Four-year-old Marta van Collem poses with a stuffed animal.
Photograph | Photograph Number: 98181
- Photo Designation
LIFE BEFORE THE HOLOCAUST -- Netherlands -- Family/Friends/Portraits
- Photo Credit
- United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Marti Dotan
Four-year-old Marta van Collem poses with a stuffed animal.
- Marta Van Collem (later Dotan) is the daughter of Henry (b. May 1, 1894, Eindhoven) and Lotte Randerath (b. April 10, 1900, Herzfeld, Germany). Marta was born on June 6, 1929 in Amsterdam where her father worked together with his uncle as manager of as "Billiard Factory Wilhelmina," a factory that produced high end billiard tables, cues and balls. They sold their products all over the world. The factory was located beneath their apartment. Henry was also a partner in the Pento Company which manufactured various cosmetic such as shaving cream, toothpaste, shampoo, face powder and lipstick. Marti had one older sister Ilse (b. September 26, 1926). The girls both attended the Montessori School. Henry helped found the Progressive Liberal synagogue and was also an administrator for the liberal Jewish community. Lotte sang in the Jewish community choir and belonged to the Jewish burial society. The synagogue was the center of Marti's life, and she and her sister attended the same weekly Hebrew school as Margot and Anne Frank. After the Nazi seizure of power in Germany, the family always housed German refugees and relatives, sometimes for as much as a few months. Their home came to be known as the "Hotel Van Collem."
In May 1940 Germany invaded Holland. The family took shelter in the cellar during the invasion of Holland in May 1940. At the end of the summer of 1941 the sisters were forced to quit their school and began to study in a private Montessori group at the house of Professor Frijda in S. Amsterdam. They also attended classes in the Jewish community center. However, when they had to turn over their bicycles to the authorities their social live was more limited. Marti's father kept a radio hidden in the basement of his home and managed to listen to Radio Orange from London. Marti's grandmother died in November 1941, and while the family was sitting shiva the Dutch military police arrived to deport her for work in Germany. Marti's mother told the Dutch policeman that she had already gone. He did not comprehend what she meant.
After Ilse was forced out of high school, she began to work in the office of the synagogue which afforded her a special "Sperre" on her ID card exempting her from deportation; her father had the same permit as he continued working as well. Friends begged them to go into hiding but they did not want to desert Henry's mother. On June 20, 1943, together with all the other Jews in their neighborhood, the family was arrested and sent to Westerbork. Upon arriving in the camp, men and women were separated. Ilse worked in the laundry facilities with her parents. Marti, who was too young to work, attended classes and helped with the younger children. She also helped her sister dig potatoes.
On Monday nights the inmates learned the names of those selected for the next transport to Auschwitz. A cousin of Marta's family worked on the Contact Committee of the camp reporting to the Germans. He managed to help them to remain in Westerbork longer. However, in January 1944 the family was given a choice to leave for Bergen Belsen or Theresienstadt. They chose Bergen Belsen as it was described as an exchange camp. They left by passenger train on the second transport to Belsen from Westerbork. The train stopped in Celle and they had to walk the remaining eight kilometers to the camp carrying their small pieces of luggage.
In Belsen they were allowed to wear their own clothes. Since Lotte spoke a fluent German and Dutch she became a Barackenleitsler (second in command of the barracks). She was responsible for food distribution, cleanliness and other requirements of the Germans. Ilse worked sorting and repairing shoes that came into the camp. They took apart old shoes to save the good pieces of leather for repairs and additional use. Ilse weighed 70 lbs and was constantly hungry. One day an SS man took a liking to her as she did not look Jewish and sent her to work in the kitchen. This was a privileged position and allowed her to smuggle bits of food out to her family such as sugar and potatoes. In March 1945 Marti had contact with Anne Frank who was in a separate lager. She told Marti that Margot had typhus. Anne said she didn't believe she would survive if Margot did not make it.
Marti's father Henry died on April 3, 1945 after he was beaten up for trying to keep warm during a roll call while running in place. One week later on April 10, Ilse, Marti and Lotte were put on a regular train with wooden seats and were told they were going to Theresienstadt. The transport contained several thousand people. The train traveled for two weeks. The women ate nettles to stay alive. On April 21, 1945 the train stopped near Troebitz, Germany where they were liberated by the Russians. The train became known as the "Lost Train." Many of the prisoners had typhus, were malnourished and unable to walk. The local school was used as a hospital. The sisters remained in Troebitz for six weeks. Their mother who had phlebitis was sent to a different hospital in Liege. No one knew about the train until a few American soldiers found them and sent word to Leipzig that several thousand Dutch Jews were waiting to be repatriated. Ilse and Marti returned to Holland with the Dutch Red Cross in late June 1945. They stayed in an old Jewish orphanage for boys waiting to be reunited with their mother. They were well provided for and couldn't stop eating. Marti who looked Jewish was harassed. For this reason she decided to go to Palestine as soon as possible. After training in a Hachshara, Marti left on the "Exodus" on June 20, 1947 only to be returned to Germany by the British. She eventually made her way to Marseilles and from there to Palestine.
Ilse learned secretarial skills at school and worked for a year in the office of the Dutch Zionist Organization in Amsterdam. Their mother helped reestablish the Liberal synagogue and assisted with the German translation of the "Diary of Anne Frank", which as Ilse recalls was completed at their house and published by a friend of their mother. Marti later married a survivor from France; Ilse married a man who she had met originally in Westerbork, and they settled in Montreal in 1951. Their mother settled in South Africa after the war. The photos of the family survived as Lotte stored them in the attic of the billiard factory and retrieved them after the war.
- Photo Source
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Copyright: United States Holocaust Memorial MuseumProvenance: Marti Dotan
Record last modified: 2012-04-17 00:00:00
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