The Restless Hatter | Lekstraat 12 - ground floor | Amsterdam

The tale of the restless hatter Arno Friedmann might have gone untold were it not that the report of his escape from Camp Westerbork in 23 August 1943 stated that he’d lived at “Rekstraat No. 10” in Amsterdam, prompting a deeper dive into the archives.                    

It is unclear how long Arno Friedmann lived at Lekstraat 12, but it was his last official address in Amsterdam, as registered in April 1941. He subsequently went into hiding, which is why he was sent to Penal Barrack No. 67 at Camp Wester­bork in August 1943.

Arno Friedmann was always on the move. Born in Breslau in 1900, he was divorced in Dresden in 1937, moving to Paris soon thereafter, before ending up in Amster­dam, where he moved house four times and was eventually reunited with his only daughter,Ursula.

The city of Breslau (currently Wroclaw, Poland) changed nationality several times as thetides of history pushed the German-Polish border east and west. As a member ofthe Hanseatic League, Breslau was third-largest city in Germany in 1871, afterBerlin and Hamburg.

Even in the middle ages, Breslau had a large Jewish community, which maintained strong ties with Jewish communities elsewhere in Eastern Europe. Rapid industrial­isation caused the city’s population to grow fivefold to half a million citizens in the 19th century.

Arno Friedmann married Käthe Warczawski in Breslau in the spring of 1924. Their only daughter, Ursula (Uschy), was born in Breslau in January 1925. The family subsequently moved further and further west, with Hitler’s Nazi party rising to power in 1933.

Arno and Käthe were divorced in Dresden on 30 July 1937. It is likely that, by then, Arno was already travelling back and forth between Dresden, Paris and Amsterdam, registering as a tenant at Reguliers­gracht 17 in Amster­dam on 24 February 1937.

That same day, Margarete Johanna Aulhorn, registered at the same address. She too came from Paris and she too was a hat designer. Born in Dresden in May 1911, Margarete was eleven years younger than Arno. The couple weren’t married, but were evidently partners.

Ursula Friedmann (then 14) moved in with her father and Margarete on 9 August 1939, shortly before German forces invaded Poland from the west and Soviet forces rolled in from the east, dividing the country between them as laid down in the Molo­tov-Ribbentrop Pact.

Soon after Uschy arrived in Amsterdam, the family moved to Plantage Franschelaan 19, opening a boutique for ladies’ hats on the ground floor and registering as tenants of the second-floor apartment on 13 September 1939. The war caught up with them soon thereafter.

Records show that Arno moved to Nieuwe Spiegelstraat 37 in July 1940, shortly after German forces rolled into Amsterdam. Uschy remained registered with Marga­rete Aulhorn on the Plantage Franschelaan, possibly because she was attending a nearby school.

Uschy Friedmann made friends in the neighbourhood, with whom she is captured in a hauntingly intimate group photo taken by her friend Lyia Landau, who lived across the road at Plantage Franschelaan 30, which had a flat roof where the teenagers could sit out in the sun.

This photo was taken in the summer on 1942, as Lyia has written on the back of the photo, along with the names of six people in the picture: Herman Prozer, Louis (Loutje) Brille­slijper, Wolf Bresler, Alex Rimini, Uschy Friedmann and Ansje Looten.

The four lads all have bronzed faces and there are four deckchairs. Were they hiding in the attic rooms that are visible inthe background? Had they huddled together for the photo or did they want to stay out of sight? And why had the girls put on their bathing suits?

What brought the kids together? They look like friends. Did they all live nearby? Were they the cool kids from a single schoolclass? Were there family ties? The archives answered some of these questions, as we unravelled the story of this unique and intimate photo.

An initial search suggested that the kids were all born in 1925 or 1926. Had they all ended up in one class at the Jewish Lyceum, which the Jewish Council had hastily opened in Amsterdam when the Nazis banned Jewish children from attending public schools in summer 1941?

Because Jewish schools weren’t always available outside Amsterdam, parents had to make arrangements for their school-going children. Most of the kids in the photo came from outside Amsterdam (and even the Netherlands), but was this what had forged a bond between them?

Let’s start with Herman Prozer, on the left, who was apparently already working as a furniture maker at the age of 16. His father was born in Russia and had come to Amsterdam from Frankfurt-am-Main in Germany in 1920, possibly fleeing persecu­tion in the east.

Lajzer Prozer met his future wife Sara Soesan in Amsterdam. They were married in January 1925 and in October of that year they welcomed their only child, Herman. During the war, Lajzer Prozer worked for the Jewish Council’s food supply depart­ment in the city centre.

This job may have sealed Herman’s fate, because his father will have paid heed to the Jewish Council’s instructions to follow the Nazi decree of 26 June 1942, that all Jewish men between the ages of 16 and 40 should report for deportation to Jewish “labour camps” in Germany.

Herman’s pensive expression in the photo suggests that he may already have been aware of his imminent deportation. Records show that Herman arrived in Wester­bork on 27 July 1942 and was deported to Auschwitz four days later, perishing at the camp on 30 September 1942.

It is unknown whether Herman’s parents were aware of their son’s fate, but police records show that his father was robbed at gunpoint in their home on 7 February 1943 by a drunken,German-speaking man, who claimed to work for the German security police in The Hague.

By that time, Herman’s mother had already been deported to Westerbork, where she was registered on 28 November 1942. She was reunited with her husband at Westerbork on 26 May 1943 and they were deported to the Sobibor extermination camp together on 1 June 1943.

Second from left in thephoto is Louis (Loutje) Brilleslijper, who had moved back to Amsterdam with his parents from Zaandam in May 1942, briefly staying with his grandparents before moving in at Plantage Franschelaan 15, across the road from the Landaus at No. 30.

The Brilleslijpers rented space from the widow Aleida Sajet-Hamburger and her son Jaap, who was actively involved in the resistance group Vrije Groep Amsterdam (Free Group Amsterdam), which provided Jewish refugees with food stamps and fake identity docu­ments.

It is unclear whether the Brilleslijpers were also involved in resistance, but Loutje’s father Lion,a tailor, was well aware of the threat he faced, as expressed in a piece he wrote to mark the 75th anniversary of the synagogue on Gedempte Gracht in Zaandam in January 1940.

“This is a deeply tragic age, particularly for Judaism. […] But one of the few oases in the desert of enmity is our beloved Netherlands. May you celebrate the 100th anniversary of this synagogue under better circumstances than those currently prevailing in the world.”

Records show that Loutje Brilleslijper arrived in Westerbork on 27 May 1943. He was deported to Sobibor with his parents on 8 June 1943, together with more than 3000 other people, including 1750 mothers with toddlers and other “non-produc­tive” prisoners from Camp Vught.

Touched by the plight of these vulnerable people, some prisoners at Wester­bork volunteered to join them on the long journey east to Sobibor, where Loutje (17), his mother Lea (48) and father Lion (44) were murdered in the gas chambers almost immediately on arrival.

It is likely that the Brilleslijpers were deported via the Hollandsche Schouw­burg theatre on nearby Plantage Middenlaan, which became an Amsterdam gathering point for Jewish deportees. Young children stayed at the crèche across the road, which acts of great heroism took place.

Lyia Landau, who took the photo on the roof, was among the nurses who helped sneak children out ofthe crèche to foster families. She herself survived the war, escaping arrest by sneaking across the flat roof to a neighbour’s attic and rolling herself in a carpet.

But let’s first tell the story of Wolf Bresler, third from left in the photo and looking rather cool in his sunglasses. It is possible that the kids had gathered for his birth­day. He turned 17 on 14 July 1942 and is the only person in the photo whose birth­day was in summer.

Wolf also came from outside Amsterdam. He was born in Kalisz, Poland, but his family emigrated to the Netherlands in 1930, settling in Didam near Arnhem. The family’s first registered address in Amsterdam was Plantage Franschelaan 30, where the photo was taken.

It is likely that the Breslers spent some time with the Landaus, before moving into their own place on Manegestraat. Evidently, Wolf spent enough time on Plantage Fransche straat to make friends, with whom he may later have attended shared a class at the Jewish Lyceum.

Westerbork records show that Wolf arrived at the transit camp aboard a so-called “S-transport”, where S stands for straf, which means it was a penal transport. He also ended up in Penal Barrack No. 67 at the camp, which means he was probably arrested while in hiding.

This is confirmed by the fact that Wolf’s mother and younger brother also spent time in Camp Vught, which had a stricter security regime than Westerbork, because its inmates included resistance operatives and black market profiteers, as well as Jews captured in hiding.

On 5 June 1943, Vught’s commander Karl Chmielewski ordered all Jewish child­ren out of the camp. He said they would be taken to a special “children’s camp” nearby, but the next day all children aged 0-3, as well as their parents, were deported to Westerbork.

The next day, children aged between 4 and 15 were also deported to Westerbork. Among them were Wolf’s younger brother Fishel (11) and mother Kajla, who arrived at Westerbork on 7 June 1943 and were deported to the Sobibór extermi­nation camp the next day.

Wolf arrived in Westerbork shortly thereafter on 12 June 1943. His father had already been in the transit camp since April, producing rucksacks for prisoners assigned to labour teams. Wolf was placed in Penal Barrack No. 67, but wasn’t immediately deported.

As an apprentice metalworker, Wolf may have been assigned to one of the work­shops, perhaps with his father’s assistance. Wolf was deported to Sobibór on 29 June 1943. His father followed three months later on 21 September 1943. Both were murdered on arrival.

Which brings us to Alex Rimini (on is haunches behind the two deckchairs), who caused some confusion initially, because there were two Alexander Riminis in Amsterdam in 1942, both of whom were in the running to play the role of Alex in roof photo.

To complicate matters, the two Alex Riminis were cousins (born in 1921 and 1926), which meant they might look similar, because their fathers were brothers. There were also two photos of Alex, but is this the same lad at 11 and 16? Or are these two different Alexes?

Alex is the only person in the photo wearing along-sleeved shirt and tie. Had he dropped in to see his friends after work? Had the onset of puberty and two years of war transformed him from a bashful boy into a slender, young man looking confi­dently into the camera?

Initially, the younger Alex (born in 1926) seemed to have a clearer link with the kids on the roof, because he was the same age and may have gone to school with them. However, the fact that Alex is wearing a shirt and tie in the photo suggests he was older than the others.

Oddly, the younger Alex also had an elderly look about him, recounts classmate Henry Schogt, who describes him as follows, when they first met at age 13 or 14: “When he entered the classroom, he was very obese and shuffled as if he were wearing slippers. His clothes looked faded and wintry, much too warm for September. But strangest of all was his hair, which gave him the appearance of an old man, although he was only a year older than me. The hair he had left seemed on the verge of breaking off or falling out.”

The fact that Henry Schogt devoted an entire chapter to this friendship with the youn­ger Alex Rimini made it tempting to cast him as the Alex on the roof, because such detailed stories are scarce. But our nagging doubts were amplified as our quest continued.

The elder Alex – who would have been 20 in the roof photo – had much clearer con­nec­tion with the kids on the roof. He had grown up at a Jewish orphanage for boys, which was just around the corner from Plantage Franschelaan, where the photo was taken.

In fact, the elder Alex was listed as “fire warden” at the orphanage on his registra­tion card for the Jewish Council, where he worked at the delivery service of the Department of Assistance to Deportees, possibly bringing hampers to Jews ordered to report for deportation.

The Jewish Council published a packing list in September 1942, which included articles such as a water bottle, cup, plate, cutlery, gloves, pyjamas, two blankets, two sets of warm underwear and other warm clothing, preferably packed in a good ruck­sack, rather than a suitcase.

It is likely that the elder Alex had cause to be in the neighbourhood often, because the Jewish Council also had a “youth hostel” at Plantage Franschelaan 13, which housed young pioneers, mainly Jewish immigrants, who had been preparing for life in Palestine.

The elder Alex would probably also have been active at the Hollandse Schouwburg theatre and at the crèche across the road, where Lyia Landau may already have been working when she took the photo on the roof. Was Alex also involved in finding hiding places for the kids?

Alex lived with his family on Nieuwe Kerkstraat, which is where Lyia Landau’s father and uncle first had their confectionery factory. Alex’s municipal card describes him as a “warehouse employee”. Had he previously been employed at the Landaus’ factory?

Alex’s municipal card also states that he married Vogelina Roos on 31 July 1942. Had Alex been among the young Jewish people who attempted to avoid deportation to labour camps by getting married? Had Alex come to the house to share the news with his friends?

Records show that Alex and his younger brother Hartog Rimini (1924) lived at the same orphanage at Plantage Middenlaan 80. The brothers were 10 and 7 years old when they were placed in the care of the Portuguese-Israelite Boys Orphanage Aby Jetomim (Father of Orphans).

It is likely that the brothers ended up in the orphanage because their mother was unable to take care of them. Jetta Cohen’s first husband Levie Rimini died in March 1929, leaving his wife with three children: Alexander (8), Betsie (6) and Hartog (4).

From the age of 7, Betsie Rimini lived at Nieuwe Prinsengraght 17, which was the Portuguese-Israelite Girls Orphanage Mazon Habanot. It is highly likely that Betsie (then 10 or 11) posed for this photo, which dates from 1934 and mark the 200th anniversary of the orphanage.

Their mother, Jetta Cohen, moved into the first-floor apartment at Nieuwe Kerk­straat 8 in October 1939. A month later, Alex Rimini (then 18) moved in with his mother at the same address. When Betsie Rimini turned 18 in December 1941, she also moved in with them.

Their younger brother, Hartog, was one of just five boys still living at the Aby Jento­mim Orphanage in 1941. One of the other orphans, Leo Jacob Nassy, who was the same age as Hartog and probably a close friend, later married Betsie Rimini in Camp Westerbork in 1943.

Alex Rimini married Vogelina Roos in July 1942, which is around about the time that the photo on the roof was taken. Had Alex come to the house to ask one of the Landau brother’s to be a witness at his wedding? Or perhaps to invite the girls to be brides­maids or simply to attend?

To answer these questions and others, we went in search of Lyia Landau’s son Tjitte de Vries, who posted the roof photo online. In a recent interview, Tjitte recounted that his grandfather came to Amsterdam from Lübeck in early 1932, when the Nazis rose to power in Germany.

“My grandfather and his brother set up a chocolate and confectionery factory, supplying marzipan figurines, Easter eggs and chocolate truffles to some the city’s biggest retailers. Their business was very successful until it was liquidated by the Germans in 1942.”

“The letters that my grandfather Pinchas sent to his family and neighbours in Amsterdam from Westerbork in 1943, confirm that he loved life and greatly valued friendship. He and my grandmother, Sara, were very hospitable. Their house was always open to all.”

Tjitte’s mother found it difficult to talk about the war. “But she did talk about her youth in Amsterdam: playing football out in the street with the boys or going to the swimming club and playing volleyball. She’d often take her schoolmates to the sugar factory for a treat.”

This suggests that sport may have been the bonding factor between the friends on the roof. Had they played football out in the street together? With Alex Rimini and the boys from the hostel joining in? If the girls were swimmers, they would have felt comfortable wearing bathing suits.

As early as May 1941, Jewish people had already been banned from visiting beaches and swimming pools, but from 12 June 1942 Jews were forbid­den to take part in any sporting activities at all. Had the street footballers gone up to the roof after their last game out in the street?

Which brings us to the solidarity of Ansje Looten, on the far right, who is the only non-Jewish person in the photo. Her father was concierge at the nearby zoo, which remained open during the war, but also offered refuge to Jews and others, who hid behind the animal enclosures.

“On most nights, there were dozens of people hiding on the Artis grounds,” writes the zoo’s former director Maarten Frankenhuis. “It’s estimated that around 200 to 300 people stayed here for several days or even weeks and years. No one knew exactly how many. For safety reasons, no one ever openly discussed these things, which is why no one was ever arrested at the zoo. Some people who had hidden at the zoo were amazed to discover, after the war, that a good friend or acquaintance has been camping out in a nearby enclosure.”

Zookeeper J. van Schalkwijk, who served Artis for 52years, was in charge of the Apenrots enclosure near the entrance, where even today Japanese macaque monkeys live on a large, rock-like structure, which is hollow on the inside and surrounded by a moat.

“During one raid, I let some lads in via the back door. I took them straight to the Monkey Rock, where I laid a plank over the moat, so that they could hide inside the rock. The Germans had no idea there were Jewish people hiding there, because there was water all around.”

Van Schalkwijk also tells of the zoo’s best known refugee, Duif van de Brink, a Jewish woman who stayed at the zoo for four years. “During the day, she mostly sat out on bench by the apes and monkeys, but at night she slept in the service area behind the wolf enclosure.”

“In the mornings, she’d come to the monkey house kitchen to get some breakfast. Then she’d sit out on the bench all day chatting to people, even Germans, who were never aware that she was Jewish. She eventually stayed with us until the end of the war,” recounted Van Schalkwijk.

There is no record of Ansje Looten’s friends ever having sought refuge at the zoo, but it would have provided a perfect hiding place. It is unclear whether her father Gerrit Looten, the zoo’s concierge, was involved in assisting refugees, but most staff were aware of their presence.

After the war, Ansje married Frederik Spangenberg, who regularly spent time in Bagdad, Iraq, in the 1950s and ‘60s.The family’s records are restricted, which suggests that Spangenberg worked in a governmental or corporate sector that required confidentiality.

Which brings us back to Uschy Friedmann, who was 14 when she arrived in Amster­dam in August 1939, moving in with her father Arno and his non-Jewish partner Margarete Aulhorn, who was imprisoned at Camp Vught, suggesting an involvement in resistance activities.

Arno Friedmann’s movements suggest he was well aware of the fate that awaited deported Jews. It is likely that he left Uschy with his partner Mar­garete when he went into hiding. Uschy’s presence on the roof suggests she may have been hiding across the road.

Not long after the roof photo was taken, Ursula Friedmann ended up in Camp Wester­bork. Her registration card bears the bleak descriptors “unemployed, stateless, unmarried” along with the deportation date scrawled diagonally in red pencil: 15 July 1942.

This date suggests that Uschy had the grotesque misfortune of being part of the first mass deportation out of Wester­bork, boarding the train to Auschwitz with 1134 other deportees. Records show that she survived for some time, perishing on 30 Sep­tem­ber 1942 at the age of 17.

Which brings us back to Uschy’s father, Arno Friedmann, whose last registered address was Lekstraat 12, where he lodged with an elderly man called Willem Lijmberg, who was 75 when Arno moved in on 22 April 1941. Arno’s subsequent move­ments are hard to track.

Records show that he surfaced occasionally. He was issued an identity document on 22 October 1941, but on 11 December 1942 he was marked as V.O.W. – vertrokken onbekend waarheen (departed,destination unknown) – which usually meant the person had gone into hiding.

Arno Friedmann’s registration card for Westerbork indicates that he first arrived at the camp on 7 August 1943. He was reported missing from Penal Barrack No. 67 at 19:15 on 23 August 1943, after which the local constabulary conducted a search of the surrounding area. They were unable to find Arno, who is described as follows in the report: “Approx. 1.60m tall; slender build; narrow, pale face; short-cropped greyish hair; no beard or moustache; not a typical Jewish type; clothing unknown; no identity document or food stamps.”

Having evaded arrest for five months, he was brought back to Penal Barrack No. 67 on 20 January 1944. Four days later, he was deported to Auschwitz along with 947 other people. Records show that Arno Friedmann was murdered in Auschwitz on 28 January 1944.

Arno’s partner Margarete Aulhorn was imprisoned at Camp Vught in August 1943. Construction of this camp had been completed earlier that year by the first inmates, who built their own prison, which was in use until the southern Dutch provinces were liberated in September 1944.

Camp Vught held atotal of nearly 31,000 prisoners: Jews, political prisoners, resistance fighters, Gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, homeless people, black market traders, criminals and hostages. Almost 750 people died at the camp, 329 of whom were executed.

On 7 May 1944, Margarete Aulhorn was assigned to a special workshop in the camp where electronic goods were assembled for the Philips corporation in Eindhoven. The company’s board were hesitant at first, but eventually went along in exchange for improved working conditions.

In early September 1944, the Germans and their Dutch collaborators panicked as Allied forces rolled in from the south and Allied paratroopers landed near Arnhem, marking the start of Operation Market Garden. Many thought it would all be over soon, but the war dragged on.

Camp Vught was in the liberated area, but it was almost empty by the time Allied troops arrived, just in time to stop the execution of the remaining 500-600 prisoners. By then, most of the women prisoners had been deported to Camp Ravens­brück north of Berlin.

Among them was Margarete Aulhorn, who survived to see Camp Ravens­brück liberated by Russian forces on 24 April 1945. She was placed on the “Sweden List”, which means she was part of a humanitarian mission carried out by Swedish ships in the summer of 1945.

More than 9,000 liberated concentration camp prisoners were ferried across the Baltic from the German port of Lubeck to Swedish cities, where they spent a month recovering at hospitals. Sweden was the fourth country Margarete Aulhorn saw during the course of the war. Having gone from Dresden to Paris to Amsterdam to Vught and Ravensbrück and then via Lubeck to Sweden, Margarete returned to Amsterdam. Surprisingly, her registration card shows that she somehow found new love along the way, marrying a man named Salzer. Alternatively, she may have lied to assure Salzer of the necessary documentation.

Margarete briefly returned to Plantage Fransche­laan 19, but as a German citizen she will have experienced great animosity from the Dutch, regard­less of the ordeal she had survived. She eventually chose to return to Germany on 12 February 1946 – destination unknown.

Which brings us to photographer Lyia Landau, who is shown playing piano for her parents Sura and Pinkus in the photo below. Having initially found an interview with her son, Tjitte de Vries, we also tracked down an interview with Lyia herself, dating from 1979.

“My mother seldom mentioned that her parents, her Uncle Abram and Aunt Perel, and her cousin Sulamith were all murdered in Sobibor,” recounts Tjitte de Vries, one of four sons born to Lyia Landau and Gerrit de Vries, who lived across the road from Lyia during the war.

“In 1943, my mother and her cousin Jozef – Abram and Perel’s son – went into hiding just in time. Jozef went to live with the Verbeek family in Grubbenvorst, while my mother and her younger sister Rosa hid with my Frisian aunts and uncles in Woudsend and Koudum.”

“My mother eventually opened up about the war to my cousin Rivka, for a school project. Only then did I learn that she had worked as a nanny at the crèche across the road from the Hollandsche Schouwburg, sneaking away baby girls and toddlers to foster parents.”

In the 1979 interview, Lyia explains that she was given the identity document of Mia Constance Vonk, a student from The Hague. “I was very cautious when I first arrived, but after my first dinner there, I knew things were alright when father said: ‘Right, it’s time for the BBC. I had no idea who this Mia was. I couldn’t picture her. My main concern was that someone would start asking me difficult questions about The Hague. My cover story was that our house there had been destroyed in a bombardment, but I knew nothing about the city itself."

"My father had warned me that I should never endanger anyone else. That meant I had to make a complete change. Only much later, after I was married, did I become Lyia again. But that didn’t just happen overnight. It really was a long process. Sometimes I longed for my life in Amsterdam, but not very often. In the beginning, it really was like being on holiday. I was lucky that I didn’t have to stay hidden. Only later did I understand that my mind had been locked up, although I was free to move around as Mia.”

It was around this time Lyia met her future husband Gerrit de Vries, her foster parents’ nephew, who regularly dropped in to listen to the radio. “We didn’t go hungry in Friesland. The menu was a bit monotonous, but there was plenty of milk and meat. There were tense moments, of course. My foster father was arrested when some­one betrayed the Woudsend resistance group. As they took him away, he slipped me some documents that he wanted me to hide. Fortunately, we all lived to see liberation.”

Lyia went back to Amsterdam after the war. “There was nothing left. Many of the houses were demolished. People had taken the wooden blocks from between the tram rails, to use as fuel. All I could think was: That shop used to be there… And that person lived there. I warned my cousin Jozef, who later moved to Israel, that he would find nothing left if he returned. He came anyway. Now he never wants to see Amsterdam again. I also understood that there was nothing there for me. Only then did I realise how much I’d lost.”

Having confirmed that she, her sister Rosa and cousin Jozef were the only survivors, Lyia went back to Woudsend, married Gerrit de Vries and had four sons. “We’re not moving to Israel, I told Gerrit, because I don’t want you to go through what I experienced in Friesland.”

“The memories come flooding back at the strangest moments. Whenever I smell marzipan in a bakery, I see my dad making figurines. And when the Frisian orchestra played Mussorgsky at the opening of an exhibition, I saw wagons trekking through the Polish landscape. Sometimes tiny things will rattle me. My sons will ask why I cry when I look at family photos. I can’t watch programmes or read books about the Holocaust, and in principle I never go on holiday to Germany. Imagine having to shake someone’s hand."

“On the 4th of May, we always had to come in and watch the memorial ceremony on television and my mother would always leave the room, crying,”recounts Tjitte de Vries. “Only after her death, in October 2000, did I start taking more of an interest in my Jewish background. Now it’s part of my identity. Not in a religious sense, but I see myself as someone with Frisian and Jewish roots – a double blessing,” say Tjitte, who has been working on a book about his family since 2015, publishing a summary in the series Joodse Huizen 6 (Amphora,2020).

“Going through the Landau documents, I also gained new insight into my father, Gerrit de Vries. After the war, he spent years trying to arrange compensation for my mother and her family. As my brother Philip says: ‘He deserves lot more respect from us in hindsight.’”

“My mother stayed in Friesland, but her sister Rosa moved to South Africa in 1955 and married Ronald Zidel. She died in Johannesburg in 1996,” writes Tjitte. “Her cousin Jozef eventually returned to Amsterdam to study economics, specialising in agricultural politics.”

“I can’t tell you much more about the people in the photo. I only found it after my mother and father had passed on. I think my mother took the photo, because she isn’t in the picture and it’s her handwriting on the back. She was trying to remember names later in life.”

“Ansje Looten was one of my mother’s school friends. There’s another photo of her in our family archive, sitting at a desk, a typical school photo. Oddly, I recall visiting Ansje’s father at the zoo with my mother, sometime around 1957, when I was six, but Ansje was away.”

“I don’t know much about the other boys and girls on the roof, except their names. The information you found is new to me – fascinating! If these lads lived nearby, it’s likely they were the boys she played football with in the street, but she never mentioned any names.”

“Apart from sporting activities, the Landaus were active in the Yiddish Cultural Society Anski. My grandfather was an actor in the Yiddish plays and his brother Abram was the society’s chairman. My mother and her cousin Jozef were members of the Anski youth club.”

“There’s so much to be found on the internet, but I’ve been unable to track down the names of the people who worked for my grandfather’s factory. Maybe by sharing this story you can help me identify some of the people in this photo, which I recently had enhanced.”

“The Landau brothers are in white coats. Abram is in the middle and my grandfather Philip (glasses) is on the right. Their sister Chaja (glasses) is standing between them. This photo is from around 1938-1940, when their factory was located at Nieuwe Herengracht 137-139.”

“The factory was founded in 1933, starting out in the basement of Nieuwe Kerkstraat 110, where Abram lived. There’s a dossier in the National Archives, which I couldn’t visit because of corona. They sent about 60 pages of records, but there were no names.”

“The factory was registered at the Amsterdam Chamber of Commerce (KvK), but I was unable to access records via the web. It really would be fantastic if I could put names to some of the faces in this photo.”

And so, readers, we pass this quest on to you. If you have any information about the people in the above picture, please contact us.


Two more interesting snippets. This photo shows the front entrance to Plantage Franschelaan 30, as it was in the war. The bicycles are an interesting detail. One of them is probably Lyia Landau’s bicycle, mentioned in the police report below.

Many Dutch people reported their bicycles stolen when the Germans began confiscating bicycles for their war effort. What is particularly interesting is that Lyia’s place of birth is recorded as Danzig (now Gdańsk, Poland), but that she was “stateless” (Stateloos).

Updated on 2 March 2022

To my amazement, I recently received the following email:

“Hello Richard - I just read this story with great interest, as I am Ans Looten's niece. Her younger sister, Liesje Looten Vandermolen, was my mother. The following may interest you:

“The Looten family lived on the grounds of the zoo throughout the war, in the building to the right of the main entrance on Plantage Kerklaan. During the war, Opa Looten hid many Jews (andradios) in the crawl spaces between the floors of the building. By the end of the war, German soldiers had killed quite a few of the animals for food.

“Ans and Fred did live in Baghdad for several years after the war. We were told they worked in the oil fields. Tante Ans took a job at the American Embassy, as she was fluent in English. They never had any children. She later returned to Amsterdam,while Fred moved to the island of Sardinia, Italy. 

“After my parents married, my father was transferred to Venezuela, where I was born. While growing up, we spent the summers months in Haarlem (where my father was from) and Amsterdam, staying with Oma and Opa Looten at the zoo.

“I have many fond memories of those times. I chuckled when I saw the picture of the zoo keeper lighting a cigarette for the monkey, because I personally witnessed this on several occasions. Is wear that monkey probably died of lung cancer.

“Unfortunately, as a young person I never thought to ask about their wartime experiences and all I have now are memories of conversations between them.”