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Helga Leeser

Muenster, Germany

The older of two sisters, Helga was raised by prosperous, non-religious Jewish parents in the small Catholic town of Duelmen in western Germany. Her family owned a linen factory. Before marrying Helga's much older father in 1927, her mother had been a Dutch citizen. As a child, Helga looked forward to vacations in the Netherlands with its comparatively relaxed atmosphere.

1933-39: At age 6 I began attending a Catholic elementary school. Antisemitism wasn't a problem till the night of November 9, 1938 [Kristallnacht, Night of Broken Glass], when Nazis from a nearby city vandalized our town's Jewish properties. Father raced downstairs and was arrested; four days later, he committed suicide in his prison cell. Mother regained her Dutch citizenship and emigrated to the Netherlands. With my grandfather's help, my sister and I joined her.  

"Kristallnacht": nationwide pogrom
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1940-44: After the Germans occupied the Netherlands in 1940, I was forced out of school. In 1942 we avoided deportation by getting false papers saying we were Dutch Christians and by moving to Rotterdam where a Dutch couple hid us in their flat. We lived just two blocks from police headquarters. Because I was very Jewish looking, I had to stay inside. I spent my time reading and studying. Often we listened to the BBC. Our worst problem was the lack of food; by the end of 1944, we were reduced to eating mainly sugar beets.

After their liberation at the end of the war, Helga, her sister and mother remained in Rotterdam.

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