Survivor STORY

Eliezer (Elie) Sondervan was born in 1939, in Amsterdam, Holland.

Partly due to the country’s ties and similarities to Germanic culture—in language, food, and other societal characteristics—Holland was annexed by Germany, as opposed to other European countries, which were occupied, during World War II.

In 1942, the German army began to relocate Dutch Jews, including Elie’s family, to ghettoes throughout the country. In 1944, the deportation of the Jews to concentration camps began, and, notably, these deportations were carried out by the Dutch police themselves, as agents of the German forces.

Elie’s father, a teacher and economist, as well as his mother, also a teacher, were issued special papers to prevent their deportation, so that, ironically, they could remain in the ghetto to educate the Jewish children. Elie’s grandparents on both sides of his family were not as fortunate. They were issued papers to be deported, but refused to go by their own will. Elie’s grandmother died of a heart attack as German soldiers, with an unannounced knock at the door, tried to enforce the deportation orders.

Elie was sent into hiding by his parents, and found safety with a German woman in Utrecht and a Catholic orphanage in Belgium. He recalls the difficulties in traveling during this time—the only coat he owned was conspicuous for the stitch-marks that remained from removing the yellow star he was made to wear in the ghetto.

In 1944, Belgium was liberated, and Elie’s father joined the allied forces as a civilian in the entertainment department of the army. In 1945, Holland was liberated, however, Jews were still treated harshly, and Elie’s family returned to Amsterdam and experienced first-hand an atmosphere of begrudging resistance by many of the Dutch as Jews tried to re-assimilate into Dutch society.

After his father died in 1959, Elie moved to Israel, where he met his wife, who had also grown up in hiding with a Christian family in Holland during the war. They soon returned to Israel and lived as journalists there from 1959 to 1973, covering the Yom Kippur War and interviewing such notable figures as David Ben Gurion, Golda Meier and Anwar Sadat. Despite such involvement, as well as the birth and upbringing of his two daughters in the country, Elie admits that he lived a largely secular life during his time in Israel.

It was not until after he moved his family to the United States in the 1980’s that Elie turned to Jewish Orthodoxy. At this time, he researched his Sephardic roots and drew parallels between his ancestors who had suffered the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal and his own generation who bore the horrors of the Holocaust and World War II.

Elie’s remembrances and thoughts are poignant in that they reveal the way personal experiences can shape one’s outlook on life. One recounting of a Bar Mitzvah of a Rabbi’s son in Atlanta, years after the War, illustrates the long-lasting resonance of such memories.

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Eliezer Sondervan