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In the Shadow of the Swastika

 

The amazing story of Frieda Roos- van Hessen, accomplished concert performer, with a bright future, became a hunted fugitive after the Nazi invasion in Holland, hiding and escaping capture miraculously until the end of the war, when she learned she had lost nearly her entire family to the Nazi Death Camps. Restoration and healing came through finding the love of her Messiah.

 

I was born and raised in Amsterdam, Holland, of Jewish parents. They never talked about God, and I had never been in a synagogue except for my brother’s wedding. For me, Yom Kippur meant a day off from school, and today I know and believe that my father and mother themselves never knew what it meant... that they, like so many of us, were “seeing blind and hearing deaf” as the Prophet Isaiah foretold. The only Jewish events that took place in our home were the Bar Mitzvahs of my two brothers! However, we considered ourselves very Jewish.

Entering into my teenage years I had a Gentile boyfriend who was Catholic, though not a practicing one, and we often went to Catholic Church together. I was always impressed by the paintings of the seven stations of the crucifixion and moved by the sadness expressed in the face of Christ, as the artist perceived the magnitude of that event. Those were the teenage years of my existence which were soon to become very eventful and tragic when I became a fugitive, running for my very life.

 

The Lord had blessed me with a soprano singing voice, and after studying at the Amsterdam Conservatory and being still very young, I embarked on a career that led me to sing the Dutch version of Disney’s Snow White. I proceeded to the Grand Diploma in the Geneva, Switzerland World Contest, to the role of the Forest bird in Wagner’s Siegfried with the Bayreuth Festspiel Haus, a Command performance of Verdi’s Requiem for the Queen of Holland, many live broadcasts and concert performances, not to forget oratorios like Handel’s “Messiah,” and the many beautiful Christian cantatas by Bach in church performances.

Then came the Second World War, ending my singing career abruptly, and forcing me to flee for my life. During the next five years I lost all I ever had, my entire family, home and belongings, and had to run from death and destruction never knowing what the next day would bring, whether I would live or not.

I was immediately disqualified from all regular concert performances. The reason given was that I was Jewish, and it was therefore not worth reviewing “this soloist, after all the suffering brought upon us by the Jews.” The Germans allowed a temporary Jewish Theatre, so I became involved in performing with famous German Jewish refugee artists for the Jewish population. Meanwhile, the Nazis brought Jews that they had rounded up in “razziahs” for deportations to the infamous concentration camps to another theatre in the next block. Because of my involvement with the Jewish Council, we were allowed to minister to the thousands of deportees, and were guaranteed we would be the last ones to go. The deportation theatre had become a madhouse of anguish and filth, housing up to 9,000 people a night in a place built to seat 1,000. Sick people, old and young, were huddled together in fear of death, sleeping on lice-infested mattresses all over the floor, and children were screaming. There were only two toilet facilities. I finally contracted scabies all over my body and lice, so much so, that when an opportunity did present itself for me to go into hiding, I could not because of my condition.

 

In the theatre I had met a dancer whose sister, Henny, became my friend. Her husband had been arrested by the Gestapo, and we decided that I would stay in her house and help with her two small children. My former boyfriend, unbeknown to me, had become a Gestapo agent out of anger against my parents, who had forbidden our courtship because he was a Gentile. Not only did he try to destroy the Jewish people, but he sent the storm troopers after me at Henny’s place. They came at night, shot through the house, but failed to find us. We hid in a heavy steel dumbwaiter. The storm troopers left, planning to return in the morning. This afforded us a couple of hours to escape over the roofs of our four-story house and the neighboring buildings in the dark of night.

Thus we entered an unknown world of escape, fear, hiding and agony. For the next four years we were hiding out in many places, towns and cities, and like a “dance macabre” God put a hedge of angels around us each time our arrest seemed inevitable. The longest time in one hideout was 212 days in one room, never going out except by crawling over the ground in the dark to be with my parents.