Henri Obstfeld

Henri was born in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, on 11 April 1940, just one month before the German invasion of Holland. His mother was born in Amsterdam in 1906 and worked as a secretary for the Hoover vacuum cleaner company. His father - born in Krakow - studied to be a shoe designer and worked in Vienna for about 14 years before the family moved to Amsterdam. Having met at dancing lessons in 1932, Henri’s parents married the following year. Henri’s grandfather, father and one of his father’s brothers had set up a slipper factory and by 1939-40, things were going quite well.

Now under the occupation of the Nazis for two years, in the first half of 1942, Jews of about 16 years of age started to receive call-up papers for work camps. At the age of 2, Henri received his call-up papers and was supposed to present himself at a certain place and time in Amsterdam with appropriate food and clothing. Although Henri being called up was obviously a mistake, his parents were nevertheless very worried. They took Henri to an aunt and uncle in a different part of town and waited to see what would happen. In the event, nothing happened; no one came for him and so his parents brought him back home.

Increasingly concerned for the safety of their child, Henri’s parents arranged for him to go into hiding. He was taken to Arnhem - an hour’s journey by train from Amsterdam – where he was handed over to his foster parents, Jakob and Hendrika Klerk. Jakob and Hendrika looked after Henri for the rest of the war. Henri’s parents eventually went into hiding in Haarlem, a city just outside of Amsterdam. His mother once came to Arnhem to visit him, but not face to face – apparently only watching him in the garden from a first-floor window.

In 1944, the relative quietness of Arnhem ended, with Allied troops making their way from France into Belgium and then the Netherlands. In a car, Henri and his foster parents – under incredibly dangerous circumstances – managed to escape the battles and raging gunfire between the Allied and German troops. Hiding in the village of Harskamp, Henri and his foster parents stayed with the headmaster of a local primary school. Unaware that the headmaster was already hiding a Jewish family, Henri was introduced by his foster parents as their “nephew”. Winter 1944 was bitterly cold, and food was scarce. Henri and his foster parents were liberated by the Allies in April 1945. About three weeks after liberation, his parents made their way to Harskamp, hitching a lift on a milk tanker. Henri was reunited with them – after two and a half years.