Tonight at 8 PM we celebrate Remembrance Day in honor of all our citizens who died in WW-2 and in any armed conflict since then. In Amsterdam, one of the sub-themes of Remembrance Day this year is generating awareness of just how Jewish the city was until almost all her Jewish residents were shipped off to the concentration camps where very few came back from.
A database has been created of all the 21,662 houses in the city where Amsterdam's 62,000 Jews lived who died at the hands of the Nazis. The neighborhood where we live was apparently one of the most Jewish neighborhoods of the city. Three of the four apartments in our building, Rijnstraat 40, were occupied then by Jewish residents, all of whom died in various camps. One of the newspapers published a special segment with all of the city's "Jewish addresses" and a poster to put in the window on Remembrance Day if your apartment was listed. The hope was that from the street it would be visibly clear just what how much the city lost in human terms when it lost her Jews.
Pre-war Amsterdam was heavily influenced
Tobias van Praag was not married and lived alone in our apartment (perhaps I am not the first gay Jew to live here). He was employed as a diamond polisher, a quite common trade for Jewish boys and men back then. He was killed in Auschwitz on February 28, 1943 at the age of 40. As I sit here, it is a weird thought to think and imagine that Tobias lived in this exact apartment. During the "hunger winter" of 1944, Amsterdammers would forage for wood for heating in the abandoned apartments of Jewish residents, tearing up floorboards, taking doors or whatever scraps of furniture or flammable material the Nazis had not already removed. Did that happen here also right where I am now sitting I ask myself?
Being single, Tobias van Praag most likely has no descendants. It is not entirely unlikely that Tobias' life and death may not be celebrated or remembered by anyone anymore. Not today. Today I celebrate the life and mourn the passing of Tobias van Praag who once lived in my apartment before being arrested, interned and shipped off like a piece of cattle to meet his death in the killing factory known as Auschwitz.
May you rest in peace Tobias. You are not forgotten
Jewish prayer for the dead:
Yit'gadal v'yit'kadash sh'mei raba (Cong: Amein).
b'al'ma di v'ra khir'utei
v'yam'likh mal'khutei b'chayeikhon uv'yomeikhon
uv'chayei d'khol beit yis'ra'eil
ba'agala uviz'man kariv v'im'ru:
Y'hei sh'mei raba m'varakh l'alam ul'al'mei al'maya
Yit'barakh v'yish'tabach v'yit'pa'ar v'yit'romam v'yit'nasei
v'yit'hadar v'yit'aleh v'yit'halal sh'mei d'kud'sha
l'eila min kol bir'khata v'shirata
toosh'b'chatah v'nechematah, da'ameeran b'al'mah, v'eemru:
Y'hei sh'lama raba min sh'maya
v'chayim aleinu v'al kol yis'ra'eil v'im'ru
Oseh shalom bim'romav hu ya'aseh shalom (He Who makes peace in His heights, may He make peace)
aleinu v'al kol Yis'ra'eil v'im'ru (upon us and upon all Israel. Now say:)