Dr. Gregory Moore Tells an Incredible Story of Survival in His New Book
Eva Broessler Weissman was only a teenager when the Nazis invaded her native Austria in 1938. Together with her sister Ruth, Weissman fled to the Netherlands in 1939, and, unlike many hidden Jews such as Anne Frank, lived openly in Amsterdam under the pretense of being Dutch. Even though she was captured by the Gestapo at one point, Weissman escaped deportation to the Nazi death camps and worked as a courier for the Dutch Resistance. In “The War Came to Me: A Story of Endurance and Survival,” Notre Dame College History Professor Dr. Gregory Moore tells Weissman’s incredible story. Read an excerpt of the book below:
It was an unfortunate incident that led to Eva’s identity change and sent her into hiding. One of her friends was the daughter of a Dutch Christian pastor named Oberman. Eva knew that her friend and her family were not Jewish, but she was unaware of the fact that the father was active in the Dutch Resistance. At some point, the Gestapo learned of Oberman’s connection with the Resistance, and the pastor was arrested, along with several others, in August 1942. The Nazis confiscated the Oberman family’s papers, including the daughter’s address book. It was in the address book that the Gestapo discovered Eva’s name.
A pair of Gestapo agents came for Eva at her home in Utrecht late at night Tuesday, August 18th. She was arrested and taken to the police station, and on the next day she and others were transferred by police car to a jail in Amsterdam. Recalling the ride later, Eva remembered it as taking place on a vividly beautiful summer’s day. Despite the splendor of that August day, Eva knew she was in serious danger. The Germans were aware that she was Jewish, and Eva could only speculate as to what fate awaited her in Amsterdam.
Once in Amsterdam, she was placed in a cell with two other Jewish girls. Eva felt stifled by her confinement, and would later say that her time in jail helped her to realize just how important fresh air is. The austere jail cell contained a bunk bed, a primitive toilet, and a little window through which food was passed. Eva remembers sleeping on the floor, but cannot recall if she had a mattress to lie on or not. Eva and the other girls were permitted brief exercise, which consisted of being taken from the cell to walk around a bit, once a day, under the watchful eyes of the guards. Eva felt “lousy” as she later put it, and, quite naturally, she was afraid. But, as she would state later, “You just didn’t sit there and say you were afraid.” The nights seemed endless. Eva recalls asking one of her cellmates on the first night of her confinement, “Do the nights always take so long here?”
Although the Gestapo knew Eva was Jewish, it appears at that point that they were only interested in her because they suspected Oberman had involved her in the Resistance. Eva languished in the cell until the weekend. Finally, on Saturday afternoon, August 22nd, the Gestapo officer who had arrested Eva in Utrecht questioned her. The interrogation was a lengthy one, as the German asked Eva dozens of questions about her relationship to the Obermans, and whether or not she knew anything about Pastor Oberman’s involvement with the Resistance. Beyond her friendship with the pastor’s daughter, Eva knew little about the Oberman family and had no knowledge of the father’s association with the Resistance. She insisted that she knew nothing about this, and that her only “crime” was that of being Jewish. Eventually, Eva managed to convince the Gestapo officer of her innocence, or he simply decided to let her go for the time being with the intention of keeping her under observation. Looking back on that day, Eva would comment that “You know only when you are [17 or] 18 would you have the [courage] to say such a thing.”
Eva was to be set free, but the officer informed her that since it was the weekend, she would have to remain in Amsterdam. He explained that she would need a permit to board a train back to Utrecht, and the office through which the required documents could be obtained was closed until Monday morning. The officer told Eva that she might have to stay in jail until then. Eva replied that she had friends in Amsterdam with whom she could stay, and the official, surprisingly, agreed to let her go. He reminded her, however, that she would have to return on Monday to collect her train permit. Eva’s possessions, which naturally had been taken away upon her arrival at the jail, were now returned to her. She was made to examine her purse in order to be certain everything was there, and then she had to sign a release form. Eva demanded to read the document before signing it, another act of courage or, perhaps, teenaged bravado. After reading the paper, she affixed her signature and was escorted from the jail. Eva then proceeded on foot to a place where she could find help.
Back in Utrecht, Estella Simons had put the word out about Eva’s arrest. Among her connections in Amsterdam was a relative of the Simons and Isaac families, Karel Edersheim. It was to Edersheim that Eva now turned. Upon leaving the Gestapo’s headquarters, Eva went to see her “Uncle Karel,” whose residence was about a half hour’s walk from where Eva had been incarcerated. Edersheim, despite having connections to the Jewish Council in Amsterdam, was unaware of Eva’s arrest and was unaware that Eva was in Amsterdam until she appeared on his doorstep. She was immediately welcomed, and Eva spent the rest of the weekend with him, his wife and young daughter. Eva told them the story of her arrest and interrogation, and Edersheim was able to get word to the Simons family in Utrecht and in The Hague that Eva was free and safe for the time being.
Now the question was what to do next.
(Source: “The War Came to Me: A Story of Endurance and Survival,” University Press of America, pp. 36-38)
About the Book
“When I first heard Eva’s story, I thought to myself, ‘My goodness, someone needs to tell this story,’” Dr. Gregory Moore remembers. Dr. Moore first heard Eva’s tale from his student Beth Wesolowski Salem ’02, who had worked with Eva Broessler Weissman to write down her memoirs. Weissman had met Salem after being invited by Sr. Mary Louise Trivison, SND '50 to speak on campus in 2001. Dr. Moore first met Weissman at Salem’s wedding in 2004 and immediately knew her story was unique in several ways.
“Just imagine, Eva, who was 15, and her 7-year-old sister, Ruth, are put on a train by themselves after the annexation of Austria to live with strange families,” he says. “This happened a few weeks after Kristallnacht, and the girls’ parents intended to follow them as soon as they could. However, as things worked out, the family would remain separated until after the war. After the invasion of the Netherlands, Ruth eventually escaped with her foster family in October 1942, which is incredibly unusual since most Jews who escaped Nazi-occupied territories were single males. Eva, on the other hand, lived with different foster families in The Netherlands until her arrest by the Gestapo. She was jailed for five days before being miraculously released.”
It was after her arrest and release in August 1942 that Eva became a hidden person, although, unlike most Jews who went into hiding, she lived openly in Amsterdam. Eva carried false documents that identified her as “Johanna Cornelia Meijer” and, from time to time, served as a courier for the Dutch Resistance.
The challenge for Dr. Moore was to convince Weissman that her story was worth telling. “Eva wasn’t sure there was a story and she didn’t want to publish what’s called an ego document,” he says. But Dr. Moore convinced Weissman of the importance of her story and promised to write it in a historical context. Students Stefanie Wagner ’05, Andrew Boksansky ’09 and administrative assistant Cindy Linn helped with interviews and research. Weissman wrote the emotional epilogue and introduction.
The book has been published by University Press of America and is available at Amazon.com and through Barnes and Noble’s online store.
“It’s just an amazing story of survival,” Dr. Moore says. “Most of all it’s a real testament to the courage and heroism of the people who risked their lives to shelter oppressed people.”