My parents disappeared without saying goodbye. I just had to carry on being a good little boy.
- Henri Obstfeld

Henri was born just one month before the Germans invaded the Netherlands in 1940. His mother was a Dutch office worker, and his father a Polish-born shoemaker. Henri’s father and uncle Simon owned a factory in Amsterdam, where they lived with both their families.

After the Nazis occupied the Netherlands, Henri’s family were subject to restrictive anti-Jewish laws. Despite resistance from the non-Jewish population, the Nazis gradually persecuted the Jews more and more, and captured several Jewish boys during raids, sending them to camps further east. 

In 1942, the Nazis called up Jewish boys to work in the East. Much to Henri’s parents’ alarm, Henri was called up, despite only being 2 years old. Henri’s parents did not want to send Henri away, so they went to one of their relative’s house in a different part of the city to keep him safe. Thankfully no one came looking for Henri to see why he had missed his call up.

Henri’s parents decided it was not safe in Amsterdam anymore and managed to find foster parents to look after Henri. In the summer of 1942 Henri was sent to Arnhem, where he lived with his ‘Aunt’ Hennie and ‘Uncle’ Jaap. They were not really his relatives; however, their cover story was that Henri was Hennie and Jaap’s nephew and was staying with them after Henri’s parents had been killed during the bombing of Rotterdam. He found out later that this was a popular cover story used by many Dutch Jews.

Henri lived with his foster parents for 2 years. During this time, he was not allowed to interact with other children, as it was too dangerous for him. In 1944 there was a significant risk that the city centre of Arnhem would become a battle ground, so they were forced to move to the suburbs. Henri remembered watching the first gliders dropping British and Polish paratroopers onto the outskirts of the city. He had never seen parachutes before, and thought they looked like little dolls dropping from the sky.

As the fighting became more intense, Henri and his foster parents had to leave Arnhem altogether. They fled to the nearby village of Harskamp in a doctor’s motorcar, with Henri sitting on the floor, and gunfire going off around them. They stayed in the house of the headmaster of the school in Harskamp for 9 months. Conditions were hard, and Henri used to go on long walks with his foster parents to beg for food from farms. They would also visit a soup kitchen, and whilst the soup did not have much of a flavour, they were grateful for the warmth it provided.

On the 17th of April 1945, Henri and his foster parents noticed a Canadian troop carrier outside one of their friends’ houses in a neighbouring village. When they returned to Harskamp, it was not long before Canadian troops arrived there and chased the Germans out, freeing the inhabitants of Nazi rule. Henri was reunited with his parents, discovering that they had been hiding above a kindergarten school for 3 years in Haarlem, just outside Amsterdam. They had been helped by members of the Resistance, and several of those who helped Henri’s family, including his foster parents, were honoured posthumously with the Yad Vashem ‘Righteous Amongst the Nations’ award in 2000.

Henri has been a close friend and support of the National Holocaust Centre and Museum for many years. He continues to give his testimony to school children and adults, providing a vital education to people about the Holocaust.