The Interview: An Unexpected Trust

27 02 2012

A couple of weeks ago I was privileged to visit one of our great national treasures, a 91-year-old holocaust survivor. The purpose of the visit was to do an interview, but in some ways I found myself being a student rather than an inteviewer.

Her name is Diet Eman. She was barely 20 years old when the war broke out in the Netherlands, and as the Nazi regime took control, she and her fiance became involved in sheltering and finding new identities for the Jewish people in their area. They paid a great price for that activity. Diet was hunted by the Gestapo for her part in the underground and, despite changing her identity and going into hiding, was eventually arrested. She spent time in a prison and then was taken to a concentration camp. Her survival, she says, was “of God,” but her fiance gave the ultimate sacrifice. He died at Dachau in January of 1945, just four months before the liberation.

For many years, Diet was pshychologically unable to talk about the war. The things she had seen and endured were too much for her to process. But in the early 1990’s a conversation with James Schaap changed all that. He encouraged Diet to write her story, and offered his help. It was, he urged, a story that needed to be told, lest the next generation forgets. As a result, Things We Couldn’t Say became a testament to the resilience, courage and faith exhibited by a vast number of individuals involved in the underground movement in that tiny country while under the crushing power of the Third Reich. It is the true definition of selflessness.

I feel so blessed to have been able to talk with Diet, and to be allowed to see her most precious possession–a letter from her fiance as he was being transported to Dachau. He had thrown it out of the train with the hope it would somehow reach her. It did. “A miracle,” she said. The tiny letter, about 1 1/2 by 2 1/2 inches in size, was found in the bushes and sent to Diet. She has many mementos of those years, but that one item, the smallest of them all, is the one she holds in her heart. She can recite every word.

I highly recommend the book. It is a story of heroism, faith, courage, dedication, and a true account of history at a time when hell seemed to have been visiting on earth.

Diet was kind enough to lend me two books from her library. One I will never forget is titled Nach Und Nebel, Night and Fog, by Floris Bakels. His story of life in the concentration camps is riviting and shows, without wavering, the true horror prisoners endured. The book is not for the faint of heart, however, since he spares no details.  It is, Diet said, one of the most accurate, true accounts of life in the camps that she has ever read.

At the end of two hours I felt as though I had made a new friend. The conversation covered past, present and future, and I found Diet to be one of the most open, honest people I have ever met. Her faith is unwavering, her willingness to speak of it to total strangers is humbling, and her ability to see humor and hope in the darkest of situations is unparalleled. What an incredible woman.

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One response

24 03 2013
Robert Cohn

Dear Terri,
A most interesting article! I grew up knowing Floris Bakels very well, as his son is one of my best friends to this day. We grew up together, and Floris always came back to talking about the war; it was the one thing that dominated his entire life utnil his death. My mother is a survivor of Auschwitz, but to this very day cannot talk about her experiences, as she lost her parents and brother to the Nazis,
Sincerely,
Robert R. Cohn
420 Bevy Court
Johns Creek, GA 30097

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