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The great Escape
I do not know the exact time they came. I do know that it was in the early hours of the morning on 10 May 1940. The Nazi soldiers came banging on our door. ‘Wake up, you yellow Christians! We’re coming to get you!’ they yelled with rage. Even as we had been deeply asleep in the basement we were suddenly awoken by the terrible, loud noise. We knew they were coming, we were already prepared. We grabbed our little belongings, said our prayers and hurriedly escaped through the small door in our basement. We knew how risky it was but we just had to escape the unforeseen torture that we knew was about to come. The door led us to our backyard, where two of my Papa’s friends, were waiting for us. They showed us to their cars, which were parked at the very end of our street, so they wouldn’t be caught by the Nazi’s. I could see the soldiers’ humongous army trucks, barricading the houses. You could tell that they were on a mission to eliminate every Jew in the suburb, just by looking at the number of army vehicles everywhere and don’t forget the frightened screams and loud banging.
I knew we were running away, I just didn’t know where we were going. When I asked Mama all she said was, ‘My child, somewhere safe, somewhere better than this,’
We escaped with great caution, taking all the short-cuts there were. We finally reached Montgomery Dok. The driver was asked for his licence and ID. He produced a fake Id and driving licence. Of course he couldn’t let the officer know that he was a Jew. We drove on to the dock. Montgomery was the only dock in the Oostende region. Ships from all over the world would stop here. Our parents thanked the drivers and we took our belongings from the boot.
My baby sister, Jeanine, who was six at the time kept crying, ‘Papa, Mama, I’m hungry, I’m really hungry!’ My mama was annoyed at the cries as people began to stare. She grabbed her little hand and they went to the nearby canteen. My brother, Erik, Papa and I waited patiently with all sorts of thought running through our heads. ‘Where are we going?’ was a thought that popped up the most in my head.
Mama and Jeanine brought back three bowls of porridge and two soups with two flat breads. The soups with bread for my parents and the bowls of porridge for us. The five of us ate our breakfast in silence.
After breakfast, Papa stood up and went to the ticket and migration station. Even though U.S had placed strict rules on immigration, we were astonished that Papa came back with two ship tickets and visas stuck in Erik’s and my passport. The tickets were to the U.S.
‘Fabian and Erik will be going to America,’ he said slowly. When Mama asked why he said, ‘It’s easier for the boys to go ... we cannot afford to go without little Jeanine,’ We knew that because Jeanine was born in Belgium, we’d have to seek immigration advice and she’d need special permission to enter the U.S.
‘Papa, we do not know anybody in America, who will we stay with?’I impatiently asked. Yes, Fabian does have a point there, besides will we go straight into hiding? And what if we want to come back? Where will we get the money from?’Erik asked anxiously. ‘You may be able to find a camp there... even if you don’t by the time you two get to America, you’ll be old enough to fend for yourselves,’ our Mama advised us. ‘You could get jobs and after the war come back to Belgium,’
‘Don’t worry boys, God shall provide. America will be much better than here; you wouldn’t have to worry about the Nazi’s. It will be better if you go,’ Papa assured us. We had no choice, it would be better if we did go. We’d be in a peaceful environment. But what about our parents? Where would they go? When I asked Papa this he said they’d probably stay in Oostende or got to Holland where it was much neutral at the time.
We gave up arguing with our parents knowing that they were right and only wanted the best for us. Erik and I were showed off by our parents and sister. My Papa gave me a compass watch. ‘Keep it, treasure it, and use it,’ were the words that came with the gift. Papa gave us each fifteen Euros (equivalent to twenty-four Australian dollars) and Mama gave us some of her shortbread and sachets of powdered milk. Mama gave us what she had; she wasn’t expecting her boys to leave her that day. Jeanine hugged us both and gave us a big kiss on the cheek. I won’t forget that petite little girl with big hazel eyes and fair blonde hair. She was very sweet.
After we said our goodbyes, Erik and I climbed aboard the H.M.S Koepmannon with our belongings. We were not the only young boys onboard without a family. There were about eighteen boys who seemed to be Erik’s age. Erik was twelve years old before we came to America, I was fifteen. I was supposed to be in high-school, at this age but instead I was running away like other boys had been during the Holocaust.
I’ll never forget my Mama’s tear-stained face. After all the escaping, running away to countries for refuge who wouldn’t be crying. This was our third time of escaping. I remember I was born in Germany on the 17th of March 1925. We spent five years of my childhood there. In 1928, it all started, Mama was six months pregnant with Erik, when we moved to Croatia to hide. My brother was born on the 21st of September 1928. My Papa had started a business in Croatia for four years. It was closed down by the Nazi officials in January 1934. Papa came home with a letter in his hand. We had received an entry permit to Belgium. Since my parents and I were German we were allowed into Belgium in April 1934. Soon after we moved to Belgium, Jeanine was born. I was nine years old when we came to Oostende.