Posted on 05 December 2012 by Elze Erwteman
I was born in Surinam as the youngest of five girls. At a very early age I was already aware of my talents. It appeared as a fact to me that I would become a writer and a dancer in the future. My parents, teachers and others stimulated me to pursue that trail. In elementary school , at home and at the homes of friends I could recite my essays and perform my choreographies. When I moved to the Netherlands in my teenage years, as a matter of course I went to a dance academy and attended speech- and drama classes.
In the Netherlands, like my sisters before me, I was lodged at my aunt’s in Amsterdam. Fifteen years earlier she had been delivered from the concentration camp Dachau near München by the Americans. Like us and many others in Surinam my aunt Bettina was a descendant of both slaves and slave keepers. The slave keepers were people from the Netherlands. Among them also were Jews who participated in this horrible practice.
Aunt Bettina had come already from Surinam to the Netherlands in the twenties of the last century, carrying with her not only her bags, but also the memories and lumber from her youth. She lost her mother when she was still very young, her father committed suicide and she was raped by her uncle, who said he would “take care” of the children. As HaShem wanted, these events empowered her. Bettina paved promising ways in the Netherlands for herself and for her younger sister and brother.
In an Amsterdam hospital where she had a job after her education, she got to know the handicapped dr. Bauten. After a while she came to look after him at home. Every weekday she took him to the Barlaeus College, where he taught English, in a kind of carrier cycle. They got married. Shortly before the times became harder by the negative wind that was blowing from Germany, her beloved husband passed away. My aunt got to know some people from the resistance movement and very soon eight Jewish people stayed in her house. She hid them in a hiding place between the two floors. Between the ground floor ceiling and the bottom of the first floor there was (and still is) a wide space that could be used for that purpose. The entrance to that hiding place was the corner closet in the front room.
Aunt Betty/Bettina was betrayed by neighbors. One night the police stood at her door. She was kicked down the stairs while they told her: “Do you think a Jew would do this for a nigger?” She was transported from one camp to another. But by the power and the will of the Lord she survived. She kept thinking of the little Bertie who had been in hiding at her house. She also kept thinking of his baby sister, for whom she had bravely pretended to be pregnant walking down the streets, so that the neighbors would not be alarmed when baby sounds would be heard from her house some time. Little Bertie has survived the war and years later he has found us again from Israël.
I wrote the book “The Memories Of Aunty Bettina” because I think of her as a brave woman. A woman who – out of her Jewish-Surinam identity – let herself be led by the power of the Lord and protected her people. Just like the midwives Shifra and Pua, Rachab the whore, and Esther in the citadel of Susan.
Betty Bergen was used
Her house became a refuge
It was written nowhere
But now proved forever.
People like Betty should always be present
She was a sharp and subtle instrument.
Book: ISBN 978-90-814172-2-8
Michal M.Bergen, Tante Bettina vertelt.