TINA STROBOS: Bram Pais and I were engaged until 1943. My mother wasn't too thrilled with him when we broke up. She thought it was odd for us to be friends after that, but we've always stayed friends. I found hiding places for a lot of his relatives: his father and mother, a cousin, his sister-in-law, and I would have hidden his sister and her husband if they had let us, but the husband couldn't bear the idea of going into hiding. He was sure he would go crazy. He said, "I'm young. I'm strong. They'll select me to work in a factory." We talked and talked with Bram's sister but she was absolutely adamant about staying with her husband. We pleaded with her to let us find her a hiding place, but she refused. They died in the concentration camp.
Bram's parents were among those whom I regularly visited while they were in hiding. They were on a farm, living in an attic with steeply sloping walls; you could stand up straight only in the middle of the room. All they did was complain about the food, about the farmers, about how unfriendly they were, how uncommunicative, how they never came to sit and talk with them, how lonely and isolated they felt. This was all very understandable, but it was not pleasant. There was nothing I could do except come more often.
When Bram decided to go into hiding I helped him to find a place--actually four different places, because he was almost caught three times: three times the house he was hiding in was raided. One time the Gestapo were in there for six hours, searching everything. Another time he hid himself in a footlocker, and they never found him. Bram Pais was very lucky and very courageous. He could shake off these experiences and forget about them. He's an optimistic person.
We had a close knit group of friends, which included Tirtsah Van Amerongen and her sister Jeanne, neither of whom looked at all Jewish. They had the best false papers you could get, with a whole history memorized about where they came from and who their families were, and even copies placed in the City Hall register. It all checked. They had that in place by '44.
Jeanne was married to Lion Nordheim, who was a wonderful person and a very dear friend. I would say he was the spiritual leader of our group. He was also one of the leaders of the Dutch Zionist movement, and a man of fantastic intellect, very able as a speaker and writer. He wrote a paper for the underground press about what to do with the great number of Jewish children who were in hiding, whose parents would not be coming back after the war. The children being so much safer than the parents, he foresaw that this would be a serious problem later on. Lion and Bram were close friends.
In the summer of 1944, yearning to be free and on their own instead of being unwelcome guests in people's homes and attics, Bram, Tirtsah, Jeanne, and Lion rented an apartment together. They weren't unwelcome in our house, but they were guests nevertheless. It was a burden for both sides. So they were delighted to rent an apartment, just the four of them, all young--still in their twenties and early thirties, and good friends. They were happy to be by themselves.
But Bram Pais had an ex-girlfriend who betrayed this place. In February 1945, they were all caught.
As soon as I heard they were arrested I tried to find out what had happened, where they were, what I could do to help. I went straight to their apartment and rang the doorbell; unknowingly I had entered the lion's den. The Gestapo grabbed me immediately, yanking me inside.
"You're under arrest!"
Again I asked for a translator. I made up a story that I was selling potatoes, going door to door.
"So! You're in the black market!"
"Well, we have to eat." They knew we didn't have anything anymore.
They showed me pictures and passports of my four friends, but of course I didn't know any of them. By good luck during this ordeal, I found out the name of their boss, because they were mentioning his name all the time--Herr Obersturmfuhrer So and So. I buttoned that name in my ear. Unfortunately, I was carrying a picture of my boyfriend in my pocketbook.
They said, "You're Jewish! You're a Jew! This is your boyfriend and he's hiding. Where is he?" He was a doctor, listed in the telephone book, and they could call him, which they did. He wasn't Jewish. If he had been, I wouldn't have carried his picture. The questioning went on for nearly five hours, and then at last they let me go.
The next day I brought Tirtsah a package with food and clean clothes and a pair of very special, very beautiful pajamas that my aunt in the United States had sent me years before. Later Tirtsah said she was so happy to get those things, because she knew then that somebody was working on her case. It was the beginning of her liberation.
Because she and Jeanne had such good papers I was able to help them get out of jail in about a week. The first thing you had to do was find out who was the Gestapo official dealing with the case, the Sachbearbeiter. The Germans were always quasi-legalistic. I went to this Sachbearbeiter, whose name I already knew from my interrogation, and insisted to him that they were not Jewish. How dare they, in heaven's name, keep these friends of mine who had done nothing wrong? It helped that the jail was quite full by that time, and also that they knew they were losing the war. This man wanted to do me a favor. I noticed that. He wanted to do some good for people he thought were influential, or do a favor for a pretty young girl. Maybe he wanted to go out with me or something. He let them go.
But Bram and Lion were still in jail. They were caught in February '45, but it was not until early March that I could get Bram Pais out, too. It happened like this.
First of all we had this letter from Nils Bohr inviting Bram to study with him in Denmark. Then too, I knew a man who was in hiding who had been a big "macher" all his life, an important rich Jewish businessman. This man thought I should go to see this friend of his who was a high official in the German army--maybe he was a colonel--a close friend of Hermann Goering, the head of the German Luftwaffe. He thought if I showed him the Nils Bohr letter, since he knew they were losing the war, he might want to do a good deed and let Bram out. This Jewish man wanted to do something for me because his daughter, Erika Van Hesteren, was staying in our house. He also knew Bram: he knew that he was considered a young genius. Somehow people feel the loss of a genius more keenly than of an ordinary person. I guess we all feel like that, like that's a greater loss. Of course it's not true.
I thought, well maybe I'll have to sleep with this friend of Goering or something, but if I have to, I'll do it. I had this girlish fantasy that you had to be submitting to all kinds of favors. I made an appointment to see him.
This man looked like a caricature of a German--bald, with a big fat neck, and a red face. He was extremely repulsive to look at. On his desk was a large portrait of Hermann Goering inscribed "to my best friend, So and So." Well, it was true. At least it's true, he's Goering's friend, I told myself. When I spoke to him I said, "They caught Bram Pais, but I understand that he was caught without identity papers," something I had learned from the Sachbearbeiter. That was in Bram's favor, that he had not tried to pass as a non-Jew. They could understand hiding, but they could not forgive trying to pass as a non-Jew. He didn't have papers because he was in the process of getting these very fine new ones, like Jeanne and Tirtsah had, where you had a duplicate in the city hall. So that's why he had temporarily given up his documents. The Gestapo thought it was terrific that when they asked "Where are your identity papers?", Bram said, "I don't have any."
"You're a Jew!"
"Yes, I am."
They thought that was very good, too. Bram is very bouncy and very intelligent. He knew how to respond to them, unlike Lion who was in a total panic all the time, sure he was going to be killed. And so he was. Maybe you help it along by being so afraid. Lion wanted to commit suicide when the war started. I said to him, "Well at least try to escape." His reply: "I'll never make it." Even though he was so intelligent he didn't have the courage that Bram had.
So I gave Hermann Goering's friend the Nils Bohr letter and told him that his prisoner was a young genius in physics. "Hmm." He said, "What jail is he in?" And I told him, "Weterings schans." He asked the secretary to look up the telephone number, dialed the phone and said, "I want to speak to Oberst So and So," the head of the jail. "Heinz, I want you to look up a young man, a Jew named Abraham Pais, and let him out." Then he hung up the phone.
An hour later Bram Pais was free. I told this story to Bram at the time, but years later he didn't remember why they had let him out. Isn't that strange? He forgot the whole story. He suppressed the whole thing from his mind, I'm sure, because he felt guilty that his best friend was killed because of his girlfriend's carelessness. They shot Lion.
Coming out of jail, he headed straight to our house. He told us, "I was probably the only Jew in years who walked down the middle of the street in broad daylight." This was typical for Bram Pais. The Germans were losing the war, and he was in the best of spirits. That was like him.
Bram knows that his ex-girlfriend betrayed the four of them. He knows it, but he doesn't want to talk about that. I have never, except now, spoken about it. My friend Tirtsah and her sister won't speak to him because of this, which you can understand.
His ex-girlfriend was the only person they could suspect because there weren't that many people who visited them. This girl broke up with him and was very angry, maybe threatened somehow. I've never found out exactly because Bram won't speak about it. He has now forgotten this. We sometimes speak about the past and he has a lot of interesting stories to tell, but this is not one of them.