Fragments of Memories

The Scarf

This is an excerpt of an article written by Cor Bouchette, published May 18th 1945 for the Netherlands Embassy in Stockholm, Sweden.

It describes the arrival in Sweden of a group of Jewish refugees from the Netherlands, known as the Philips Group. One member of the group, Jansje Gompers of Amsterdam, was Max Cardoza's aunt, who sent several letters about her experiences in Sweden to family members.

"When the Ferry Boat arrived at Malmo, Sweden, gang planks were installed and the first contingent  of Jewish Dutch woman stepped out onto the docks, as scared to death as street dogs.  They jumped more than walked, but crippled or not they rushed as though they were in a hurry to catch a train and were worried they might miss it. Many held on to each other and looked mistrustful of us who approached their direction.  Many had ravaged, hollow expressions on their faces, the outward sign of an intense spiritual desolation, a reflection of the many long years of intense distrust and the absolute misery they had suffered.  However, when they heard "Welcome to Sweden," it was as if  the sun broke through the dark clouds, and they smiled and waved. Some of us on the docks wanted to put our arms around them and hug them, however we were not allowed to touch our own countrymen because they had to be disinfected first.

The room selected for us filled up quickly with 400 Dutch women on Swedish soil, very quiet and staring at us but trusting us, as we were the ones who had liberated them   Many kept on staring, dazed, and others cried, but there were also many who started to talk about their horrible experiences, raw and tragic stories of their misery, of those awful two years spent in concentration camps, telling us that it was not the gates of heaven above us that opened to them, but instead, the gates of hell.  And now, through the goodness of the hearts of the Danes and Swedes, thankful for all that food that was presented to them, it was truly wonderful and then  unbelievable how they started to ask questions: Where are we going to, Sir ? We are so filthy! Are we going to get soap, Sir?  When I said yes, a cheer went up. Are we really going to get a hot bath with soap?  Is it true the Queen is dead, Sir?  Do you know if Eindoven (Philips headquarters) is liberated? Do you know if my brother is here?

Many things I heard from these people, however one thing I especially remember.  One morning I went to visit the women in the hospital with small mirrors, jars of face cream, a box of nail files sent to me by Mrs. Grabsen.  I was received by the Dutch women with a loud cheering. For one of them I had a head scarf.  It seems one of the poor young girls couldn't stop crying because just before she had left her camp, because she had not and could not do her last task, the sadistic, brutal guard had shaved off her curly black hair.  It was on the third floor that I met a bald, dark-headed girl.  She was crying so I walked over to her bed and handed her a mirror, cream, nail file and the yellow scarf, which she immediately put around her dark skull. Now, no more crying, I said. Crying, sir, the dark girl said, I never cry sir!  What had happened was, I had given the scarf to the wrong person. The depressed, crying girl was one floor lower.  How could I ask for the return of the scarf ?  The dark-headed girl untied the scarf without even hesitating and returned it to me.  It's no problem sir, she laughed. I am very happy with my mirror, sir.  I have not looked in a mirror for two years".

What a generous spirit! A spirit I hoped would remain among them. It is with this unselfish spirit that perhaps all of us can build a better world.

Cardozo Family Correspondence

Excerpt published here with the permission of Max Cardozo