Uli was not allowed to come along and ended up in Sobibor

by Paul Arnoldussen

Her own family history brought Miriam Keesing to a research project on German and Austrian children who, usually completely alone, fled to the Netherlands.

Pianist Miriam Mijatovich-Keesing (1966) has never known her grandfather Isaac Keesing. “He blessed me shortly before his death while I was still in my mother’s womb.” Keesing was an interesting man, the founder of the Keesing publishing house, which published amongst others, the famous Keesings Historical Archive and the crossword puzzles “Denksport”. He wrote a series of children’s books with titles like “Grandfather’s stories” and “Another story, Grandpa”. “And he has also invented an anti-forget machine: something with a wheel that you had to put on your desk.  A prototype has not been made as far as I know but I have seen a drawing. ”

Miriam Keesing wanted to write a biography about him. “So I went through his papers and then I came across Uli.”

This changed the plan completely. Uli was a German boy who moved in with the Keesings in the Grensstraat in Amsterdam in the late thirties. “I wondered why did I not know about this and what happened to him. Also why did he not emigrate in 1942, which was strangely enough possible for a while, to Cuba and later to the U.S., like my family? ”

Data from the municipal archives soon showed that Uli Herzberg (born in 1927), following the departure of the Keesings, moved to a house on the other side of the street, to a family with two other German boys. And that he was later deported to and murdered in Sobibor.

“I found his brother two years ago amazingly easy, who, against my expectations, was still alive in the U.S.. I called him and just mentioning my name was enough. He knew exactly what it was about. It was very moving. Later I also met him. ”

Uli was one of almost two thousand children who came to the Netherlands between 1938 and the beginning of the occupation. Miriam Keesing: “I wanted to read a book about this. I searched for months but could not find it. Then I decided to write it myself. ”

For seven hundred of the two thousand refugee children, the Netherlands was an intermediate station en route to England in most cases, the others were still here at the capitulation.

The Dutch policy at the time was very cautious, partly because an influx of refugees would lead to anti-Semitism. Admitting children into the country was a little easier, especially because they would not be competing in the labour market in these days of crisis. In principle the children were placed in homes, but sometimes it was possible to register as foster parents.

That policy was quite tight. Relatives of the refugee children who had previously fled to the Netherlands could not just take them in, even in the rare cases that the parents were already in the Netherlands it was not obvious that their child got to live with the parents. Miriam Keesing: “They did have to pay the bill, twenty dollars per month per child. That was an enormous amount at the time.

“And the government was responsible for those kids, which is why Uli could not come with the Keesing.

Keesing wants to find out what happened to those kids and hear as many of their stories as possible. She read letters from the children, not just those of Uli “who were very dear, he must have been a very nice boy.” She has already spoken to several people involved.

And she will write extensively about Truus Wijsmuller. This social worker was involved in the children’s transport and pulled off something remarkable on the day of the capitulation. She hired seven buses in which she took the one hundred German children who were living in the Burgerweeshuis in Amsterdam, and took them to IJmuiden. There she put them on the boat to London.

Unfortunately Uli was not among them. “He should have been my uncle. My Uncle Uli. ”

Het Parool (March 15th, 2010)