New Jersey Jewish News
The preschooler, her younger sister, and their parents lived comfortably in a quiet town in the Netherlands. The year was 1940, and Maud Dahme was living a real-life fairy tale.
Then everything changed.
One day in May, we woke up to find planes in the air, tanks in the streets, soldiers marching all around, Dahme said, remembering the day Hitler invaded the Netherlands.
Even though Dahme, who lives in Annandale and is a member and one-time president of the State Board of Education, had yet to celebrate her seventh birthday, she was about to be introduced to the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust.
Unlike the majority of the Jewish population in the Netherlands, Dahme and her sister managed to survive, thanks to the courage of righteous Christians men and women who had been complete strangers.
Dahmes miraculous story of survival is told in the form of an hour-long documentary titled The Hidden Child, which New Jersey Network will broadcast this month and which was previewed at an April 4 reception on the Princeton campus of Educational Testing Service (see sidebar below).
The film is an outgrowth of Dahmes July 2004 trip to the Netherlands, during which she was accompanied by 20 New Jersey Holocaust educators. Most of her traveling companions were on hand for the preview.
Maud is an inspiration to all of us, said Steve Charton of Mount Laurel, principal of Marlboro Middle School. After having participated on that trip, I can honestly say that with the exception of my wife and parents, shes influenced my life more than any person I can think of. To devote her life to Holocaust education after what shes been through she is truly a remarkable woman.
According to Lisa Bair Miller, thats exactly what the NJN production team was trying to capture in The Hidden Child.
The things Maud saw, the places shes been, the experiences shes had, theres just so much to be learned from such a powerful story, said Bair Miller, who served as producer and editor of the documentary. All of us who were part of this project were so moved by the material. We hope we did it justice.
Dahmes story can be traced to the onset of World War II, a time when the Netherlands was considered a neutral country. The Nazis, however, paid no attention to the neutral tag. The German army easily overpowered the Dutch military, and a new government was formed put in place by the Nazis.
At first, it wasnt so bad, but slowly and steadily, restrictions were enacted against Jews, said Dahme. Jews had to register. Their licenses drivers licenses, fishing licenses were taken away. They were forbidden from using public transportation. They couldnt shop in stores or even sit on park benches that werent designated as for Jews. We had to wear a yellow star of David on our clothing. Eventually, Jewish children were prohibited from attending schools public schools. By then, the other kids in the neighborhood had stopped playing with us.
In one of the most moving moments of the documentary, she looks into the camera, shakes her head and says, What a horrible feeling for a child.
The worst was yet to come.
In the summer of 1942, the Jewish population received word that it would be moved out of the Netherlands, which was rapidly dissolving into a war zone. Dahmes parents determined that the best chance their children, then ages four and six, had to survive was to send them to live with sympathetic Christians. Thus, they made the excruciating decision to divide the family.
Dahme and her sister spent the next three years living under false identities with Christian families. The children were told bluntly that if it was discovered that they were Jewish, they would be murdered.
The Dutch got money for uncovering hidden Jews, so there was literally a price on our heads, Dahme related. It was a difficult time for everyone. The whole country was starving. People were freezing to death in the winter.
At one point, she recalled, after a portion of the Netherlands had been liberated, the Germans left her village, prompting a celebration. But the festivities ended in tragedy; the Germans returned and killed many of the celebrants.
Shortly thereafter, the village was finally liberated by Canadian soldiers.
People went crazy, Dahme said. After three years of living under Nazi rule, then to suddenly be free .
Nine-year-old Dahme and her sister were reunited with their parents, who had survived by spending three years in the attic of Christian friends. The youngsters did not even remember their mother and father.
We had to readjust to our parents, she explained, adding that none of her other relatives survived the war.
When Dahme was 14, the family moved to the United States. As an adult, Dahme has dedicated herself to education and public service, often serving as a volunteer speaker, relating her memories of the Holocaust.
For a long time, I couldnt talk about my experiences, she said, but sharing my story has helped me to become the person I am today.
Remarkably, that person is free of anger and animosity.
Ive seen horrible atrocities, things I cant even talk about, she stated. But Ive also seen people, Christians, who risked their lives to save us.
Id be a miserable person if I still hated, if I hadnt forgiven. It was important to go beyond that. I had to make a new life.
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