While working on the film plan for our documentary about Truus Wijsmuller, we feel how every day turns into a race against the clock. First, we need to get through this time-consuming process of getting this film plan done. Only then will we be able to contact authorities, funds and individuals to try and find help so we can get our project of the ground financially.
At the same time, we are already frantically trying to find some of the ‘children’ that were saved by Truus Wijsmuller and who are hopefully still alive and willing to share their memories of events that happened almost 80 years ago.
To help us find these children, I contact Mirjam Keesing. She has done research into the Kinder Transports for years (her impressive website www.dokin.nl goes to show how much effort she has put in). She would be the indicated person to help us locating the children and to share information about the woman who saved them.
During our first meeting in Haarlem, she assures me that worldwide at least 10-12 children must be still alive that were saved by Truus, and she almost casually adds that ‘there were also 4 sisters on the SS Bodegraven (the ship that was allowed to leave the harbour of IJmuiden on the 14th of May, 1940 to bring the last group of refugees to England). They must have known Truus Wijsmuller’.
The 4 sisters were part of the group of 74 children that Truus took out of the Burgerweeshuis in Amsterdam in the night of the 13th of May. A year ago, Mirjam Keesing had been in contact with one of them, so she tells me to try!
Soon after our meeting I am sent a list of names, some with email addresses and/or a phone number. She has been in contact with them a year ago, but 12 months is an awfully long time once you have reached the age of 80.
And so it happens that during my first attempts to speak to one of the former Transport children, a voice on the other side of the line tells me that the person I am looking for has passed away, or has been hospitalised with severe dementia. During the third call, I am told that the number is no longer in use. I am starting to get a bit discouraged. So far, I have only be able to locate one ‘child’ in London.
Then I look up the number of Eric Cohen, in the London area. He was only 10 when Truus Wijsmuller sent him of on the Bodegraven as part of the group of 74 children. A remarkably clear voice of an almost 90 years old answers me back. If he remembers Truus Wijsmuller? Of course!
He starts to talk about the woman who saved his live and we arrange to meet soon for an interview at his home. ‘One more thing’, he says, before hanging up: ‘Mrs. Wijsmuller impacted the world by performing heroic acts when others couldn’t manage the courage and bravery to do so’.
I think he just made a very important point.
In the coming days I am lucky enough to trace all for of the sisters mentioned by Mirjam Keesing. Not withstanding their ages (the youngest by now 85, the oldest already 93!) all four of the Scheinowitz sisters are willing to share their memories of Truus: from the moment they arrived in Holland on a train from Leipzig, to the seemingly never ending 6 days on the SS Bodegraven before reaching England, and their time at a convent in England. All those war years were spent together, in the same place.
Now, they live separated: two sisters live in Israel, one in Zürich and one all the way in Toronto, Canada.
We can’t stop the thoughts of trying to visit and film all four of the sisters, as an important story line for our documentary.
Inspired, we start sending more and more emails to the addresses we were handed. Answers are coming back: sent from iPads, cell phones or laptops - these 80 and 90 years old take us by surprise. Some are so excited to hear that we are preparing a movie about their ‘hero’, that sometimes they literally beg us to come and visit ‘as soon as possible’, enabling them to pay the last tribute to their Tante Truus:
“The work that Truus Wijsmuller did is incredible, and to this day I regret that after returning to Holland I was not aware of it, for I would have wanted to meet and thank her… I would like to assist you in the documentary in any form possible.”
And another email reads:
“I credit Truus Wijsmuller with rescuing over 10.000 mostly Jewish children who where destined to die. I owe her not only my gratitude but also my life.”
Sometimes, sons or daughters of the former children step in to help with the communication. A son living in the United States with his father, upon learning that we will be in London soon for the first interviews, writes back:
‘It is too bad we didn’t have more notice or I would have suggested to him that we come to London. Your documentary will help preserve an important part of our history and bring further recognition to a well deserving “Righteous Gentile”.’
The reactions go to show how one person was able to make a big difference in the world.
It makes it all the more unbelievable that when we sit down with several authorities in our search for enough funds, even the Anne Frank Stichting (where Truus Wijsmuller was among the first members of the board, right next to Otto Frank) let us know that they are not in a position to help us financially. Like others, they are willing to put the DVD up for sale once we finish our documentary. But that won’t help us now that we need it to be able to hire a film crew, and pay for the tickets to take us to the different destinations where we can interview the former Transport children…
We finish up our film plan, try to get a grip on the flight schedule to different parts of the world that we will need to visit in order to interview the former children we have found back so far, and more than anything: we spend our energy on finding enough financial back-up to realise this documentary.
We try to emphasise that we are in the middle of this race against the clock as we keep underlining the importance of the content of this project: our last chance to really get Truus Wijsmuller what she is so deserving of. Long overdue.