2017-10-25 / Voice at the Shore

Yad Vashem gives award to protectors of local who was once a hidden child

By ELLEN WEISMAN STRENGER Voice shore editor

Leo Ullman (left) shows documentary film crew the building in Amsterdam where he was hidden as a young child, from 1943 to 1945. Leo Ullman (left) shows documentary film crew the building in Amsterdam where he was hidden as a young child, from 1943 to 1945. Last month, Yad Vashem presented the Righteous Among the Nations Award to the family of Hendrik and Jannigje Schimmel- Manschot, a Dutch couple that hid former local businessman Leo Ullman from the Nazis in Amsterdam, said Gail Rosenthal, director of Stockton University’s Holocaust Resource Center, who travelled with the Ullman family to Amsterdam for the presentation of the award.

Also receiving the Righteous Among the Nations Award was the family of Pieter Hoogenboom, a Dutch policeman who forged identity papers that saved the lives of Ullman’s parents and many other Dutch Jews, added Rosenthal.

In a moving ceremony at the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam, family members of those being honored (all of whom had long since passed away) received Righteous Among the Nations Medals as well as a certificate recognizing the family member or members who risked their lives to save Ullman and his family. Ullman and his children and grandchildren all attended as well, said Rosenthal.

Notably, the descendants of all those being honored all had “heard stories about what their grandparents did,” she added.

The September 18 ceremony in Amsterdam was the culmination of a long process, noted Rosenthal, who began encouraging Ullman to initiate this process in the 1990s after hearing about his experience as a hidden child during World War II.

Ullman, a former owner of the Shore Mall, became friendly with Rosenthal roughly 20 years ago when the Shore Mall sponsored an exhibit on Anne Frank.

“Thousands of school children and members of the public came to see the exhibit, which showed the life story of Anne Frank as well as showing the history of the Holocaust,” noted Rosenthal.

Sometime after the exhibit, Ullman told her that he, like Anne Frank, had been a hidden child in Amsterdam from age three to six. “The end result was different for him because he survived while she died in Bergen Belsen. He was never found as a hidden child.”

Ullman had called the people who hid him his “war parents,” she said. “At the same time, his parents were hidden by another family in an attic. Neither knew where the other was, only someone in the Dutch underground knew.”

Ullman’s “war parents” were an older couple who told people he was their grandchild. “It must have seemed odd to the neighbors that this grandchild suddenly moved in,” said Rosenthal. Indeed, after the war it became clear that the war parents’ neighbors all knew that the couple was hiding a Jewish child.

“His war parents were always in his life until they died,” she added. The couple eased Ullman’s transition to moving back in with his real parents, whom he no longer recognized, by giving the family a dog that young Ullman had grown attached to, and by walking Ullman to school every day, even though they had to walk miles in order to get to his house and back.

Ullman discovered how Hoogenboom had helped save his family around the same time that Rosenthal encouraged him to seek recognition for his war parents through Yad Vashem. “At the same time I was encouraging him to do this, he found forged identity cards for his parents that saved their lives” as well as the lives of others. “Eventually he found the retired policeman who risked his life to forge these documents. He found the grandchildren, “who recognized their grandfather’s handwriting on the papers,” said Rosenthal.

“You think of someone like that, a retired policeman, as someone who follows orders,” said Rosenthal. “But his grandchildren described him as someone with a strong sense of right and wrong. He had a lot of luck, and was almost caught many times. But his work was perfect.”

Ullman spent 2-3 years working to obtain Righteous Among the Nations Awards for Hoogenboom and his war parents. The ceremony was attended by the Israeli Consul General and a representative of the American embassy as well as all the families, noted Rosenthal.

After the award presentation, Ullman and some of the family members participated in the making of a documentary film about Ullman’s life. The Holocaust Resource Center hired a film crew that interviewed Ullman in front of the house where he was hidden, said Rosenthal. “It was very emotional for those of us who attended.” 

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