Timpson Resident Hans Polk Shares His Holocaust Survival Story at TAGHS Meeting

August 19, 2016 - A capacity crowd of Timpson Area Genealogical and Heritage Society members and guests were held spellbound for an hour last Wednesday as Timpson resident Hans Polk recounted the story of his Holocaust survival. Born into a Jewish family in Amsterdam in 1937, Hans Polk was three years old when the Nazis invaded The Netherlands in 1940. Soon thereafter the persecution of Dutch Jews started, beginning with a requirement that all Jews wear a Star of David on their clothing, followed by  prohibitions against attending public events, shopping at non-Jewish stores, and employment in certain occupations. Polk's father, David, was fired from his job in the Mayor of Amsterdam's office for being Jewish.  By 1943 the Polks knew what was coming and made a secret arrangement with a non-Jewish family next door to hide the Polk's only child, Hans, from the Nazi's when they came to arrest them. On June 20, 1943 Hans' parents handed their six-year-old son across the fence to the care of their neighbors just prior to their arrest. He never saw his parents again.

Hans lived with the neighbors for a while, but since they were risking their lives by hiding him, they sent him to an orphanage run by Jews dressed as priests and nuns. Hans was eventually adopted out of the orphanage by a Dutch family but after the war ended  he was sent to a facility for Jewish boys. From there he was sent to Israel in 1948, where at age 11, he fought in the war to establish the Jewish nation. Polk said that he disliked Israel and returned to The Netherlands when he could. He immigrated to the United States in 1956 where he became a citizen, married an American Catholic, and raised a family, eventually converting to Catholicism himself.  Following the death of his first wife, Polk married a woman who had ties to the Timpson area, which brought them here.

Hans Polk now knows his parents' fate. Following their arrest, they were sent to the Sobibor Prison Camp in Poland where his research of Nazi documents reveals they were executed soon after their arrival. Polk said that Sobibor had no cremation ovens as some other camps had, so the bodies of those executed there were burned in the open air. “The Germans kept perfect records” he said as he shared copies of those containing his parents' names with the TAGHS audience.

Polk asked attendees to close their eyes and imagine their homes and families, what they had done that morning, and all that they hold dear and familiar. “I am here to tell you that you can lose it all,” he warned. “No one knew the depth of Hitler's hatred for the Jews when he came to power.”  Polk continued that genocide did not end with the Nazis and World War II. It continues up to the present day in the Middle East and Africa. Unless we are vigilant, it could happen here he cautioned.

TAGHS meets at 2PM on the third Wednesday of each month in the Meeting Room of the Timpson Public Library, located on the corner of Austin and Bremond streets. The public is invited.