Someone was pounding on the door, and when she peeked out her attic room window, Carla Andriesse realized her worst fears had come true. Gestapo agents were coming for her husband, Andre. "You cannot go to the synagogue," she told him. "I have to go," he said, "because the community counts on me." Several hours later, Andre Andriesse, a cantor for a synagogue in the city of Enschede in Nazi-occupied Holland, was captured by the Gestapo while leading a prayer service for the upcoming holiday, Rosh Hashanah.
He and the other men with him were marched into the street that day, Sept. 14, 1941, a day that burns in his wife's memory. Clutching their 2-year old daughter she watched him being led away."I never saw him again," Carla Schipper, now 91, recalled in an interview Tuesday [in 2008] in her Mandarin home.
She survived World War II, married another Holocaust survivor, Bernie Schipper, and moved to America.
"On Wooden Wheels" written by Stacey Goldring, tells the story of how Schipper hid herself and her children during the war, with the help of strangers."You can learn perseverance from Carla," said Goldring, also of Mandarin. "You can learn endurance and strength." Her story "helps you see the bigger picture, that your problems are not insurmountable. Once you know someone like Carla, you realize your own problems are quite small."'
Born Aug. 13, 1917, in Groningen, Holland, Carla was the only child of Joseph and Johanna Nathans. She trained to become a nurse after high school, and after marrying Andre in 1938 and the birth of their daughter Channa in July 1939, she looked forward to a comfortable life as wife and mother.
Life was good for the Andriesses in Enschede, a big city close to the German border, where they lived in a spacious house next to the synagogue. But the Germans invaded Holland in May 1940. Soldiers were everywhere, food became scarce and some Jews were evicted from their homes. Then in February 1941, soldiers bearing bayonets came to their door, confronted Andre, and demanded to be taken to the synagogue. Suspecting they wanted the Torah, Andre stalled for time, and Carla scurried with the baby up to the icy, snowy roof to hide.
After what seemed hours of dodging searchlights, she heard her husband call softly, "We have to get out of here." The Germans had left suddenly, taking only jewels and their baby's carriage, but the Andriesses feared they'd be back. Some friends took them into their home, and let them live in their attic room, where they stayed until the Gestapo came for Andre.
When the Nazis ordered the synagogue president and members to come to their headquarters so they could relate what happened to all the men they'd rounded up, Carla refused to go."I'm a very religious person. God was with me at that moment," she said.
God's presence was "what I lived by, and still live by," said Carla, who discovered she was pregnant shortly after learning her husband had died in Mauthausen on Oct. 17.
Her mother had died several years earlier, but her father came to see her in April 1942 when her daughter was born. Her father named the baby Jedidjah, meaning "beloved by G-d" in Hebrew. Soon after, he was captured and taken to the concentration camp Auschwitz, where he died.
"They were starting to take women," Carla said. "And I didn't want to be caught." When Carla heard of a Lutheran minister who helped Jews, she went to see him, and he found a family to take little Channa."I had to bring my daughter to a train station and give her to someone I'd never seen in my life," Carla said. "I was not told where she was going. I didn't know if I'd ever see her again."
Several weeks later, a couple from a rural hamlet offered to take Jedidjah and reluctantly let Carla come along to live in their farmhouse in Merle. Carla soon realized they only wanted her baby. She had to stay in a small upstairs room, where for two years she had nothing to do day after day. Subsisting mostly on rye porridge, she became weak and ill, and wasn't permitted to see Jedidjah, because the couple kept her downstairs to raise as their own daughter. "They were afraid of the Nazis, because hiding Jews put them in danger", Carla said. "I was going crazy". Her husband gone, separated from her kids, "I wanted to go to the camps," she said. "I didn't have any reason to be alive anymore."
But the kindness of others gave her the will and strength to survive. When the farm couple left town for several days to attend a wedding, they sent Carla to stay with a nearby sheriff and his wife. To her surprise, she was greeted with open arms, showered with kindness and cookies, and told that if she ever needed their help again, she could count on it. "That sustained me to the end of the war," she said.
After returning to the farm couple, who helped her get a false identification card, they told her she'd have to go, and leave her baby behind. She found shelter in a city in the center of Holland, where she was supposed to work as a maid, but she was so weak and sick she couldn't work for long. A sympathetic doctor helped her get well, people in a soup kitchen fed her and she decided to go back to the sheriff and his wife, so she could be near her baby again. She found a truck going in the direction of Merle, hitched a ride, and was almost captured by the Gestapo at the entrance to a bridge.When they asked for her identification card, she spoke to them in German, which her mother had taught her, and they let her go."That was my great luck," she said.
So was reaching the sheriff's house. After the truck ride, she walked for hours, rang the sheriff's bell, and was greeted by the "highly pregnant" sheriff's wife, who, knowing Carla was a nurse, told her she'd been "sent by G-d." Carla helped deliver the baby and stayed with the couple for several weeks, until it became too dangerous. She then went to hide with a nearby farmer, who had a radio, and learned that the Germans were close to defeat and the war was ending.
But when she went to get her baby back, the couple said they were keeping her. In the chaos of those postwar days, Carla decided to go to Enschede to appeal to the minister who had originally helped her, and sought a way to get there."The Germans had taken all the rubber from bicycle wheels," she said. "Somehow I got a bicycle with wooden wheels."
After the minister convinced the couple to give Jedidjah back, Carla was also reunited with Channa, who'd been cared for by a couple in another town.
After marrying Bernie Schipper, who'd survived the war by hiding in a barn, they had a daughter, Ruth, and then moved to the United States in 1953. In 1957, their son Jonathan was born, with Downs Syndrome. When doctors advised Carla to put Jonathan in an institution, she refused.
Carla, who was widowed in June, still talks to her son, now 51, every week on the phone. He graduated from school, lives in a special home in New York and has a job in a workshop for people with disabilities. Channa and Ruth also live in New York, Jedidjah lives in Israel and Carla has many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She travels to schools, libraries and special events to tell her story. She hopes people learn from her story about endurance, persistence, hope and faith. "Her survival is miraculous....She's a very positive person," said friend, Rosalina Platzer. "She's an affirmation of life."
"On Wooden Wheels" by Stacey Goldring is available at AllbookStores