Triumph of the Spirit
Determined to help save Jewish children destined for deportation and death, Mirjam Waterman (subsequently Pinkhof) became active in the Dutch underground. Her role was to take infants or small children whose parents were slated for deportation and to bring them to the Amstel train station. She would place the baby carriage where the other carriages were parked outside the station, go over to the platform and wait. A woman would approach her, Mirjam would hand her the child and the woman would then board the train together with the child. After the transfer, Mirjam would disappear from the station leaving the baby carriage behind so as not to arouse suspicion. As secrecy was vital to protect the mission and the members of the underground, Mirjam would give over the children to another resistance member without ever knowing their destination.
In May 1943, Mirjam arrived at the train station with Mirjam Hamerslag (1½ yrs old) and her brother Henri (born just a few days earlier). Shortly after the exchange took place at the train station, the children’s’ parents Karel and Amalia Hamerslag were deported to Sobibor where they were murdered on May 28, 1943.
Mirjam and Henri reached a home in Hilversum under the management of Katy Mulder, recognized after the war as Righteous Among the Nations for her actions. A young girl named Kitty Frank was placed in charge of the children’s care. Two weeks after their arrival, Kitty received a visit from her friend Mirjam Waterman. Needless to say, Mirjam was amazed to recognize the two small children that she had so recently helped to rescue.
Mirjam Waterman was later caught and sent to Bergen Belsen. Although subjected to harsh conditions and treatment for over a year, she managed to survive. After the war she was determined to return Henri and Mirjam Hamerslag to Jewish authorities. It was a difficult struggle but Mirjam persisted, and in 1949 the children were finally brought to Israel and adopted by the Araten family.
Katy Mulder, (known to the children in her care as “Aunt Katy”) kept the coat that Mirjam Hamerslag was wearing when she was brought to the home in Hilversum. She eventually gave it to Mirjam Waterman-Pinkhof who donated it to Yad Vashem along with other related items.
In the 1980’s, Zvi (formerly Henri) and Mirjam (Hamerslag-Araten) managed to locate the woman who had taken them from Mirjam Pinkhof at the train station and placed them in the home, thereby saving their lives.
Hetty Voute, their rescuer, had suffered greatly for her activities in the resistance. In 1943 she was arrested together with a friend Gisela Wieberdink-Söhnlein and together the two were deported to Ravensbrück Concentration Camp. In 1988 Hetty and Gisela were both honored as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem.
Zwi and Mirjam stayed in contact with Hetty until her death in 1999.
In a surprising coincidence, we discovered the names of both of these women embroidered on a cloth triangle received by a Jewish survivor of Ravensbrück Camp.
Cape - Yad Vashem Artifacts Collection, Gift of Mirjam (Waterman) Pinkhof , Haifa, Israel
Cutlery set - Courtesy of Tzvi Araten, Haifa, Israel