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Dutch woman taught her children lessons
to prevent the Holocaust from being repeated

As Carla Peperzak helped review 54 essays from high school students on “And You Shall Tell the Children,” she reflected on what she told her children as they grew up and as adults about her experience of the Holocaust during  World War II in Amsterdam.

Carla Peperzak
Carla Peperzak reviewed 2011 essays: "Tell the Children"

The 2011 essay theme for the observance of Yom Hashoah on Thursday, April 28, at Temple Beth Shalom, is based on the Passover tradition of telling children of the departure of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt to freedom.

Until her children were adults and she was ready, Carla said little about her teen years helping hide her Jewish family and friends in rural homes outside Amsterdam to protect them from being sent to concentration camps.

Because her mother grew up Catholic, Carla and her sister were granted identity cards without a “J” for “Jew” on them, so they were not required to wear a yellow star to mark them as Jews.

“In Holland, many Jewish people felt more Dutch than Jewish, so there were many intermarriages,” Carla said.

“My father’s foresight at the beginning of the war saved me.  He arranged with an attorney for the ID cards,” she said. 

Because her family was active in the temple and her whole life until she was 16 had been around Jewish friends and family, all her friends and relatives had to wear yellow stars.

After the rabbi was taken, Jews were afraid to associate.  Her parents and sister survived, but most of her aunts, uncles and cousins were taken and did not survive.

Because Carla could move freely, she felt she had an obligation to help take friends and family into hiding and make sure they had food.  Through friends of friends, she learned of houses in nearby villages with attics or basements where Jews could hide. 

She helped hide 17 people and made new ID cards and extra ration cards for them, using forms printed in England and dropped by plane.

“Every day I was scared to death I would be caught.  Every time the doorbell rang, especially at night, I was scared who was there,” she said of the war years.  “In a store or on the street, I was scared that what I might say would be overheard.”

After the war, Carla’s residual fear meant she did not attend a temple.  In 1947, she married Paul Peperzak, a Catholic who grew up in Indonesia. They had four children. Now she has 11 grandchildren and soon six great-grandchildren. One daughter is Catholic, one is Methodist, one is interested in Judaism and her son has no faith involvement.

Two weeks after they married, Paul left to study in the United States.  Carla followed in 1948.  For years, they moved every few years around the world with his studies and work in Liberia, Iowa, Hawaii—where they became U.S. citizens—Bangkok, Rome, Alabama, California—while he developed irrigation in Iran—and Kenya before they settled for 20 years in Washington, D.C.  He worked primarily with the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization and the World Bank. 

When he retired in 1988, they settled in Colorado Springs, midway between their children—in New Mexico, Kansas, Spokane and Idaho. After Paul died in 2004, she moved to Spokane to a house in the Rockwood Retirement Community.

Through years of moving around the globe, Carla did volunteer work—with the Red Cross, the American Women’s Society and Hadassah.

Moving every few years, neither she nor Paul was involved in a faith community, but she began to attend a Reform temple in Washington, D.C., and became active in Colorado.

“I always believed in God,” she said.  “The Jewish way is the way for me.  I feel at home.”

Carla joined Beth Haverim, a Reform congregation in Spokane and helped it merge with Ner Tamid as Congregation Emanu-El, which meets at the Unitarian Universalist Church.  Because of the distance there and having many friends at Temple Beth Shalom, she is also a member at the temple.  Since 2005, she has helped Temple Beth Shalom plan the annual Yom Hashoah commemoration of the Holocaust.

In the 1960s in Honolulu, Carla left part-way through a performance of the play, “The Diary of Anne Frank.” It was too close. 

Anne Frank’s family had lived a block away from her family in Amsterdam.  Anne was three years younger.  Carla didn’t know her, but played with her sister, Margot.  The building where the Franks hid was behind her father’s clothing factory.

One day Carla talked to someone, and the next day, the person was gone.  She didn’t know until after the war if the person was picked up or went into hiding. When she left Holland, she put her memories aside to live each day.

“I can read about the Holocaust, because I can put a book aside, but seeing a movie or play is too emotional,” she said. 

She had hated Germans, until a German woman in Washington, D.C., became her friend and helped her realize she could see Germans in a different way.

The Holocaust is part of my life.  I’m formed by it.  I like most people and try to see the best in people,” Carla said, turning to what she wants her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren to know.

For a long time, she never talked about her experiences, only telling her children that her relatives had died in the Holocaust.

She taught them never to throw food away; be good people and good neighbors; be open minded; do not hate; respect other people’s viewpoints, and accept others for who they are. 

“If we can respect each other, our points of view and our religions, what a wonderful world it would be.  Respect is the most important word in the vocabulary,” she said.

After her children became adults, she began telling them more.  When her granddaughters were eight and 10, Carla went to their class with her daughter.  It was the first time they heard her talk about her experiences.

She has only gone a few times to schools to tell her story.  Once, she spoke to the cast of “The Diary of Anne Frank” at Central Valley High school.  She has also talked at Temple Beth Shalom and at her Rockwood community.

“I wish I had raised my children Jewish, but after the war I didn’t want anything to do with Judaism because of my fear and my desire to stay alive,” Carla said.

“Yom Hashoah is not just for the Jewish community but for the whole community.  We need to care so it won’t happen again,” she said.

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