15 May Stumbling stones for the murdered family members
More than forty years of genealogy that means that you have an assignment, a self-imposed task that must be performed. With the knowledge that seven family members committed suicide at the start of the Second World War and with an endless list of murdered family members, there is almost no escape as a child, even though you were born after the Holocaust: you have to know what happened , there is that obligation to remember. You have a brother, parents and a grandmother who can retell it, but the realization that everything is different with your family, an immeasurable ‘something’ that gnaws away.
And then you start searching and eventually find photos and information. A story builds itself. Three generations of Zeehandelaar and two Cohens committed suicide. They missed the boat to England in Scheveningen. They did not return home. They sought shelter in a guesthouse in Wassenaar and turned on the gas tap. You and your brother ensure that there are stumbling stones in Eindhoven. In April 2019, two stones will follow in Assen, in the far north. For uncle Frits and aunt Frouk from the Cohen branch of the family. The unmarried uncle and aunt had a butcher shop and grandma told a lively story. There is a picture of their butcher shop, now there is an apartment building.
The stumbling stones are placed in front of the apartment. Genealogical knowledge and grandmother’s memories read out during the short stone placement ceremony. The photo of the store, framed, finds its way to a group of young real estate agents who live in an office in the flat. Their reaction is sympathetic: the photo hangs next to the consultation room and you get the spontaneous promise that from now on it will be called the Frits Cohen room.
Remembering, telling, remembering, it is not over. We keep calling them.
Below you find the speech of Freda and Dror Cohen Rapoport, as spoken in Assen (April), 2019:
IN MEMORIAM FREDERIK (FRITS) AND FROUK COHEN, brother and sister of our grandmother Cato Cohen.
‘Frits was born as the fourth child of Bernhart Cohen and Sara Engers in Assen on November 12, 1884. He was part of twins. His sister Rosalie died of Spanish flu in 1917.
Frits was murdered in Auschwitz on October 26, 1942.
Frouk is the older sister of Frits, she was born in Assen on March 2, 1882 and killed in Auschwitz on November 2, 1942.
Their oldest brother Max was born on 15 June 1877 in Assen. He was killed in Sobibor on March 5, 1943. His wife Jette and youngest child Maxje were killed in Auschwitz.
Their eldest son Bennie, who was a cellist with the Residentie orchestra in The Hague, died on December 1, 1933. He was 21 years old and is buried in the Jewish cemetery Wassenaar.
Because Max and his family had their last residence in The Hague, no stumbling stones were laid for them in Assen. However, we need to mention them here in this memoriam.
Frits came as a 12-year-old boy (after primary school) to the butcher’s shop of his parents. He went to the customers with a heavy wooden meat dish on his shoulders. Just before 1890 they moved to the store at the Doevekamp. After the 1914-1918 war she moved to the residence at Paul Krügerstreet 2. Father Bernhart then sent his son to Antwerp for 1 year, 1 year to Hamburg and 1 year to The Hague. Bernhart said: “You can get your own butcher shop, but you will have to learn it from strangers.”
Frits started a butcher shop at Groningerstreet up to Oude Kloekhorststreet with a partner. That didn’t end well. Together with his parents Bernhart and Sara, it was decided to have the front room and alcove converted into a beautiful butcher’s shop on Paul Krugerstraat 2; counter with a Van Berkel scale, a heavy meat block, nice shop window, chrome meat hooks, an electric meat grinder, sausage mill and a large cold store, for which the De Geeter family brought large ice bars every Thursday. It was crawling with the children. “Uncle Frits, can I have a piece of ice?” During his busy work (he now slaughtered kosher in the slaughterhouse of butcher Elsof on Rolderstreet) he gave dance lessons in the Wolthekker room on Brinkstreet; in Rolde at café Piest, in Beilen and in Loon. Everywhere they knew Fritsie. Once he had a date with a girl from Smilde, with whom he went for a drink in Bellevue, he was met in the evening by two youngsters from De Smilde, who shouted, “We’ll do that Jew sometimes and they put the deed to the word and cut it over his head and forehead a few times from the left ear. A terrible scream was heard from Bellevue and a couple of men walked outside. They brought him – bleeding like a cow – to Dr. La Chapelle who attached it.
It was awful. When the bandage could be removed, he had thick scars on his head. The perpetrators received their just punishment. Skirts are of all times.
In 1929, the parents of Frits and Frouk died two months apart. Brother and sister jointly continue the butcher shop. The thirties went well and the business flourished until the outbreak of the war. Frits had to register for the Arbeitseinsatz in 1942 and was sent with a group of Asser Jewish men to Conrad camp in Rouveen. Frits’ niece and nephew (Rosa and Joseph) regularly cycled from Assen to deliver mail and extra food. At the beginning of October 1942 they were transferred from Rouveen to Westerbork. After a few weeks they were deported to Auschwitz.
Paul Krugerstreet 2 was demanded by the occupying forces and Frouk moved in with her sister Cato at Paul Krügerstreet 42. On the evening of 2/3 October the Asser police came by with the order that Frouk had to be ready in 1 hour to be taken to Westerbork transit-camp. The following story was told to me a few years ago by Ruurd van der Veen: ‘Frouk wanted to flee for the disaster that awaited her. She has taken the direction of the Channel. When the family missed her they knew (intuitively) where she could be.’
They took her away from the Channel and was transported that evening to Westerbork with all the other Asser Jews. Our grandmother Cato said later: “If only we had let her go at the Channel.”
Both Frits and Frouk have had the necessary amorous relationships, but ultimately remained unmarried and without children.
After a few weeks’ stay in transit-camp Westerbork, they were eventually deported and killed in Auschwitz. Frouk threw another note from the train for her sister Cato, who arrived at the track just too late. They have never seen each other again.’