It is still an extremely sensitive topic: suicide during the Second World War. Historians have not known what to do with it for a long time. What is the place of suicide bombers in war history?
Remarkably little has been written on this subject and there seems to be no list of names or memorial books at all. The Digital Monument (www.joodsmonument.nl) offers a place where relatives, sometimes for the first time, tell the story behind a suicide. An example:
In early 1940, Jacob Keesing (Amsterdam 21-4-1889) lived with his wife Esperance Keesing-Peekel (Amsterdam 20-4-1893) at Ceintuurbaan 247 in Amsterdam. There they lived together with Suzanne Keesing (Amsterdam 26-2-1877) and Marianne Keesing (Amsterdam 24-10-1882), two half-sisters of Jacob. The four were a close family. Jacob Keesing worked for the family business 'Uitgeverij Keesing', which was led by his brother Isaac (Amsterdam 1-8-1886). Jacob was in charge of the Belgian branch of the publishing house.
As early as the 1930s, the foursome feared the virulent anti-Semitism of Nazi Germany. When German troops invaded the Netherlands on 10 May 1940, they immediately rushed to IJmuiden in an attempt to escape to England by ship. However, it was not possible to arrange a crossing. In the hope of finding a skipper who would take them along, they rented a room at the Velserduinweg. After it became known that the German occupation was a fact, the four saw no other way out than to take their own lives.New data were published in 2001 about the size of the group of Jewish suiciders. According to newly found data from the Central Bureau of Statistics for the period 1940 - 1943, about 257 (1940), 36 (1941), 248 (1942) and 169 (1943) persons are involved. The highest percentage was established in May 1940. In his voluminous standard work , Lou de Jong assumes at least 120 reports of suicide in this month in Amsterdam and about thirty in The Hague. He does not comment on the rest of the country. De Jong notes that the figures only concern 'successful' suicide, according to him there must have been just as many 'failed' attempts. Take, for example, Elize Jeanette de Jong-Groenberg (Nijmegen 23-6-1918) who jumped from the balcony in her backyard in May 1940. She survived the fall, but that was only a temporary rescue for her. She died in Sobibor.The large number of prominent figures who saw no way out after the German invasion is striking. In Amsterdam, alderman and demographer Emanuel Boekman (Amsterdam 15-8-1889) and banker Siegfried Paul Daniel May (Amsterdam 20-9-1868) and their wives took the fatal step. The latter was a co-partner of the bank Lippmann, Rosenthal & Co in the Nieuwe Spiegelstraat in Amsterdam (not to be confused with the German robbery bank in the Sarphatistraat that used the same name). In a few cases, the ultimate self-sacrifice of a public person has been picked up as a warning by bystanders. In The Hague, municipal councilor Michel Joëls (The Hague 24-11-1881) took his own life, after which mayor S.J.R. de Monchy gave an emotional commemoration speech to the city council of The Hague. The mayor took the opportunity to warn of the impending terror of Nazism.
The phenomenon of suicide was not limited to the first days of the occupation. After that, too, many took their own lives 'under the pressure of circumstances'. A glimpse of the despair that accompanied this is given by a farewell letter from Barend Hartog Knap (Rotterdam 20-1-1879). He wrote in September 1940 that he saw no way out. It was clear that there was no place for him as a Jew and that sooner or later he would be arrested. From July 1942 to May 1943, the Jewish Council of Amsterdam kept a list of suicides. Not all cases are registered on this list. Thanks to stories from relatives, more and more data is now becoming available. For example, a neighbor at the time knows that Leentje Weenen-Löwenstein (Amsterdam 6-3-1865), fearing what awaited her, drowned herself in the Ringvaart near the Transvaalkade. He writes: 'She seldom went out on the street. It is incomprehensible how she managed to quietly leave the house at night and find the water'. Klara Stern-Gomperts (Mönchengladbach 4-5-1907) also took her own life in August 1942, after she had received a summons for deportation. More famous is the history of the ophthalmologist Dr Jacob Pinkhof (Amsterdam 15-2-1895). In September 1942, together with his wife and three children, he put an end to it by means of light gas intoxication (asphyxiation by gas).
It is often difficult to determine who committed suicide, especially when the death has not been officially reported. This happened, among other things, when the whereabouts had to remain secret. The couple Jacob Samuel Wijler (Lochem 1-3-1884) and Elisabeth Rose Wijler-Kolthoff (Almelo 8-7-1887) went into hiding near Epe. Their children Martha Rose (Zierikzee 13-10-1919) and Rose Helene (Apeldoorn 13-3-1922) were hiding elsewhere. In January 1943 the daughters were betrayed and arrested. A few months later, the parents ended their lives out of grief and despair. Their death was not announced until after the war. Apart from some statistical data, little is known about Jewish suicides during World War II. The subject remains loaded. The Digital Monument offers the possibility to give these war victims (because they are!) a place. It is expected that more data and stories will become known in the coming years, which will also bring this group out of obscurity.
1. A. Herzberg, J. Presser and L. de Jong pay attention to suicide in their studies of the persecution of the Jews. In all three, the subject remains underexposed.
2. A. Wijsman, 'Open the gas tap out of desperation', in: Haarlems Dagblad, 16 May 2007
3. W. Ultee, F. van Tubergen and R. Luijkx, 'The unwholesome theme of suicide: Forgotten statistics of attempted suicide in Amsterdam and Jewish suicides in the Netherlands for 1936-1943', in: Ch. Brasz and Y. Kaplan (ed.), Dutch Jews as perceived by themselves and by others (Leiden/Boston/Köln, 2001)
4. L. de Jong, The Kingdom of the Netherlands in the Second World War, part 3, p 450-451
5. In the article by W. Ultee (et al.), 210 cases are counted nationwide on the basis of data from Statistics Netherlands. According to this article, the numbers for Amsterdam and The Hague are higher than De Jong's assumption.
6. Several stories used for this article come from visitors to the Digital Monument, whose names are not being disclosed.
7. Jewish Historical Museum, document collection, inv. no. 00813
8. J.H. Coppenhagen, Anafim Gedo'im. Deceased Jewish doctors from the Netherlands 1940-1945 (Rotterdam 2000) p127.
This article by D.M. Metz (translated into English by the editors of the Jewish Monument) was previously published in Mishpoge. Journal of Jewish Genealogy, Volume 21 (2008) No. 1