- Elchanan Tal is the son of Alexander Tal (b. Oct. 24, 1903) and Frederika (Fré) Sophie Vaz Dias (b. April 19, 1909), both from Amsterdam. Elchanan was born on April 18, 1930, and his twin sisters, Ruth Jetta and Naomi Rivka, were born December 5, 1932. Alexander, studied to be an electrical engineer but was not able to work in the field. His maternal grandfather had started a wholesale framing supplies business and when he became terminally ill, Alexander was needed to run the business from 1928 onwards. The Tals were observant Jews and active Zionists. Elchanan attended Jewish School from kindergarten.
In 1936 Elchanan's mother Frederika (aka Fré) began to work for the Dutch Committee for Jewish Refugees. She was the secretary of Gertrude van Tijn. In May 1940, Germany invaded The Netherlands and ordered the establishment of a Jewish Council in February 1941. The Committee for Jewish Refugees was later incorporated as part of the Jewish Council. Professor David Cohen had been Chairman of the Committee and became head of the Judenrat.
The Tals considered going into hiding but dismissed the idea. Although all of their assets had been confiscated and put into the LIRO Bank., they were allowed some living expenses. Frederika also had some income as an employee of the Jewish Council. She worked in the department that took care of German refugees as well as the application for certificates for immigration to Palestine, via the Red Cross.
In 1942 the family took in a foster sister (Marion Amster, b. Kassel, April 9, 1928). She had come from Germany as a refugee in 1938 and had been adopted by another family (Cohen) who went into hiding. She attended the Jewish school with Elchanan. When she returned from school one day she found a note on the door telling her that the family had left. They sent her to someone at the Committee for Refugees. The person she met with was an accountant in Alexander's business. It was Friday and the woman asked the Tal family if they could take her for the weekend. Afterwards the family agreed that Marion could remain with them.
Elchanan celebrated his Bar Mitzvah in April 1943 at a small synagogue on Gerard Dou Street. The Rabbi, Justus Tal, was his father's cousin. That July, the family received a certificate stating that they had been registered for immigration to Palestine. However, they continued to remain in their own house in Amsterdam until September 29, 1943 (the evening of Rosh Hashanah), when the last round up took place. Elchanan's parents and sisters were transported to Westerbork where they lived together in Barracks #61. Elchanan recalls helping to make a large menorah for Chanukah out of wood and decorating it with aluminum foil to make it shine. They had cups into which they put grease and cotton wicks in order to light it. These materials were obtained from recycling old batteries from the workshop where his father was employed. Elchanan also worked as a messenger.
By virtue of their Palestine certificate, they were not deported to Poland. Instead, on January 11, 1944, the family was sent to Bergen-Belsen where they were put into the Star Camp, a special section of the camp for foreign nationals. They suffered from deprivation and malnutrition. Alexander's thumb had to be amputated there due to an infection he contracted working in the battery workshop in Westerbork. A Greek doctor, Dr. Alalouf ,performed the surgery without any anesthesia. One of the twins, Ruth, contracted paratyphoid fever. She was put into the hospital but died on January 3, 1945. Elchanan and his mother also contracted typhus but they recovered prior to leaving Bergen-Belsen.
A week before liberation, those in charge of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp decided to transfer the entire section of the Star Camp to Theresienstadt. On April 10, 1945 the Tals left on what would become known as the "Lost train". Allied bombing prevented it from reaching its intended destination, and on April 22 the train reached the village of Troebitz where it was liberated by the Russians army. However, fewer than 2,000 of the approximately 2500 who were on the train survived the war. Among those who perished was Alexander, Elchanan's father. He died on April 21, 1945 at the age of 41 from malnutrition and exhaustion.
Most of the survivors remained in Troebitz until July 1945 recuperating. Elchanan contracted encephalitis on the train which was diagnosed by Dr. Alalouf who came to visit him. He did not recover until two weeks after liberation. At this time he weighed 26 kilos. After recuperating to some extent, American army trucks came to pick them up and brought them to the Georg Wilhelm Kaserne in Leipzig where they stayed for five days. Then they went by train to Maastricht where they were put in quarantine for seven days. Upon returning to Holland the reception that welcomed the surviving Jews was rather cool. Jews who were not of Dutch origin were put into camps with Dutch Nazis. Joseph Weiss, who was German of origin and was the elder of the Stern lager who was held in great esteem by his fellow survivors, was put in such a camp. He wrote a written report which is at NIOD (Dutch Institute for War Documentation). He had a small notebook where he wrote down the names of those who died in the camp including the dates of their death and countries of origin.
After the war everything was scarce. Elchanan had no shoes. One needed coupons for everything. They received surplus supplies from the American army. Elchanan's parents had friends who had an apartment from the Dutch Nazis. His foster sister lived with them as did his mother. Elchanan stayed with friends who had been in hiding for a few months. Eventually Frederika took her own apartment, and the family lived together. His mother restarted their business. His father had an employee who had gone into hiding, and he worked again with his mother. In 1948 Elchanan's mother remarried Izak deVries, and in 1949 she gave birth to another child.
In 1950 Elchanan came to Israel and enlisted in the army. Two years later Naomi married and came to Israel as well. After the army, Elchanan returned to Holland where he studied mechanical engineering in Delft. On July 19, 1956 he married Annelie Levenbach who was a friend of his sister Naomi. They returned to Israel in 1959. Elchanan's mother sold her business in Holland and came to Israel in 1965. Today Elchanan has three children and twelve grandchildren.