Letters Between Sisters - One in Hiding, One in a Nazi Camp - Come to Light

'Don't come of your own free will,' a young Dutch woman writes from the Westerbork transit camp.

Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
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Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

In late October 1942, two months after her father and her older sister were sent to a transit camp on their way to Auschwitz, Hannah Pines went underground. Pines, the aunt of former cabinet minister and Knesset member Ophir Pines-Paz, was 18 years old at the time, a young Jewish woman from the central-Netherlands town of Zwolle. Together with her mother and her younger brother Yehuda-Luc, she hid in the attic of a Christian family. Her maternal grandparents and her mother’s sister Bella joined them later.

Hannah and her sister Evelyne-Lienke kept up a correspondence between the attic and the Westerbork transit camp.

“Life is constant tension and only the transport days (Monday and Friday) are days of relaxation and surprise: ‘You’re still here too’ and ‘that one went,’” Evelyne-Lienke wrote. “The ranks are thinning … at night I lay down in bed dressed with my coat on. At 4 A.M. I went out (it’s forbidden) and I saw that Papa was still here … all I know is that it must be prevented, that ever again Jews can be sent in a transport (I vomit at this expression) and I hope I can work for this,” she continued, adding, “Dear ones, I miss you very much, but not here. Pay attention, don’t come of your own free will!”

In another letter Evelyne-Lienke wrote: “There is always a danger that this won’t work and then you go to Poland. The transports are horrible … I tell you that I’m not tough enough to see all this and I think that I never will be. There was a time when I really wanted some variety in my life, but lately I have been through so much that I’m tired of adventures.”

On a different day she wrote: “Tonight I asked about Papa and heard that his name was called [for transport]. I’m glad for as long as they manage, it’s better that way, just one thing doesn’t seem right, to go out alone on the transport. Well, once again we were saved. Tonight we’ll sleep well, then tomorrow I’ll feel good again. Tomorrow I’ll write again, if [the letter] will be sent is another matter. Dear people, this is a confused and egocentric letter, but I can’t do it differently. It’s so strange to me, that I don’t know how to write certain words.”

In her attic hiding place, Hannah kept two diaries, one in a notebook and another on a calendar she drew herself. It included illustrations and descriptions of the difficulties of daily life in hiding, the fear and the hope, the tensions and the goings-on outside the attic.

In November 1942 Hannah’s father and sister were deported to Auschwitz. On November 6, Hannah wrote in her diary: “Papa ‘went on.’” Three days later she added, “Lienke ‘went on.’”

Lienke continued to send letters, even from Auschwitz. On November 26, 1942, she sent a letter to her aunt. The return address was “Block 19 at Birkenau camp.” The letter was written in German, apparently as required by the German censor. “Dear aunt … it’s very cold here, how is it there? Give my regard to everyone I know … I already have a few good friends here. We have one another and with God’s help we will overcome … until I see you again, I don’t know where but perhaps soon. Many kisses and best wishes, Lienke.”

Hannah, from the attic, continued to write in her journal. On January 1, 1943 she wrote: “The new year. What will it bring us. It begins with fear and tension.” Two and a half months later, on March 18, 1943, she wrote: “The Fast of Esther. Aunt Bella and I fasted all day. In Zwolle they rounded up Jews.”

In the summer the situation grew more serious. On July 21, 1943, she wrote: “A big change. The house is suspect. Everyone to the attic. The curtains were opened. Is this the end?”

At the end of 1943 she also mentioned the attic. On January 1, 1944 she wrote: A new year begins with a heavy storm. Hitler says that 1944 will be a hard year.” On the page for April, Hannah wrote, in Hebrew, Zman Heruteinu, “the time of our freedom,” to mark Passover.

In August she told of the tastes and smells in the attic. “In addition to four days of ‘aroma’ we now receive the water in which the sausage in sauce was cooked.” The sausage itself “was not intended for us.”

The “aroma” was the smell of the pancakes being made downstairs by the family in whose attic Hannah and her relatives were in hiding.

Hannah and five members of her family survived. Toward the end of the war, apparently due to friction with the family hiding them, Hannah and her family were moved to a different hiding place by the Dutch underground.

After the war, Hannah came to Palestine on the illegal immigrant ship Yagur, which left France in July 1946. The ship was stopped by the British, its passengers sent to detention camps in Cyprus. Hannah remained there a year before reaching Palestine. In 1949, her brother Yehuda and their mother, Naomi, immigrated to Israel.

Hannah worked as a laboratory technician in the Israel Institute for Biological Research, in Nes Tziona. She had obtained her training in a correspondence course, under a false name, while she was still in Holland.

Her husband, Shmuel Hertzberg, came to Israel from Austria after it was annexed to Germany. They met in Israel and lived most of their lives in Nes Tziona.

Hannah died in 2002, aged of 82. She was survived by two children, six grandchildren and one great-grandchild. There are now three more great-grandchildren.

Hannah’s daughter, Ariella Vishlitzky, and Yehuda’s son, Ophir Pines-Paz – chairman of the board of the Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum at Kibbutz Lohamei Hageta’ot – donated the journals and letters to the museum’s archive last year, where they were translated into Hebrew.

In Israel, Hannah wrote books about her life, but she never revealed the illustrated journal. “The Holocaust happened to her in hiding, and she didn’t know what happened to her father and sister. She notes their birthdays in her journal, she talks about them all the time, but she did not know what happened to them. Part of the journal is written in code, and is incomprehensible. We assume that they were afraid someone would take the journal, that it would come into the wrong hands,” Pines-Paz told Haaretz.

Sisters Hannah, left, and Evelyne-Lienke, right, standing in the back row in this family photo. Credit: Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum
A letter from Evelyne-Lienke from Birkenau camp to her aunt.Credit: Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum
The envelope of the letter by Evelyne-Lienke.