Unknown Children

Elisabeth & Karel Eckhart and mother Gertrude Eckhart

Netherlands

On 13 September 1944, the last transport of Jews from the Netherlands left Westerbork to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. France had already been liberated and German troops were on the retreat on all fronts. But until the very end, Nazi Germany garnered its last remaining resources in order to complete the most important task of murdering the Jews. Driven by an uncompromising antisemitic ideology, they continued to hunt down every last Jew, every Jewish child they could put their hands on. The searches for the Jews went on until the very last minute; the caught Jews were brought to the transit camp and when a sufficient number had been gathered, they would be transported to the east.

Fifty-nine young infants were put on the train that was to be the last transport from Westerbork. They had been denounced or were caught at their benefactors’ homes, and were dragged from their shelter to the camp and then put on the train. Because of their young age, they could not even provide information about their identity, and thus were registered on the deportation list as Unbekannte Kinder – "unknown children".

Three of the “unknown children” on that transport had been sheltered by Elisabeth and Karel Eckhart and Karel's mother Gertrude. Gertrude had established an Anthroposophical school in The Hague in the 1930's. The Germans closed the institution in summer 1942, and Gertrude, her son and his wife continued to live in the building. There, Elisabeth and Karel Eckhart’s baby daughter was born in September 1942.

On the very same day that their daughter came to the world, a Jewish infant, 14-months-old Lisette van Vlijmen, was brought to the couple's home in The Hague. Shortly afterwards the couple took in another two Jewish children – Harry and Beatrice Rothe, aged 3 and 5. We know that another child was also sheltered by the couple, but his identity remains unknown. The Eckhart family took care of the children and raised them together with their daughter.

In August 1943 the entire population living close to the seashore was evacuated. The Eckharts moved with the children in their charge to another area in The Hague, and finally settled in Gouda. They continued to care for the Jewish children who had been placed with them.

However all their efforts came to vain when the family was denounced. On 31 July 1944 the police raided the Eckhart residence. Karel was not at home, the children were taken away and Karel’s mother, Gertrude, was arrested and sent to prison in Arnhem. In order to serve the purpose of killing every single Jew, the three infants in the Eckhart’s home were seized by the police and brought to Westerbork to await deportation. Karel and his wife had to go into hiding until liberation.

The transport of 13 September 1944 from Westerbork went to Bergen Belsen and from there the children were taken to Theresienstadt. Fortunately, all three captured children survived and were returned to their rescuers' home after the war. The Eckharts took care of them while waiting to see if any family of their wards had survived. The mother of Harry and Beatrice Rothe came back and took her children. When it became known that Lisette van Vlijmen's parents and grandparents had perished, the rescuers wanted to adopt her. However an uncle survived and took her to live with him. The contact between the little girl and the rescuers was lost and only many years later, with the help of a TV program, the connection was re-established. Harry and Beatrice Rothe joined her in asking Yad Vashem to honor the rescuers.

In 2004 Karel and Beatrice Eckhart and Karel's mother, Gertrude, were awarded the title of Righteous Among the Nations.

 

This online story was made possible with the support of:

Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany

The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany works to secure compensation and restitution for survivors of the Holocaust.

Since 1951, the Claims Conference - working in partnership with the State of Israel - has negotiated for and distributed payments from Germany, Austria, other governments, and certain industry; recovered unclaimed German Jewish property; and funded programs to assist the neediest Jewish victims of Nazism.