Today’s Bissel Torah was written by Ellie Fried.
Dr. Al Munzer’s story is a remarkable one. With the addition of excellent quality pictures, Dr. Munzer shared his family’s experience during the Holocaust.
His parents, Simcha and Gisele, were from small communities. His mother moved to Berlin at the time that Hitler’s book Mein Kampf was published and Nazism on the rise. But she was not too concerned with Hitler, since she had met her husband, Simcha, and they were going to start a family in the Hague, Netherlands. His mother birthed two girls, his older sisters, as the growing anti-Semitism became apparent in her community. Munzer, the third child, was born on November 23, 1941. As the Nazis came to power, his father and mother went into hiding as patients in a hospital. His two older sisters, Eva and Leah, were placed under the care of a Catholic woman who was sympathetic to the Jewish people. Unfortunately, the Catholic woman was outed and his sisters, ages eight and six, were sent to Auschwitz and killed. Munzer’s uncle was also deported to Auschwitz on the same day. Munzer believes that his uncle learned that his nieces were being sent to Auschwitz and he turned himself in so that they would not be alone on their journey.
Munzer was an infant when his parents put him under the care of Annie Madna, a friend, but he was passed on to her ex-husband when she became too nervous to keep him. The ex-husband was an Indonesian man named Tolé, who was sympathetic to the Jewish people. (There were many Indonesians who moved to the Netherlands during the colonial period.) Munzer was cared for by the family’s housemaid, Mima, who was also Indonesian. She could only speak her native language but she cared for the new baby as if he was her own. In fact, she held a knife while she slept, swearing that she would kill anyone who tried to hurt him. Despite being sheltered from most of the outside world so his Jewish identity would not be discovered, Dr. Munzer had a happy childhood. He was given a new name, Robby. His foster siblings cared for him like he was their own little brother. Only two other children, who had Jewish sympathizing parents, were allowed to come play with him.
Munzer’s mother survived Auschwitz and many other concentration camps, ending up in Ravensbrück just before the Swedish Red Cross evacuated the camp. His father died in one of the most torturous concentration camps, Mauthausen-Gusen, located where the Sound of Music was filmed.
After she was liberated, his mother came to see him. He didn’t recognize her at first. It took him awhile to get comfortable around his mother, and even so, the plan was for him to continue living with Mima, who he regarded as his mother. But Mima passed away suddenly, so he went to live with his mother.
Dr. Munzer recently (2020) received a photograph from the boy he played with as a child during the war. The photograph is of Dr. Munzer and his mother after the Holocaust, which he had never seen before.
To this day, he is very close with Tolé’s family. Tolé passed away recently. His last words to Dr. Munzer were, “Take care of yourself.”
The lessons learned from Dr. Munzer’s story have applications for any time period, but especially in these times of crisis, when kindness and bravery are desperately needed. The selflessness of the Indonesian family that took him in, knowing they were likely to be killed if anyone found out, is an amazing example for us to stand up for what is right, especially when the consequences are extreme. It was extremely important for us to hear this story from the Holocaust. Even though it is only one story, it gives us insight into the plight of millions of Jews in World War II.