dymocks. I read your history in one breathless read. What a wonderful miracle that your family as a complete family come out alive! Miss-read that card with her (which forbade her faith) had seen so good! Unbelievable you might say.Fantastic how you were a useful young girl who knew how to behave in unimaginable terrifying circumstances. And how have beaten the odds and conquered the difficulties in Australia. No wonder you received this high distinction.
If you are next in Sydney then I would consider it a great honour to receive you in our modest home in Asquith outside Hornsby where my wife and I live. You are just 5 or 6 weeks older than me (04/04/1930) end so I can remember all war experiences very well. In fact, emotions are still strong after 44 years in Australia and I have not experienced of course of your misery. I thank you, with respect, for your time, in your busy schedule. Great reverence, Siebe C. Grieve