In a poem dated 31 August 1939, Wilhelm Halberstam describes the life of Jewish refugees in the Netherlands1The original is privately owned. Published in Irmtrud Wojak and Lore Hepner (eds.), ‘Geliebte Kinder …’ Briefe aus dem Amsterdamer Exil in die Neue Welt 1939–1943 (Essen: Klartext, 1995), pp. 84–85. This document has been translated from German.
Handwritten poem sent by Wilhelm Halberstam,2Wilhelm Max Halberstam (1866–1943), retailer; in 1939 emigrated with his wife from Berlin to Amsterdam, and from there made unsuccessful attempts to emigrate to Chile and join his daughter; deported in June 1943 to Westerbork, where he died of heart failure. The Yiddish expressions and names in the poem reveal his eastern European origins. Amsterdam, 14 Jan van Eijckstraat, to his daughter Käthe Hepner,3Käthe Hepner, née Halberstam (1898–1982), chemical lab technician; worked at the Mampe distillery in Leipzig from 1920; married Heinrich Hepner in 1921; emigrated, with various stopovers, to Chile in 1939. 13 054 Casilla, Santiago, Chile, dated 31 August 1939
In Amsterdam, the Netherlands, its south part most of all,4A great many German-Jewish émigrés lived in the southern part of Amsterdam, in a neighbourhood that was newly constructed from 1920.
You find our folk in massive bands, their means be great or small!
You often see a cheerful face, but mostly they’re fartsoret,5Yiddish form of the Hebrew word tzarot: ‘woe, cares, trouble’.
For Holland’s not a pleasant place for migrants opting for it.
For many, it is much too near penates6Roman household gods (official term ‘Di Penates’). from old times.
Quite soon the Nazis may be here, along with all their crimes.
So Rosenbaum, the fat man, mopes to Silberstein,7The names mentioned were thought to be typical for German or East European Jews. the old:
‘Nehmones8Yiddish, misspelling of nehomes, plural of nehomeh (Hebrew: nehamah): ‘consolation’. on us, I’ve no hopes our safety here will hold.
To England I would go, if I’d a permit9Entry permit. to get in;
An old umbrella by my side for Mr Chamberlain.’10Arthur Neville Chamberlain (1869–1940), politician; prime minister of Britain, 1937–1940; nicknamed ‘umbrella man’ because he often carried an umbrella in public and was invariably depicted with it in cartoons.
‘I’m New York bound,’ boasts Mr Cohn. ‘I’ve got an affidevit11Correctly: affidavit.
supplied by my friend’s brother’s son, the Tarnopoler Levit.’
‘For me, those just aren’t far enough. Chile’s my destination.’
The blond named Kornfeld says this stuff, with real exhilaration.
‘You’re all still here, how’s that make sense?’ asks Itzigsohn the wise.
‘If I possessed such documents, I’d say my prompt goodbyes.’
‘Why, Itzigsohn, you chochem,12Yiddish form of the Hebrew word hacham: ‘genius, very clever person, scholar’, here ‘smart aleck’. you,’ replies come ringing back.
‘We would have long ago shot through; a visa’s what we lack.’
‘You have no visa? Such cruel fate! You’re nebich13From Yiddish: term expressing pity, ‘you poor things’. Jews – it’s clear!
You won’t get that from any state. Nu! Be content right here!’
‘For ages now that’s what we’ve done; what does the future hide?
With eytses,14Yiddish form of the Hebrew word etsot (singular etsah): ‘advice’. dearest Itzigsohn, we’re plentifully supplied.’