NIW 9 April 1993
"We can't read that"
Hebrew parchment scroll in North Dutch Oudesluis
by Monique Marreveld
At the side of a large canal in the North Netherlands town of Oudesluis there's an old farmhouse. I'm received hospitably by Jan Krijgsman, erstwhile member of the school administration in Den Helder and now in retirement. Pretty active retirement, that is. He's active amateur dramatist, and this season will play the role of Jakob Gensch, head of the jewish police in Wilna, in Joshua Sobol's play Ghetto. It is being staged by 'T Miertejater in Schagen and is regarded as this year's favourite for the Amateur Theater Festival. But that's not what he wants to talk about - he's asked me to come for quite another reason: an old parchment scroll.
The scroll measures about three meters in length and fifty centimeters in width, in handwritten hebrew letters. It is backed with a black and white chequered cloth which is partly worn and dog-eared. The handle is of old, engraved ivory. Krijgsman inherited the parchment roll from his father, who in turn got it from a Jewish friend after the war, Ieke van Gelder. "I want nothing more to do with this - you take it" were his words. The tale is told at the big dinner table in the family room of the farmhouse. Mother, sister, wife and daughter all listen attentively.
Jan Krijgsman had in turn heard all this from his mother - "Mom, correct me if I'm wrong". Mother Krijgsman is 89 years old and does indeed interrupt her son every now and again. Jan Krijgsman was born in 1933, "the year Hitler rose to power, I always say to myself". He was about sixteen when his father got the parchment scroll from Van Gelder. "Father came home with this rather proudly", sister Gré adds, "we sat and looked at it. But, well, we could'nt read it of course, wasn't it in Hebrew?"
Jan Krijgsman: "It must have been 1949 or thereabouts when dad got the scroll. Ieke emigrated to Durban , South Africa , and asked my father if he felt like coming along. I remember my mother lying in bed weeping. Dad had to promise that he would'nt do it. So we stayed. When Ieke left for South Africa dad came home with the scroll. When I was at high school I went, with a friend, Jan van Deutekom, with the scroll to parson Van der Sluijs in Barsingerhorn. But all he could tell us was that it was in hebrew, nothing more. So we went back home, somewhat disappointed."
"Eventually I borrowed the scroll when I played, with the Miertejater, the role of Otto Frank in the play Anne Frank. It was really much later that I heard from my mother just how it was in the war and how we came to possess that parchment scroll, what it had to do with Ieke."
"My father Aage Krijgsman had a butcher shop before the war on the Binnenhaven in Den Helder - one of his colleagues was Van Gelder. The latter did'nt sell any pork." (Van Gelder was orthodox jewish - ed.)
After the German invasion, at first, things didn't change very much for the two families. Until, that is, father Krijgsman was asked to work for the Wehrmacht.
"He refused. He had to close the shop and go and work for the fire brigade, to earn something. In retrospect he rather regretted that. Then he'd say: dammit, if only I had'nt refused - the butchers who worked for them earned a heap. But, well, that's how he was. He could'nt do it."
Father Van Gelder also had to shut his shop, soon after, for different reasons, which we all know now.
After that the two colleagues lost sight of one another. The Krijgsmanns were evacuated to Alkmaar after the bombardement of Den Helder on 24 June 1940 . The Van Gelders stayed, father and mother were eventually deported and son Ieke went into hiding with his young wife in a big warehouse on the Zuidstraat.
"Right in the middle of Den Helder , that was quite something. The city was, because of its location, Schutzgebiet, a military zone. Residents needed a special permit." Besides which, the place was full of german soldiers. What happened after that is part of the oral history of Den Helder ; the Krijgsmanns heard it later from Rieselman, an acquaintance of both Van Gelder and Krijgsmann. Not only Krijgsman and Van Gelder lost their shops and livelihood, grocer Rieselman also had to leave the military zone of Den Helder. His shop was next to the warehouse in the Zuidstraat. He was evacuated to 't Zand, but was allowed to go and visit his shop every now and again, ostensibly to go and keep an eye on things. They were to be eventful visits.
"After the war we heard how Rieselman pedalled three times a week to Den Helder , sixteen kilometers by bicycle from 't Zand. Bringing food for the Van Gelders hiding in the loft of the warehouse. They could'nt hide there for very long. Van Gelder's wife was pregnant, and when the birth was due they were taken in the middle of the night to doctor Loesberg, who helped a lot of jewish people. The rest of the war the Van Gelders hid there."
After the war Krijgsman returned to Den Helder and opened a new shop on the Nieuwstraat. The same for Van Gelder, three hunderd meters along. Sometimes they worked together, slaughtering their cattle in the abbattoir behind Van Gelder's shop. In return for this Krijgsman would deliver all the orders for pork meat from Van Gelder's customers. For, although Van Gelder "wanted to have nothing to do with it", his shop was still kosher. "Every now and again a rabbi would come and prepare the meat there."
In the end the Van Gelders decided to leave - he'd had enough of the cold war, according to the Krijgsmans. "It's going to be no good here, he used to say", according to Jan Krijgsman. "Ieke used to come back every year to Den Helder , and for Rieselman he bought a house. Every month he'd send money to my father to send a parcel of meat to Rieselman." After Ieke's death the Krijgsman family lost contact with the Van Gelder family. The parchment scroll was forgotten, until Jan Krijgsman played the role of Gensch. Now that he's found the scroll again, he's looking for a suitable home for it.