Testimony of Wolfgang Rotenberg
My name is Wolfgant Rotenber. I was born on June 4, 1929 in Berlin, Germany, and now residing in the United States.
Before World War II started our family (father, mother, sister, brother and myself) were living in Germany (Oberschonewide). In the year 1939 one night I still remember the German Secret Police knocked on our door. They came in and told my father to get dressed and go with them….After that sad event my mother got in touch with the Red Cross and somehow she was able to send us (the children) through the Red Cross to Belgium. We were living with an uncle and aunt till my mother finally smuggled herself through the borders of Germany and came to Belgium.
After a while my father escaped from the labor camps and he also came and joined us in Belgium….
In the year 1942 my parents then realizing that the situation had been very bad, started to look for a hideout. So we moved out of the city to a village by the name of Halmall in Limbourg.
By that time we had already another sister by the name of Sonia who was born in Belgium. Once we were in the village, my parents got in contact with the village priest by the name of Hubert Celis. My father told the priest that we were Jewish and asked the priest if he would be able to help us (the children). The Priest (Hubert Celis) said without hesitating that he would help us and so one day my brother Sigmund and myself we were taken and brought to another priest by the name of Louis Celis. This priest was the brother of Hubert Celis. My two sisters Regine and Sonia also were taken to a new hideout in Saint Trond and were living with the father of the priest. After a while the priest found a new place for my little sister Sonia with a family on a farm in Zonhoven.
My parents were still in the same village (Halmall). My father sometimes went to work for the priest, till one day the Germans came to the house where my parents were living (someone probably denounced them). They only wanted to take my father with them, but my mother said that she too goes where my father goes and that’s the last we ever heard about our parents.
So my brother and I we were living in the house with the priest Louis Celis and the lady Miss Marie Louise Tabruyn who for the next two years were really like good parents to us. We used to go to church every morning not to be recognized by the people in the village that we were Jews. The name of the village we were hiding was Gotem in the province of Limbourg.
The priest (Louis Celis) wanted me to keep up my Jewish tradition, so every morning I put on my Tefilin and did my prayers, but on Saturday, when I didn’t put on my Tefilin, he asked me about it why I don’t put them on, so I explained him. But he was not satisfied with my answers, so he inquired about it, but found out that I was telling the truth.
The priest gave us homework in the house. Where ever he used to go, he took us with him. He was a real father to us and Miss Marie Louise Tabruyn – a real mother to us.
About 2 miles from where we were living was a railroad. One day early in the morning a man and a woman were ringing the front doorbell. When the priest opened the door, the people asked the priest if he could help them, they said that they are Jewish and just jumped from a train on his way to Germany. The priest without hesitating told them to come in. Once inside, the people told the story that lots of Jews did jump from the train but most of them got killed by German machine guns.
One hour later the whole village was encircled from the Gestapo. When we heard about it from neighbors, the couple wanted to leave not to endanger the priest or us, but the priest for no money in the world would let them go. He decided if the Gestapo would come in, he didn’t know the people and they had only come in to wash up and asked for some food. During the time my brother and myself went out in the garden as if nothing had happened. The Gestapo came up to the front steps from the house, but somehow they did not come in (to our luck). After a week or two, when the man recuperated from an illness he had developed, the man and the woman who were husband and wife, decided to leave. The priest begged them not to go back to the city, but it didn’t help and a year later we heard that this couple got caught again and were killed in the concentration cmap. Then came one day that someone told the priest that he had been put on the black list, so the same day we were informed that the situation wasn’t good and that we will be with some other people for a while till it cools off, and the same evening we left for another village. The priest also went into hiding. All the time we were in contact with Miss Marie Louise Tabruyn. We were not too happy in our new place, and I told this to the priest. After a while the priest found a new hideout for us, and one evening the priest and Miss Maries Louise came to pick us up and we were taken to a new place by the name of Voort. So we came to a family called the baron of Tornaco – a very nice family. We were living in a little house where the garden tools were kept, we had a little room on top, and our food was brought to us daily. Miss Marie Louise came to visit us every week, she brought us clean clothing and all kind of goodies. The priest we didn’t see because he too was in hiding. After everything calmed down and the war was coming to an end, we were once again reunited with the priest and Miss Marie Louise.
The people deserve all the credit in the world. They saved our lives by knowing if they get caught they would get the death penalty. We are most grateful and thankful to all these wonderful people who saved our lives on the rist of their own.