At age four, Leo Ullman ’57 was living in hiding from Nazi soldiers, after Germany had invaded the Netherlands.
In front of an Andover audience last Friday, Ullman, a survivor of the Holocaust, held a genuine Jewish star that his father wore during World War II. Ullman shared stories of courage and fear from his time living in secrecy and reflected on how his childhood in Nazi-occupied Holland has shaped his life.
Ullman is the author of “From a Hidden Child in Occupied Amsterdam to a ‘Preppy’ at Andover—Surviving the Holocaust,” which chronicles his experiences during the Nazi invasion and occupation of the Netherlands.
Ullman grew up in a Jewish household in Amsterdam. His parents worked at retail shops and department stores such as Macy’s until 1940, when German soldiers invaded Holland.
He said there was initially a common belief that the war would be short and tolerable. Regulations under the German occupation, however, became increasingly harsh.
“We [the Jews] were not allowed to use public transportation, we were not allowed to own or use cars, bicycles or radios, we could not shop in regular stores, we could not attend regular public schools and ultimately, we were not allowed to own gold, silver, and jewelry—all of which [if discovered] were delivered to the Germans,” he said.
Ullman’s parents obtained fake identification cards from a German relative in order to conceal their Jewish identity. “At one point [during the war] all [Jewish] women were required to use the first name Sarah, and all men used the name Israel,” he recalled.
Fearing rising Nazi influence, Ullman’s parents sent him away to a foster family, whom they met through a local German minister. Ullman primarily attributed his survival of the Holocaust to the benevolence of his host family and neighbors who aided him.
Ullman and his family emigrated to the United States in November of 1947 by using a cash payment his father had received when a department store he had worked for went out of business. He got a job at a textile factory in Andover, Mass.
Ullman initially attended public school in Andover. After a few years, a family friend visited the family and suggested that Ullman’s parents send him to a boarding school, Phillips Academy in particular.
Ullman also discussed how his wartime experience reshaped his religious convictions.
“Many survivors from the war who immigrated to America ultimately ended up abandoning the Jewish belief. I think that most of them were very disappointed and felt disavowed by their Jewish god,” said Ullman.
He and his family followed suit, moving away from their Jewish heritage.
“Many survivors of the Holocaust still feel guilty. Many, if not most, of the survivors in hiding were able to afford for supplies due to support given by others. We were ultimately saved by many people who were gentiles and who risked their lives to save us and others like us,” said Ullman.
Ellie Simon ’15, a member of the audience, said, “I think that hearing the story from a first-person perspective brought me out of myself into a deeper mindset. I think that it was incredible that he had the genuine Jewish star, and [seeing the star] impacted the audience very strongly.”
After graduating from Andover, Ullman went on to attend Harvard and Columbia Universities and served in the U.S. Marines. He has committed his life to business, civil service and philanthropy.
Ullman provided the funding for the series of “Ullman Lectures,” which brought distinguished speakers to Andover to address topics about cultural tolerance. Most recently, he donated the Steinway piano in Cochran Chapel.
“I am so impressed by what I’ve seen in this school, such as the commitment to art and music—it is just phenomenal. I think that the socializing effect of having girls in class and in school has made a tremendously favorable development for the school. I think the school is just terrific,” added Ullman in an interview with The Phillipian. In honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day, Ullman’s visit was sponsored by the Office of Academy Resources, the CAMD Office and the Jewish Student Union.