The Netherlands / Story
"The Return of the Jewish Children" is a project about the extraordinary wartime story of smuggling Jewish children to Friesland. At the height of the 1943 round-ups, the Amsterdam Student Group, a student resistance group, managed to save hundreds of children from the Nazis. At the risk of their own lives, the students took the children via different routes to the Frisian countryside. There, in hiding, they all survived the war. One of them was Bram.
Bram Houtkruijer, 1939 in Amsterdam
Alexander Houtkruijer and his wife Mariana Levi both worked at the Jewish Hospital in Amsterdam. There, they met Cornelia Stolk, who was a district nurse in Oentsjerk. Because of the war, Alexander and Mariana decided to send their son, Bram, to Friesland. There, Cornelia’s sister would pick up 4-year-old Bram.
Bram: "I thought it was exciting to be on the train. It was completely full of German soldiers. One was also sitting opposite me. He tried to talk to me, but I kept my mouth shut." Bram first went to Dokkum, before joining his foster parents, Luut and Griet de Vries, in Gytsjerk. "I was very sad in Dokkum. I remember crying a lot when I noticed my parents weren’t there. I also suddenly had a different name. It was Jan."
Yet, he had fun in Friesland. "I had a great childhood. Had a lot of friends and just played in the streets. ‘Heit’ and ‘mem’ (because I called them mom and dad in Frisian) had two daughters and a son. My foster mother never told anyone I was Jewish." Bram lived with the family of Luut and Griet de Vries at 61 Nieuwe Straatweg in Gytsjerk. The house is still standing and remains in the family, as it is occupied by his foster sister Anna's son.
Bram was the only one of the Houtkruijer family to survive the war. "My parents ended up in Auschwitz and Sobibor. Later, the Stichting Oorlogspleegkinderen (Jewish War Orphan Foundation), the OPK, came to tell me that they wanted me to grow up in Jewish circles. But heit and mem wanted to adopt me." The name on his diploma from secondary modern school in Leeuwarden is Bram, but to the students around him he remained Jan.
Bram, or Jan, later worked at a bank and he now lives in Veendam. He figures out his own war story for his children. "Veendam is fine, but Fryslân is my homeland," Houtkruijer says.
The project 'The Return of the Jewish Children' is a collaboration between the Stichting de Verhalen (Stories Foundation), Omrop Fryslân, Leeuwarder Courant and Friesch Dagblad. The core editorial board consists of Karen Bies, Marja Boonstra, Martijn van Dijk, Wybe Fraanje and Gerard van der Veer.