Chapter 6: Submerging

“To the decree of 30 June 1942 D III 516 g with references to my teletype messages — No. 250 of 17 July 1942–”

Subject: Deportation of Jews

–The deportation of the Dutch Jews has proceeded undisturbed. Today’s train brings the total of Dutch Jews deported up to 6,000. The deportation [has] proceeded without any disturbances.

Of course, the Dutch population [has] become aware of this measure and some temporary excitement was noticeable–”

– From a secret message from Otto Bene, the representative of the German Foreign Office in the Hague, to Reich Commissioner Seyss-Inquart confirming the start of the deportation of the Dutch Jews to the East, dated 31 July, 1942


Fortunately, in contradistinction to his lovestruck daughter, and inspite of his studied casualness, Myrtil Frank was, by this point, i.e., spring, 1942 neither in denial of nor oblivious to either German intentions or capabilities vis-á-vis the Jewish population. Although he had reluctantly obeyed and complied with each of the incrementally humiliating Nazi edicts since the invasion two years before, from the family’s enforced move from the Dutch coast, through the compulsory census of January 1941, and all the other restrictions the Germans had imposed since then, Dorrit’s father was able to keep his wits about him.

Not that it had been easy. By the end of 1941, the stress of the occupation coupled with his growing money worries, in addition to the increasingly difficult task of finding food for the family, had turned the now forty eight year old Jewish water pic salesman into a very nervous and anxious man.

The wide disparity between Dorrit’s state of mind and that of her father is readily evident in a snapshot taken of the two in the garden of the Hilversum house. Dorrit, her hair neatly coiffed, looks as if she hasn’t a care in the world. By contrast, Myrtil, hair visibly graying, fingers clinched around a half-smoked cigarette, looks tense and forlorn; the smile he wears is forced; the old killer grin is gone. Clearly, daughter and father were living in different worlds. Dorrit is in love, while her father, as now know, is trying to figure out how to keep his family alive, both in the short-term, and the long-term. Myrtil was no longer in pretend-nothing-will-happen mode, if he ever actually had been. One can see this from his expression; we know this from the courageous decision he would shortly take, i.e,. to take the family into hiding.

Something had happened. The Germans had invaded Holland. The Germans had forced the Franks and other Jews to move from the coast. These things could no longer be denied, nor was Myrtil anymore trying to do so. Something was bound to happen next, he knew. But what?

He didn’t know. But at least he was willing to think about it. Perhaps the thought of going into hiding had already occurred to Myrtil by the time the aforementioned photo was taken. In any event, it is likely that if he hadn’t yet come to that momentous decision, the idea of resisting had already occurred to him.

THIS, the ability and willingness to mentally resist in the first place — and to resist the herd instinct amongst Jews not to resist — was the first prerequisite for becoming a successful onderduiker — literally, one who “dived under” — in 1942. Fortunately, as he had already proven in 1933, Myrtil Frank already possessed this prerequisite, along with the concomitant courage necessary to effect that resistance. So did his namesake, Otto Frank. As such, both men — along with the thousands of others who doubtless were entertaining similarly subversive thoughts at this time — were part of a minority.

However, it is important to recall, there were other preconditions for “diving under,” as well. For even those Jews who were willing to countenance the thought of going into hiding needed other essential things before they could consider taking such a serious move, namely: 1) Money for renting and provisioning a hiding place for an indeterminate amount of time; 2) a physical Address or place where it was safe to hide, whether in the city or the countryside; and 3) gentile Helpers or protectors who could be counted on to bring additional supplies for the duration of the “dive,” and who would not betray them (or shake them down, as some not so helpful, mercenary-minded gentiles did).

One year hence, by which time the resistance had created a sophisticated nationwide support system to aid both Jewish and non-Jewish onderduikers, these additional preconditions — money, food, addresses, and helpers — would not be as difficult to come by. Of course, no one knew that at that time. In any event, by then it was too late, at least too late for Jews, for the great majority of them had already been deported.

However in the spring and summer of 1942, before the trains out of Westerbork bound for the east began rolling, when the conditions were (if this can be said) “good” for diving under before the great razzias that would soon sweep across Amsterdam Zuid, these preconditions, or the lack of them, made all the difference between diving under or not.

As Bob Moore, an historian of the Dutch Holocaust would later write, “the real tragedy remained that the vast majority of Jews…had neither the money nor [an] ‘address’ to go to [in 1942].” “The logistics [of going into hiding] were daunting,” said Leo Ullman, who survived the Dutch-Jewish genocide as a child sequestered with a sympathetic Dutch policeman in Amsterdam.

This helps explain why one of the great unanswered questions surrounding the near-extirpation of Dutch Jewry: why, according to historians, only one out of seven Jews in the occupied Netherlands would decide to dive under at all. One out of seven: not many.



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