How Can Life Go On?
Henri Obstfeld was born in Amsterdam on 11 April 1940, where he lived with his mother who had worked as a secretary for the Hoover vacuum cleaner company, and his father who ran a slipper factory.
In May 1940 German troops occupied Holland, and by 1942 Jews in Amsterdam were being rounded up and sent to work camps. Despite being only two years old, Henri’s parents received papers directing him to present himself at a certain time and place in Amsterdam with personal documents, a rucksack and supply of food. It was undoubtedly a mistake but as a precaution, Henri’s parents took him to his Uncle Dolek’s and waited to see what would happen. The call up date passed and no one came looking for Henri so his parents took him home.
Henri’s parents were alarmed by this episode and they managed to locate a Dutch couple living in Arnhem, Jakob and Hendrika Klerk, who agreed to shelter Henri. In late summer 1942 Henri moved in with his new ‘aunt’ and ‘uncle’ and changed his name to Hendrik Klerk. Friends and family were told that Henri was a nephew whose parents had been killed in the Luftwaffe bombing of Rotterdam . To this day Henri does not know how his family found his new ‘foster’ parents.
During the next two and a half years Henri lived with the Klerk’s and did not play with other children or go to school for fear of his discovery. In 1944, as Allied troops advanced from France and Belgium into The Netherlands, Arnhem became a more dangerous place to live. In the summer of 1944 people were advised to evacuate, so Henri and the Klerk’s moved into their daughter’s house in the suburbs. As the fighting intensified, they had to move again, this time to a small village called Harskamp, where Henri was again introduced as the Klerk’s nephew. The headmaster of the school in Harskamp was expecting them and provided them with shelter.
On Sunday 17th April 1945 Harskamp was liberated by Canadian troops. During this time Henri’s parents had found a hiding place in the city of Haarlem, 15 minutes train ride from Amsterdam. They lived above a kindergarten from autumn 1942 until May 1945 with Henri’s uncle, his wife and another Jew, and were provided with food by members of the Dutch Resistance.
A few days after the end of the war Henri’s parents returned to Amsterdam. In their absence their flat had been occupied. Their factory, however, had remained intact and unoccupied, so they were able to recover official documents and other objects they had stored there before they went into hiding. They soon made their way to Harskamp where they were finally reunited with Henri. The family returned to Amsterdam, living in the factory, before settling in the nearby town of Heemstede.
Jakob and Hendrika Klerk were honoured later for their bravery. They had put their own lives in danger to rescue Henri.
Henri came to Britain in 1961 and now lives in London. He regularly shares his testimony in schools and colleges across the UK.