Klara DeHond was born in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, in 1931. In 1940, when the German occupation began, her family tried to hide their Jewish identity, and then, to avoid deportations, Klara’s family sent her to a farm to work.
Over the course of the war, Klara was hidden with three different families. Klara’s parents and two of her siblings were deported to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. After the war, Klara was reunited with her parents and her siblings. Klara later married and came to Canada with her husband and two children in the late 1950s. In Toronto, Klara worked in a medical office and raised her family. She has stayed in touch with members of the Dutch families who hid her during the war.
Before the SS came for us, my mother created a scheme so the Nazis wouldn’t take me or my baby brother, Simon. My parents pretended my brother was very sick. Mother instructed me that when the SS knocked on the door, I was to tell them he had the measles and he was infectious. I was warned never to say too much, to keep to myself. It was drilled into all of us: “Don’t say who you are or admit to being Jewish.” The Nazis wouldn’t know any differently. One of my mother’s other plans had me going to the third floor of our apartment and then falling down the stairs to the second floor as if it were an accident. She told me that whether I was hurt or not, I was to cry loudly so the Nazis would hear me and leave me be. So I went upstairs and made myself fall from the third floor. I was in so much pain that it was impossible for me to stand; the SS didn’t take me, my baby brother or my mother. But they did take my father, older brother and sister. They took them and the other Jews to the Hollandsche Schouwburg theatre, on Plantage Middenlaan, which is now a memorial to Dutch victims of the Holocaust. Since the Germans were worried my family was contagious from the apparent measles, they let my father and siblings come home a few days later.
By that time, my father had started working in a factory making suits and jackets so he could buy food and food stamps to feed our family. Before everyone was taken away by the Nazis and dispersed to different places, he removed drapes from our windows and made me a suit, sewing diamonds into the hem. He sewed valuables into all of our coats so we’d have money to give people who might help us. I wore that coat all the time. I even slept in it.
We couldn’t stay in our house anymore because it wasn’t safe. At night, when the SS were likely to look for us, my sister and I went to stay with an aunt and her husband in another area of town, and came back home during the day. We had to stay inside, hiding, the whole time.
My mother was also working at a factory, and it was there that she met a Catholic woman named Marie Berkhout. Marie said she would talk with her brother, who we came to call Uncle Jaap, to see what he could do for us. Uncle Jaap found a place for my sister and me with a woman by the name of Corre, who lived in the district of Amstelveen. Neither Corre nor the other people in the house treated us very well. We were given very little food and both my sister and I got sick. Once, in spite of the fact that we had never been in a boat and didn’t know how to swim, Corre’s daughter took us out in a rowboat, jumped out when we were far from shore and swam back. We were left alone in the boat without knowing how to use the oars. Although we eventually figured out the oars and rowed back by ourselves, it was a very unpleasant experience. Later on in our stay, we thought something strange was going on, because men kept going upstairs to see Corre. She appeared to have a dual personality, living two separate lives. She had many friends, and the SS knew she was aware of exactly where the Jews were. She gave up ten Jewish people and their hiding places to the Nazis, including my parents.
I was warned never to say too much, to keep to myself. It was drilled into all of us: “Don’t say who you are or admit to being Jewish.”
Uncle Jaap took me away from Corre’s place in Amstelveen to the Brouwers family farm, where I stayed for a long time. He got the Brouwers’ address from the underground, and in exchange for my work the family took me in. My sister had gone to stay at Uncle Jaap’s, so I was at the farm all by myself, isolated, in the middle of nowhere. The farmer had eight children, and I took care of them, baked bread, peeled potatoes, milked the cows, fed the pigs and helped kill the chickens. I also did all the work taking care of the sheep, even shearing them and spinning the wool. I worked from morning until night, but the Brouwers family was good to me and took care of me.
My older brother had gone to stay with Uncle Jaap’s mother-in-law, while Uncle Jaap took my mother, baby brother and then my sister to his place. I learned afterward that he built a closet in a wall of his house to hide them, but when the SS came, they looked all over the place, actually breaking down the walls. My little brother was forced to undress so they could see if he was circumcised. My sister tried to protest, but was told to shut her mouth. I was also told that my parents asked a doctor to tattoo a large S, for Simon, on my baby brother’s back in order to identify him, as he was too young to express himself. (Earlier, when things had gotten scary, we’d actually started to call him Monny because it wasn’t such a Jewish sounding name.) The SS eventually took Uncle Jaap, my mother, baby brother and sister from the house to the Westerbork transit camp, and then to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Uncle Jaap would never return.
At one point, a soldier who turned out to be a German spy was at the Brouwers’ farm. While I was washing the dishes, he shot me in the leg, claiming he had just been cleaning his rifle. The family took me to the doctor, who removed the bullet, but I couldn’t walk for quite a while.
Then one day while I was pumping water at the farm’s well, a man dressed in black came up and told me to follow him. He said it was dangerous for me to stay at the farm because Corre had given Jewish names to the SS. He then led me to a ditch and told me to hide there until he came back for me. The ditch was full of mud, grass and water, and I waited for two days before he came to get me. When he returned, he took me on the back of his motorcycle to a nuns’ convent. The man told me I would be okay, that he was a good man. Later I learned he was a priest. He told me I had to stay at the convent but that someone would come to pick me up. He had me wear a nun’s habit as a disguise. I had been very dirty and smelly from hiding in the ditch, and the nuns helped me clean up and gave me regular street clothes to wear before the priest took me to another village, called Neer, to the home of Wilheim and Maria Van Roy. I stayed with them for a few months and took care of their daughter, Kitty. That family saved my life!
From the Van Roys’, I was sent to the family of Henry and Annie Naus, who lived beside their wool-spools factory. I was with them for a long time. I took care of their daughter Dorey and their other younger kids, but it didn’t feel like work compared with the Brouwers’. One of the Roy daughters was a director of a high school, which was a high-status position. I was a child growing up very quickly.
I later learned that my parents found each other at Bergen-Belsen. They had not been allowed to stay together there, so my mother hid my father under the cot she slept on. From what they told me, the conditions at the camp were horrible. My sister slept on a single cot with two other girls.
When the war ended, I didn’t know where my parents and sister and brothers were, or even if they were alive, but I learned the Brouwers wanted me to return to their farm, so I did. While I was there, I heard from the resistance organization that my uncle was coming to the area. I wrote to him, telling him I was alive, asking if he knew anything of my family, and I gave the letter to somebody to deliver. Sometime later, I was doing laundry, putting the sheets in the field for the sun to dry and bleach them, when in the far distance I saw a dark figure coming closer and closer. I picked up the laundry quickly and put it in a large kettle. The person was coming still closer, calling my name. “Klara, Klara!” He was running, jumping over the ditch to get to me. It was my older brother! We jumped into each other’s arms. He had been working for an organization, delivering letters to people, and had heard from the resistance organization that I was alive. He was so happy to find me. My brother! I remember he had a pair of long black stockings that he gave me. The resistance also gave him papers saying my family was alive as well, and later on we found them all. My father, mother, sister and baby brother’s names were listed in the daily papers as survivors. The whole family was coming together! But I couldn’t leave the farm to reunite with them; I was still a child, with no resources or independence.
Once my parents were well and learned I was alive, they looked for me by hitchhiking to the Brouwers’ farm. They wanted to take me with them but the farmer wanted me to stay, as I was such a good worker, so an exchange was made for my sister. But she couldn’t do the farm work the way I could and the Brouwers returned her to my parents.
My whole family, including me, went back to Amsterdam. By that time the newspapers were announcing that children would be sent to Denmark so they could experience a bit of the childhood they hadn’t had due to the war. I went, but there were many of us at the Danish facility and I wasn’t used to being with kids my own age, as I had been working with adults. I felt strange being there and was always hiding, wanting to be on my own. I had nothing to say. I felt like I had pins in my body, wounds that had never healed.