This September 2 is the 80th anniversary of our family’s arrival in the U.S.A. in N.Y.C. on the Holland America SS VEENDAM II from Rotterdam. We arrived one day after WWII started on September 1, 1939.
We had been living in my hometown of Rheine, but we moved to my dad’s mother’s home in Metelen in December 1938 to be safer after Kristallnacht. Dad was then arrested by the Gestapo and released a few days later. At that time, all moves to other cities or towns in Germany had to be documented to the police in both locations. I still have our paperwork. We got our affidavit and sponsorship by a cousin of my mother.
We finally went to Rotterdam and boarded the Veendam on Saturday, August 26, 1939. I still have the passenger list and remember the trip on the ship. Mom was seasick for much of the trip across the North Atlantic. The seas were not calm!
The rest of dad’s family was left in Germany and some survived, including my grandmother and two of her sons. Other aunts, uncles, and cousins were murdered in Minsk and Auschwitz by the Nazi Germans. The same story applied to Mom’s side of the family. Some got out and others did not. Many German Jews went to neighboring countries, but they were caught in the German death machine for Jews as these countries fell to the Germans one by one.
Some Jews made it into Switzerland and Sweden. Switzerland was the country that asked the Germans to put a “J” for Jew on passports. The Germans then used it.
We made it out of Germany on the Veendam‘s second-to-last trip out. On its last trip from N.Y.C., the Veendam was in the Irish Sea on September 17, where the HMS Courageous, a British cruiser that had been converted to a “Floating Aerodrome,” now known as an aircraft carrier, was sunk by a German sub. The Veendam, with the help of the British freighter Collingsworth, saved 741 men out of a crew of 1,260.
This entire episode was of historic significance. Courageous was the first sea engagement between Germany and England in WWII, and it was also the first ship sunk by a submarine in WWII. In this early stage of the war, British ships were almost defenseless against submarine attacks. The planes aboard Courageous never got off the deck!