War is hell

2 minuten leestijd

Today exactly 80 years ago, Tuesday the 28th of March 1939, Abraham and Bertha Baruch-Jacobsohn, both in their mid-60’s, took the train back from Antwerp to Deventer. They continued their trip back home, to nearby Twello, where they had fled to from Germany a few years before after life under constant Nazi threat and harassment became unbearable.

Me (top) and Anselm, Bertha, Horst, Abraham, Marta (bottom, left to right) in front of the Antwerp Railway station (2018, 1939)


In Antwerp they saw their daughter Marta, her husband Horst Galley and their little son Anselm. They hadn’t seen Marta and Horst for 5 years after a fall out. In the mean time, life was dramatically different and they wanted to see their first grandchild. The young family also were refugees. Marta and Horst met in Göttingen, but Horst, a young aspiring intellectual with a PhD and publications to his name, hoped for an assignment at the University of Vienna. Talks looked promising as Horst had a good network under German intellectuals. Burt after the Anschluss of Austria to Germany, Horst had committed the horrendous crime of marrying a Jewess, was not allowed a job in academia, and the couple was extradited. Penniless, but still convinced an academic career was the future for Horst, Marta, Horst and their boy fled to Ascona, Switzerland. Two years ago, I found the hotel where they stayed.


The Swiss weren’t happy with refugees (they would be called “migrants” nowadays) and started an extraditing procedure. In the mean time, Horst and Marta had found a sponsor in the US; Franz and Alice Alt. More or less the same age as Marta and Horst, had fled Austria around the same time, but had succeeded fleeing to the US and helped refugees to make their way to there by providing them financial assistance and often finding people that would vouch for them; the US would not accept refugees that could become a burden to the economy.


After it was no longer possible to stay in Switzerland, Horst and Marta went to Belgium, hoping to find their way to the US. As all quota for Dutch, German and Austrian refugees had been filled and the idea was now to flee to a third country, and try to get to the US from there. This third country was to be Equador.


After some time, they found a boat to Ecuador and lend some more money. The boat left from the port of Antwerp, and here they stayed for some weeks. They contemplated traveling to The Netherlands to visit Marta’s parents, but they did not have sufficient documents, so they decided to pay the parents trip from Deventer to Antwerp. Here they met. Pictures were made on the balcony of a hotel close to the Antwerp railway station and they spent a few days together before saying farewell.

They were never to see each other again. Abraham and Bertha returned to Twello and were killed in Sobibor in 1943. Horst, Marta and Anselm made it to the US through Ecuador. There was a fall out with their sponsors and they moved, still penniless, from apartment to tenement. Horst did not acquire the academic career he hoped for and started drinking.

New York

Marta, not able to cope with the fact that most of her family was killed in the Holocaust, committed suicide in 1954. Horst died of cirrhosis of the liver a few years later. Their sons are alive today; Anselm lives on the west coast, the other son, Johannes, in New York. This history has left its mark on them, too. War is hell.

Marta’s yahrzeit is this Friday. May her memory be a blessing.

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