Starting point of the author
2004 the author interviewed two Auschwitz survivors, Bill (Sebil)
Minco (1922-2006) and Ronnie Goldstein-van Cleef (1921-2008). The
following questions formed the point of departure:
How did they cope with their camp experiences?
it possible to process the traumatic experiences?
How are they looking back on these events after so many years?
How are they evaluating those events in relation to other far reachting life events?
life story of Bill Minco is in 2004 published as Cement,
one of the stories in Saar Roelofs' book Turning Point (Ten Have,
2004). Ronnie Goldsteins story is in 2005 published in Roelofs'
Even now (Ten Have, 2005).
"A surprising book, totally different from other eyewitness reports of WWII. Saar Roelofs is an excellent writer. She asked the right questions and touched the right spot in Ronnie Goldstein- van Cleef. Very convincing. Not a word too many in this book." (Book Program of the National Dutch Radio, VPRO, OVT)
intention to write a book about the whole life of the concentration
camp victim turned out very well and is a real contribution to the
existing literature about this subject."
Roelofs tells the life story in a sober manner with much attention for the
psychological consequences of a chilly childhood and war experiences as a
result of which the book has much expressiveness."
and valuable. Psychologist Saar Roelofs shows a.o. that
childhood trauma's can obstruct the ability to cope with war trauma's.
story with much attention for the psychological consequences of an unhappy childhood and war experiences and therefore a book with
Roelofs has done an excellent job. While it's clear Ronnie's
reporting is triggered by questions, the author never gets in the
From may till october 2004 I spend many afternoons with Ronnie Goldstein-van Cleef (1921-2008). The interviews are intense. Gradually appears an image of Ronnie Goldsteins youth and war trauma's and how they dominate her life. Her fruitless longing for her morthers love is a central theme in our conversations.
Goldstein-van Cleef is born in 1921 in a prosperous liberal Jewish family. At the outbreak of the Second World War Ronnie is
nineteen years old. She joins a Dutch resistance group which is helping Jews to
hide. In 1944 she is betrayed and – via transit camp Westerbork –
transported to Auschwitz. After two months she is evacuated to camp Libau where she stays
six months. Thanks to
the strong bond between the Dutch
she survives the horrors.
She elaborates on her post war life: on the cold reception in the Netherlands, her pain about the lack of compassion of her mother (who was hiding during the war), her grief about the loss of her father, family members and friends, her two marriages, health problems, survival guilt and psychotherapies. She expresses her emotions in poems and drawings.
During our numerous conversations Ronnie Goldstein sorted out many issues about her life. Looking back she understands which events were decisive in her life. The love of her so called "camp mothers" - the older women in the barracks of Auschwitz and Libau - compensated for what she missed at home. Due to this love she got "a kind of endurance". She states:
home was prosperity and abundance. I lacked nothing. The moment I wanted
something it was there. But sometimes I was so miserable that I wanted to be
In the concentration camp I was cold. I was hungry. Dead was lurking
everywhere. But there was solidarity, warmth and protection. And
there I fought to stay alive."
Looking back she concludes:
"The concentration camps caused inutterably harm. Mentally and physically. Nothing can be compared with those agonies. But yet, looking back I realize that also my unhappy childhood has caused an enormous damage. Things have been happening then which devastated me."
As a seventeen year old schoolboy Jewish Bill (Sebil) Minco is captured by the Nazis as a member of the famous Dutch resistance group 'Het Geuzenverzet' and was sentenced to death. Because of his young age the German occupier converted this sentence to life imprisonment. Minco survives four and a half years of Nazi horrors. First seventeen months of solitary confinement in the German Untermaßfeld detention center. In order to make the detention centre ‘judenrein’ he was sent to the concentration camp at Mauthausen and later to Auschwitz where he stays for one and a half year. According to the bizarre and contradictory rules of the Nazi bureaucracy it is not allowed to kill Minco because he is sentenced to life imprisonment. After the evacuation of Auschwitz he was forced to walk the death march to the concentration camp Dachau. In May 1945 he is liberated by the American army.
Minco’s observations of his perpetrators and is co-prisoners - ‘good’, ‘cruel’ and ‘grey’ - are impressive. He further tells about his post war life and how his war experiences moulded his character. He explains how he came home from the concentration camps as if he was in many pieces but with the conviction that his suffering was not in vain; that there ought to be a way to use his experiences in a positive manner. Looking back he says:
"In those times I witnessed incredible thing. I saw people naked, litterally and metaphorical. I saw how people are able to reach the highest and the lowest. These are all building blocks which have enriched my life. For negative experiences - if processed well - can also contribute to the heart of a human being. Mould one's character."
He fought his entire life to get the pieces together. Minco calls his efforts to accomplish this his "cement". To this cement belongs his refusal to hate the Germans. First as a salesman, later as a politician and a governor in various functions he tried to steer contradictions between people in the right direction and to build bridges between people. The cement with which he kept his own pieces together turned out to be the same cement with which he kept people together.