Student shares first-hand concentration camp experience

University of Wisconsin-Platteville undergraduate student Louis Landau, with the help of his wife Ellie, told the story of his time at Westerbork Concentration Camp to his Modern European Thought and Culture class before Thanksgiving break. He stressed to his class the importance of history and the importance of keeping history alive.

“I do this for my mother and my grandparents,” Landau said after his lecture. “I do this because they can’t, and because [the history] needs to be told.”

In 1942 Landau was six years old and living in Holland when the Holocaust began.

“We all know that the German War Machine ran over tiny Holland in just a few days and there was little resistance,” Louis read. “German planes would blot out the sun as they passed overhead, carrying their death and destruction to Amsterdam.”

The German soldiers would arrest the Jewish men in their homes.

“We ran to the neighbors who hid us until danger passed,” Louis said. “On one occasion, we hid in a warehouse in burlap bags of flour. I remember my mother telling me to be quiet so we would not be caught.”

Landau had just learned in the last two to three years that there was a neighbor in their small town that was a Nazi sympathizer.

“My mother received notice to report to the police for exportation,” Louis continued. “Wherever she was sent her child would be with her. That would be me. The kindly Dutch policeman that my family knew for years granted the request that my mother and I stay together. And we proceeded on our journey to Hell.”

It was a tearful goodbye at the train station, according to Landau, where his grandparents would see he and his mother off. Little did they know, it was the last time they would see each other.

“It was raining and unusually quiet at the station,” Louis said. “SS Soldiers herded the people to be transported. With a suitcase in one hand, a backpack over her shoulder and me, Mom and I boarded the train that was to take us to Westerbork, a concentration camp for Dutch speaking Jews.”

The train cars were crowded where no one spoke louder than a whisper, and according to Landau, no one knew what was in their future. He said some would go to gas chambers, some would be shot and some would be let go. Most of the people, Landau said, would be killed.

“I remember clutching my mom, not daring to let go,” Louis said. “It was always raining and damp, increasing the gloom everyone felt. I clung to my mother afraid of people, who all wore the same yellow star that was sewn to my coat. The star that made everyone know the wearer was a Jew. I had no idea what it meant, or the danger it represented but my mother was glad she had convinced my father to leave.”

Landau and his mother arrived in Westerbork and were shoved off of the cars. The German soldiers screamed everywhere to move. The slow were beaten and told to catch up.

“I was fascinated at the brutality displayed by our captains,” Louis said. “I wanted to run around and watch but Mom kept pulling and dragging at me by the arm. She was whispering, ‘come Louis, come!’ with tears of horror streaming down her face.” We were forced to march to an enclosed compound which had barracks divided by mud paths.

The never ending rain made mud out of everything at Westerbork.

“Even the main street had ankle deep mud,” Louis said. “There was no escape from it or the Germans. Barbed wire surrounded everything.”

Louis and his mom were forced into a barrack just for women and children. It was here that they met Trata-Lisa and her son Malta, friends who would have much influence on their time as prisoners. Lisa was British and Malta was a few years younger than Louis, but they were fast friends.

Later in Louis’ life, a website that told his story would be found by Malta and they would be reunited again. Malta visited Louis and Ellie in Wisconsin and they also traveled to Israel to visit him.

Six year old Louis would come face to face with the chance of being sent to Auschwitz seven times. Camp members would be forced to march to the train station, and each time they called the names of those being sent, the cars filled to capacity before Louis and his mother were called to the car.

On the seventh and last trip to the train, a glimmer of hope arrived. Louis’s mother would catch the attention of a German guard and she showed him the papers that proved Louis’s father was a U.S. citizen. The fact that his father was a U.S. Citizen is what would save his mother and him.

“Several officers met to discuss the paper and determined that killing us would be the same as killing Americans,” Louis said. They were not ready to take on such responsibility.”

They were reclassified as prisoners of war and would eventually make it to the United States.

Louis’ full lecture featured his wife Ellie who read some of his presentation for him.

“Louis has given his presentation to many classes here,” Ellie said. “His generation has to keep this alive. People will as things get going and the generation is gone. Maybe some of these crazy guys who say [the Holocaust] never happened, they will start being believed. It happened. It’s real. And we need to get the word out.”

Louis’ full lecture, where he discusses his time outside of Westerbork and reuniting with Malta more in-depth, can be found online at uwpexponent.org

“History is supposed to teach us. Where is the humanity? Where is the feeling about the other person? Where is it? Don’t we know? Don’t we learn?” Louis said as he ended his lecture. “Awh man, it’s just shocking. You can’t imagine the pain and the terribleness of wars and the joy of finding Malta and finding history about what my grandparents went through and the history of myself is being written. I’m not done yet.”