Holocaust survivor and retired Virginia Tech professor David de Wolf will speak today at 7 p.m. in honor of Holocaust Awareness Week.
De Wolf self-published “It Could Not Happen Here, But It Did,” which is comprised of letters written between his family members during World War II. De Wolf was five years old when his family fled their home country to escape the Nazi invasion.
The speech is a free event sponsored by Hillel at Virginia Tech as part of a series to remember those who died in the Holocaust. De Wolf’s speech, which will consist mostly of readings from his book, will take place in Squires Colonial Hall.
Will your speech revolve around your book?
Entirely — it is all about the book. (The speech) is essentially a series of parts that I will read from the book. There will be illustrations in a presentation and tables (describing) what happened in Holland during the time of the writing.
Your book is based on the letters between your families, correct?
Yes, it’s in two parts. I’m focusing the book on the story of my family. It’s more or less straightforward of what people experienced, and what I find very interesting are the descriptions of life in the United States.
The first chapter is the story of our flight, and the other chapters deal with the letters between by father in the U.S. and my family in Holland. Of these, my Uncle and his family survived the war by going into hiding at the right time. My grandparents did not — they were deported to Auschwitz. In fact, of their generation, almost nobody survived.
Did you inherit your family’s letters?
Yes, my father made copies of the ones he wrote and of course kept the ones he received written on aerograms. All of them were looked at by censors. It was expensive to send them, and they were delivered by clipper — an aircraft. It was costly, so my grandparents wrote densely. My grandfather wrote on one side and my grandmother wrote on the other. I can barely read her writing, because there is so much on the page.
What inspired you to put the letters together and write the book?
After having read them, I realized there was a story that hadn’t been told about the war — mainly, the letters of people who remained under the occupation who were telling the story during the war. I hadn’t seen that before. It was stuff hot off the press as it was happening; they were directly involved.
My uncle was trying not to alarm my parents of life in the Netherlands, and my parents tried not to alarm them of life in the U.S. They were truthful, nevertheless. They offered camouflage for what they wanted to say in such a way that it would pass the censors.
Even though you were only 5 years old, do you have any vivid memories of the Netherlands during your flight?
The first thing I remember is the taping of windows in the days just before the invasion. It must have been after May 10, because it was in response to bombardments. My parents feared it would shatter the glass. Then, of course, I remember on (May 14), we were shepherded to the
We were standing on the pier when we were hoisted onto the ship that took us to England. It was a ship that had turned back to pick up some prisoners of war.
That ship then sailed during the night and was attacked by dive bombers — I remember from the ‘ping, ping’ somewhere below deck.
Then we stayed in England for six weeks, and my parents managed to get a spot on a ship to the U.S. It was one that rode at night and zigzagged to avoid the U-boats.
Do you remember your outlook being changed in anyway?
Well, my parents write that my brother and I — I was six and he was four — regarded this flight from Holland as the biggest feast of our lives. We thought it was a huge party, until we were hoisted on board of course. That was the moment we grew tense.
What do you think is most important for people to reflect on when attending the events for Holocaust Awareness Week?