The extract below is from my book Ajax, The Dutch, The War (2003). It’s an interview with the former Israeli referee Abraham Klein, at his house in Haifa in 1999. It seemed quite relevant this week.
“I will tell you something,” says Klein, after we have been drinking cognac in a fairly pleasant atmosphere for an hour. “I have spent a year in Holland, when I was thirteen years old. I was coming from Romania and Hungary on my way to Israel, in a train full of children, and on the way I spent a year at school in Apeldoorn. In 1947.”
Klein didn’t tell me the background, and I didn’t feel I could ask. However, years later he explained to the Guardian journalist Rob Smyth that he had spent the war in his hometown of Timisoara in Rumania, living with his mother, her parents and her six sisters in a two-room apartment. His father had left Rumania in 1937. Many of Klein’s relatives were killed in the camps, but the boy and his mother survived. After the war he was one of 500 starving children put on a train to Holland to fatten up. The train journey took three weeks. Parents—those who had survived, anyway—were not allowed to come.
Klein told me, “If you live in a country for a year, just after the war, and they treat you in the best way, then you have special feelings for that country. I don’t think people knew this story when I was in Argentina for the World Cup. Nobody knows it. Not even the people of Holland.”
“Why not?” “Nobody asked me.” Klein has a lump in his throat. “Every time when I am in Holland,
I visit Apeldoorn. Apeldoorn was a place for me—and not only for me, for five hundred children—if you are starving, and you come into a free country, with no Germans, where the people are nice to you. . . . I can remember our first meal, we arrived in Apeldoorn around lunchtime, I don’t know when we had last eaten soup and meat. They gave us bread, we ate all the bread, and they said, ‘Don’t eat it all, be- cause you are getting potatoes and meat.’ I learned Dutch, of course, a little.” After Apeldoorn he joined his parents in Israel.