Horror, Hiding and the Holocaust

How Bert Jakobs outlived the Third Reich

"We felt naked," Bert recalls. "We were not wearing a star on our clothes."

The train station was mobbed with Jews carrying packed suitcases, all reporting for what they were told would be brief journeys to labor camps. While waiting for their train, they saw another stopped on the other side with a large column of Jews who had reported for relocation. Aron would have been on that death train but for a friendly Dutch policeman who warned him to get out of town at all costs.

From Den Bosch, Aron and Bert went to Nymegen. There, near a park, they had to wait for the next streetcar.

"I remember my dad said, 'Well, let's go for a little walk.' I said, 'No, Pop, we can't.' And he said, 'Why not?' I had read the sign in the park. It said: 'No Jews are allowed in this park.' My father said, 'Today, we are not Jews.' And I said, 'I know I'm a Jew.' And he looked at me and said, 'Forget about that. Let's go in the park. Otherwise, it may become obvious that we are Jews.' So we went walking in the park for a half-hour, waiting for the next streetcar. And I felt guilty not wearing my yellow star, which I'd worn for two years."

If a German soldier, Dutch policeman or any collaborator had suspected father and son were Jews, they would've been turned over to the Nazis immediately and sent to one of the death camps. But, as with many survivors, the Jakobs' escape turned on a measure of luck. No one stopped them. The streetcar came, and they boarded it. A short time later, they arrived in the village of Bergand Dal, where they walked a mile or so down a long road to a farmhouse owned by a Christian couple—the Driessens—whom Bert would come to know as Father and Mother.

"My father pointed to a farmhouse up on the right," Bert recalls. "He said, 'You see that house? We're going to stop there for a glass of milk.' I remember I had a glass of milk and met the Driessens. And then we went into the barn."

On that morning, more than 58 years ago, Bert and his father climbed a rickety ladder in the barn and slid down to the other side of the hayloft. There, hidden under the hay, was a little trap door that opened onto a secret compartment. Bert's mother, Frieda, and his 14-year-old sister, Edith, were already inside.

It was only because of Frieda's smuggled gold buttons that the family could afford to go into hiding. Aron paid the Driessens the equivalent of $400 per month—a small fortune in those days—to hide his family in the farmhouse.

"My father paid Mr. Driessen every week. Plus, he gave them all the cattle he had and the use of all his land."

For the next two years, the family lived as fugitives. They could not set foot in the outside world, and the slightest slip-up would spell doom.

"The only time we could go downstairs was to go into the barn to use the old-fashioned toilet," Bert says. "Then we had to go right back upstairs again. We washed ourselves from a bucket of water. We never had a shower, never brushed our teeth."

There was one small window in the attic, but no one could look out. Whenever the Driessens or the Jansens—the Driessens' daughter and her husband, who lived in another wing of the house—had visitors, the Jakobs couldn't move or make a sound. "Talking was out of the question, and so was going to the bathroom. Sometimes we would sit for two or three hours at a time, saying absolutely nothing. And that was something my father drilled into us: 'You move, you're dead.' Because you never knew who was downstairs. And that type of self-discipline saved us."

The danger of discovery was constant, the tension excruciating. The punishment for hiding Jews was execution for both families. But fear was not something you could act out.

"I couldn't afford to have fear. I got that from my dad because he never showed fear under any circumstances," Bert says. "My dad said, 'We'll survive. Trust in me.' And he never let us down."

Even in hiding, life had its rituals. Each day, Aron ground wheat. The family ate oatmeal in the morning, and the flour went into bread that was baked downstairs and served for lunch. Dinner was the same each night: potatoes and onions.

"That was because my father didn't want any outside help from the Dutch Underground," Bert says. "The reason for that—and he was right—was that the moment someone else knows where you are and they get caught, they might talk."

There was no radio. But from the German-controlled newspapers came two maps of the western and eastern fronts, showing the progress the Allies were making everywhere from Africa to Stalingrad.

"The stories would say that the soldiers had moved to 'better defensible positions.' But we would look at the map and see that they had gone back 30 or 40 kilometers. The stories never mentioned the word 'withdrew.' And that was a game my father and I kept up all through the time we hid."

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