Recalling a lost aunt
Rosetta van Dam, circa 1920. (photo from Louise Sorensen)
The Dutch Holocaust Memorial of Names has provided the opportunity to write and have published a piece about a person named on the memorial. I contributed stories about six of my murdered relatives, and wrote one of those stories in English, about my Aunt Rosa.
Rosetta van Dam (1904-1942), or Ro, was my mother’s younger sister. She was the first in the family to be deported and murdered, on Aug. 3, 1942, in the first Auschwitz gas chamber, at the age of 38. She had responded to the Nazi call to report for “labour in Germany.”
Ro lived in Rotterdam at the family home on Bergweg 99, where I was born and where she had her own room on my grandparents’ floor. Ro was totally withdrawn and had virtually no social life. She always wore a girl scout uniform, with heavy wool knee-high socks and sandals. She likely would have preferred men’s clothing but it was totally taboo at the time for women to dress in that way.
Ro’s voice was very deep and I believe now that she may have been transsexual or, in any event, a lesbian. I was told that my grandparents had been dragging her to a number of doctors, of course with no result. She ended up a virtual hermit, usually disappearing to her room. I think she did some secretarial work, perhaps for my grandparents’ business.
From 1929 to 1936, we lived in the same Rotterdam house. As a toddler and preschooler, I was too young to understand my aunt, but was curious and eager to please her.
Several years ago, I visited Auschwitz and learned that Ro never reached the Birkenau gas chambers because they were not yet in operation on Aug. 3, 1942. I was informed of this while standing in that very gas chamber, the only one that had not been destroyed, feeling deeply sad about my aunt.
Louise Sorensen was born in the Netherlands in 1929, where she lived with her parents and older sister. In May 1940, when the Nazis occupied Holland, they lived in a suburb near Amsterdam. Two years later, the Nazis ejected them from their home and the family was forced into the Amsterdam ghetto. By January 1943, they were separated and hidden in various locations throughout the country until the Canadians liberated them on April 17, 1945. Sorensen immigrated to Vancouver in 1959; her Danish husband has passed away and she has two sons and three grandsons. She has been active with the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre since its inception: she was a board member for 10 years and has been speaking in schools and to other audiences for about 30 years. This article also appeared in VHEC’s Zachor.