Hiding place

Daughter of Jewish couple tells how they survived WWII thanks to a church organ

Since World War II ended in 1945, many survivors of the Holocaust have come forward to tell stories that are devastating, no matter the outcome of the family, and speak to the capacity for human bravery in the face of tyrannical, violent reign.

Mirjam Geismar was a young Jewish girl living with her parents and two sisters in Holland in 1942. In August of that year – on her parent’s anniversary, to be exact – her parents sat her down for a serious talk. “They said, it’s gotten too dangerous,” she recalled in an interview with PRI. “The Germans are somehow going to find us, we have to find hiding places. And we found one for you.”

The plan was, her sisters would stay with her parents for the time being and eventually be sent into hiding. 11-year-old Mirjam lived at first with a family that renamed her Manya and cut off her long braids in attempts to hide her Jewish identity. In another home, where she would spend the majority of her three years in hiding, she stayed with a single mother named Tante Nel, who was harboring other Jewish children. They slept under the kitchen floor, a secret location accessible through a hidden trap door.

Mirjam’s parents struggled to find a place to hide and ended up at the Breeplein church in Rotterdam. Mirjam’s daughter Daphne recounted the story to PRI. “The minister went to the caretaker of the church, and said ‘I would like you to create a place for this Jewish couple to hide,'” she said. “And the caretaker said, ‘well, I never told you this but there’s another Jewish family that’s been hiding in the attic for a year already.’ So they made a second hiding place, so there were mirror images on either side of the organ pipes.”

While their three daughters lived elsewhere, Mirjam’s parents spent two and a half years living behind a church organ. “That’s why my parents hated organ music after the war,” Mirjam said. Her “very vivacious” mother was sedated with sleeping pills for a lot of the experience, and her father was almost caught when Nazi soldiers raided the church in search of weapons.

Fortunately – and unlike so many other families –  Mirjam’s parents were reunited with their children at the war’s end. Now the family tells their story because, according to Mirjam, “that’s the only [way] you’ve got to fight it back.”

Read the full interview at PRI.

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