Holocaust Commemoration Speaker Leo Ullman ’57 Discusses His Family’s Sacrifices for Survival

After Canadian coalitions liberated the Netherlands, two people rang the doorbell at the Amsterdam house where Leo Ullman ’57 spent years hiding during World War II. Ullman did not recognize the figures, and was shocked when they revealed themselves to be his parents. After spending years apart, Ullman and his parents were reunited through the help of the Dutch Resistance, a secret partnership that gathered intelligence from allies.

Ullman returned to Andover to speak about his experiences as a survivor of the Holocaust last Friday, during a presentation in Kemper Auditorium in honor of the Holocaust Commemoration Day. He described how his family decided to go into hiding after his father received labor camp summons in July of 1942. His parents placed him in the care of the Schimmel family–complete strangers who acted as guardian “war parents.” Ullman’s own parents hid in the attic of an apartment building of his mother’s welfare client.

“My parents had a very difficult time when they were hiding. I never knowingly suffered. I ate tulip bulbs and sugar beets and thought they tasted fine. My war father had a girlfriend who was a German woman and worked in a bar in Amsterdam. As a result of that, we were able to get some food here and there and also we learned when there would be raids because she consorted with a lot of German soldiers,” said Ullman.

Ullman continued, “In the meantime, there were raids where my parents were hiding. They were in this attic room without heat or light, with no electricity. Amsterdam gets cold in the winter. It was very, very difficult. They couldn’t move. They lived in that hiding place for two years. The utter terror that they must have experienced cannot be recreated. I don’t care what movie you go to, or what book you read, the idea that every single footstep outside, that every motorized vehicle, anything could be the end of your life. To live like that every day, meanwhile not [having] food, not [having] contacts, not [knowing] if your son was alive.”

Ullman recounted how the Nazis had subjugated Amsterdam’s Jewish population through various decrees that restricted their agency. According to Ullman, his mother said that the occupation caused the Jewish people to live like rats.

“The decrees became really bad one the Dutch people had a general strike. It was the first and only strike during the Second World War by any country in support of the Jews in their respective country… We were not allowed to go in public transportation. We were not allowed to have bicycles, cars, motorcycles, anything that would carry us around. We were not allowed to be public parks. We could not go to public restaurants. We had to go to our own schools. All Jewish persons lost their jobs unless they were working by themselves. Anyone over the age of six had to wear a Jewish star. We could only go to certain stores at certain times. We were not allowed to go to theaters,” said Ullman.

During his time as the president of the Anne Frank Center in the United States, Ullman worked alongside a past Financial Director of the Anne Frank House in Holland. One day, the Financial Director presented Ullman with an envelope which contained five pages of the Anne Frank diary. These pages were entrusted to him by Otto Frank, and were never released alongside copies of the books.

Ullman said, “The five pages involved Anne Frank describing her sexual awakening. [She] described her hatred, which may be exaggerated, of her mother and father, but especially her mother. Frank didn’t want this to diminish the value and the significance of the diary. These pages were bought by the Dutch government… the pages now belong to the Netherlands National Holocaust Research Institute. They are not in the Anne Frank house, but they were all authenticated. Any edition of the diary you buy now has the five pages.”

Karin Ulanovsky ’20, President of the Andover Jewish Student Union, emphasized how stories of survivors impacted her personal understanding of the Holocaust.

“I mean, for me personally, a lot of my family are Holocaust survivors. They lived in the Soviet Union during the occupation, in Ukraine specifically. A lot of my family died during the Holocaust. So you think you’re desensitized to the issue, but every story is so different, and just hearing someone talk about their experience and especially hearing someone talk about their experience who came to Andover is very unique. Seeing how their Jewish identity formed her was very impactful for me,” said Ulanovsky.

Attendee Hayden Best ’21 underscored the importance of preserving the legacy of survivors by ensuring that people continue to honor their memory and perspectives.

“I think that the best thing for us to do, because obviously as time progresses we lose a lot of the pieces of the survivors and these amazing perspectives. I think the best thing we can do is study for ourselves and delve deeper in to the history of what happened during the Holocaust. I think that if we are really going to preserve the memory of what happened then the task is our own to undertake to make sure that we preserve that history,” said Best.