MONTVILLE, NJ - It was 1981, and Maud Dahme was in her Annandale, NJ living room watching the TV series “60 Minutes.” They were reading letters to the producers, and a woman from Annandale wrote in to say that the holocaust was wartime propaganda and had never happened. Dahme, who had never spoken out about her past, knew it was time to do so.
Born in The Netherlands, Dahme was a “Hidden Child,” like famous author Anne Frank. The year 1940 brought many changes to her life, including the Nazi invasion of her country. “Jews had to register with the government,” recalled Dahme at her lecture at the Montville Public Library on May 6. “Then more restrictions came to isolate the Jews. All Dutch people had to turn in their radios.”
In 1941 she was to start school, but the German regime made it illegal for Jews to attend school, or hold any education job.
“I was excited, because the Germans made a rule that anyone over the age of six had to wear a yellow star on their clothing that said ‘Jood.’ I had no idea what was going on but I was thrilled because now I was ‘grown up.’”
Jews were not allowed to eat in restaurants, use public transportation, or even visit the park; their cars and even their bicycles were taken away.
One day the Rabbi at their synagogue summoned all the congregants to the temple on Sunday. He read a letter from the High Command stating “wonderful news. We’re going to take you away from the noise, and you will be able to educate your children again. Here is a list of what you will need. We will watch your house, you need only close the door and leave it,” Dahme recalled the letter stating.
Dahme’s parents met with a Christian friend who gave them 24 hours to decide if he could hide their children, Dahme and her younger sister, at a farm. “He was a member of the Underground, and they had heard rumors of murder,” stated Dahme. “My parents decided to send us into hiding, knowing they may never see us again. ‘You’re going on vacation on a farm, and we’ll go on vacation too, and then we’ll pick you up in a couple of weeks,’ my parents told us.”
Dahme and her sister found themselves on a farm in Oldebroek, wearing city clothes on a farm, living with a devoutly Christian family. “You are now our nieces,” they were told, and the girls were given new names. They had to stay in the house and could not go to school because their “aunt” and “uncle” were afraid that, at ages six and four, the young girls would give themselves away by mentioning their past to a classmate.
It was austere living during the war, with no birthdays, toys, or playtime. One day in December of 1944, members of the Underground suddenly took them to a new house in a fishing village, where eels saved the villagers from the “Hunger Winter” that claimed 20,000 Dutch lives.
Finally after five years of hiding, the Canadians freed Dahme’s village.
“I get choked up remembering,” stated Dahme, with tears in her eyes. “Everybody was climbing on the tanks, hugging, and kissing. A soldier gave me a chocolate bar and I didn’t know what it was until my hosts’ daughter shoved a piece in my mouth – and I’ve liked chocolate ever since,” laughed Dahme.
Dahme’s parents managed to survive during the war, and when they came to retrieve their family, Dahme and her sister didn’t recognize or know their parents. But she was eager to show her father her secret stash of toys – which turned out to be live ammunition that she had collected throughout her years of hiding. She did not realize they were live.
“We told our parents, ‘We’ll go home with you but if we don’t like you, we’re going to come back to the farm,'” laughed Dahme.
They arrived at their house to find it had no glass (it had been destroyed in the bombings), the holes were boarded up, and there was no furniture (the Nazis had confiscated it) or wood (people had removed all wood to use as fire wood). Audrey Hepburn’s family home, which was in their town, became a soup kitchen for the many hungry Dutch citizens.
“We were the only four in my family who survived,” recalled Dahme. “All my aunts, uncles, and cousins were killed by the Nazis.”
It was a difficult transition, living with their “new,” yet original parents, recalled Dahme. “We had a different relationship now, as many holocaust survivors have related. I finally started school at age nine, and I spoke the country dialect I had learned on the farm. I had a nervous breakdown at age ten. I saw many things a child should never have to see.”
Dahme’s family moved to the United States in 1950, to start a new life. “I never talked about the holocaust, though, until I saw that '60 Minutes’ episode. I slowly started to speak about it. I was a nervous public speaker, at first, but I realized it was important to tell people my story.”
The farming family that hid Dahme and her sister was honored as a “Righteous Among the Nations” by Yad Vashem, a foundation in Israel dedicated to maintaining the memories of the Holocaust and its horrors.
Dahme visits The Netherlands every year as a tour guide for teachers to aid in educating students about the Holocaust, but still finds it difficult to visit the town where she grew up. “I’m deathly afraid of horses, because the Nazis would let them roam free, and I am afraid I will see a German soldier around every corner to this day,” she stated.
Still, she continues to educate people about her personal history, so that the next generation will never forget.
The Montville Township Public Library has many events for all ages, including a knitting club, story time, iPad classes, a Teen Computer Game Tournament, movies for adults and families, Family Bingo Night, and lectures such as a lecture on ADD/ADHD on May 14 and a lecture on “Getting the Most from Your Gmail Account.” on May 15. For more information, visit their website by clicking HERE.