Suskind in World War II

Less than two months after Holland was invaded by the Nazis, an elaborate system of isolating Jews and deporting them to concentration camps had been established.

The theater in which Walter Suskind was working in at the time, De Hollandse Schouwburg, was soon gutted of all its seats and it became the holding and processing site of Jews in Amsterdam. From there, Jews were deported to the major Dutch deported site at Westerbork in eastern Holland. Although the Nazis were the active tyrants of the war, middlemen were often necessary to oversee Jewish activities and deportations (for Jewish prisoners were forbidden to speak to Nazis directly). The Amsterdam Jewish Council that was forced to fill out "labor" quotas assigned by the Nazis, appointed Suskind with the position to oversee all activities in De Hollandse Schouwburg.

Most of the prisoners in the theater despised Suskind for he was often seen socializing with the Germans while indulging in items that were unobtainable by Jews for years such a s whiskey and cigars. The idea that Suskind, a Jew, catered to the Nazi's mission, enraged most Jews that he came into contact with. Only a handful of prisoners knew that Suskind used his powerful position to save children, resistance fighters, and adults. The more people that knew of Suskind's scheme to undermine the Nazis, "Operation Kidnap," the greater the risk Suskind's scheme ran of being discovered.

Therefore with the utmost level of secrecy, Suskind employed Felix Halverstad and Alfons Zundley to help him alter lists of prisoners by deleting names and miscounting numbers, and forging the signature of the head S.S. official in charge of Amsterdam, Aus der Funten. Also a few students from a nearby teaching school carried out some Suskind's escape plans by taking children out for walks in which they never returned and by transporting selected students who were transferred to them by Suskind to families, friends, or members of the Dutch Resistance.

The selection of who was to escape was also an elaborate scheme in it of itself. Resistance fighters who were likely to continue their work after escaping the theater were given priority over others. Also, children whose parents could supply a safe address to go to and would be willing to accept the stories of the horrors that lay waiting in the concentration camps and would rather allow their children to escape to possibly never return. Parents would be asked whether or not they would allow their child to be transferred to the Dutch Resistance on the day of the transport.

Then Suskind would divert the attention of S.S. officials guarding the theater and the nursery across the street with jokes and alcohol as a Jewish child often pacified with brandy would be carried in a rucksack, bicycle basket, laundry bag, bread basket, cake box or even under a cape, would be handed over to collaborating teachers and resistance members. Suskind was the mastermind and main actor in each of the escapes, which numerate to over 1500 people that escaped over the course of a year and a half.

In the fall of 1943, Amsterdam was approaching the title of "Juden frei" (free of Jews) and as transport trucks made their last rounds, the Jewish Council itself was needed to fill out "labor quotas" determined by the Nazis. Suskind was forced to go to Westerbork himself where he somehow continued to sabotage various Nazi documents and helped other Jews to escape further deportation. Resistance members repeatedly offered to help Suskind escape but each time he refused. Suskind feared that his own escape would reveal the details of his operations; also he was adamant about remaining with his wife and young daughter through the war.

Eventually his family received notice of their deportation to Theresienstadt (September 1943) and that is when Suskind realized that his end was near. Unwilling to save his own life without his family, he accompanied his daughter (Yvonne) and his wife to Theresienstadt where he fearlessly met his death.

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