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Betty Straus, "Our Cabin"

Straus, Betty poem 1944
US Holocaust Memorial Museum

This poem was written by a young Dutch Jewish woman named Betty Straus (later Betty Cohen) while living underground with her brother and sister under German occupation in the Netherlands. Approximately 25,000 to 30,000 Dutch Jews responded to Nazi persecution by going into hiding, and approximately two-thirds of them survived the Holocaust.1 While the story of Anne Frank and her family has become well known, the Straus siblings had a much different experience. For example, unlike Frank, Betty and her family became separated from one another and had to use multiple hiding places.2

In spring 1940, German forces occupied the Netherlands and began implementing measures targeting Jews. The anti-Jewish actions of the German occupation authorities and their Dutch collaborators escalated quickly from registration and public identification to segregation and forced labor. In summer 1942, Nazi authorities ordered the deportation of Jews from the Netherlands to killing centers in German-occupied Poland. These deportations continued for over two years, mostly through the transit camp of Westerbork to Auschwitz and Sobibor. By the time these deportations stopped in fall 1944, over 100,000 Jews had been deported to their deaths from the German-occupied Netherlands.3

Betty was barely twenty years old when German forces invaded the Netherlands. The van Gessel family sheltered Betty and her sister for nearly a year, but the arrest of several friends hiding nearby compelled them to relocate. The young women were smuggled from one safehouse to another on a long and dangerous overnight bicycle journey as pouring rain helped keep them from being seen. Betty wrote this poem describing her second hiding place—the "cabin"—while she and her older brother and sister were living there. The three siblings spent fifteen months hiding in the small attic of the farmhouse belonging to the Garben family. Despite these close quarters, however, the poem describes a relatively normal life in which "we almost forget there is a war going on." As active members of the Dutch underground, the Garbens also briefly shared their hiding space with American pilots whose planes had been shot down and were evading capture by German forces. 

Although Betty's poem reveals the difficult conditions of their life underground, it also reflects the optimistic perspective of a young woman who expects to survive. Indeed, the Straus siblings were liberated in April 1945. Betty's parents, however, did not survive the war. They had been deported to their deaths at Auschwitz in 1943. Less than a quarter of Dutch Jews survived the Holocaust.

For a detailed breakdown of these numbers, and the high mortality rate of Dutch Jewry more generally, see Marnix Croes, "The Holocaust in the Netherlands and the rate of Jewish survival," Holocaust and Genocide Studies 20.3 (2006): 474–99.

For a quantitative analysis of hiding and survival in the Netherlands, see Marnix Croes, "The Netherlands 1942-1945: Survival in hiding and the hunt for hidden Jews," The Netherlands Journal of Social Sciences 40.2 (2004): 157–75.

For a qualitative analysis of hiding and its impact on children and young people, see Diane Wolf, Beyond Anne Frank: Hidden Children and Postwar Families in Holland (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007).

Josep Garben, one of the Straus's rescuers.

Betty's older brother.

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Our cabin two meters by one ten
To see it is special
There is room for three persons
You can sleep in it and if you have to you can live in it
The roof and three walls are made of straw
Very ingenious they have hidden the potty
An opening with cover in one of the walls
We can look through it
Through the opening, we also get air and light
Sometimes a moonbeam on our face
 
In the evening when the sun is down
We will get a ladder
One climbs up and prepares
And then we disappear before you know it
A voice from down below
Joep1 calls, "are you up?" "Yes," we answer all together
The last connection with below has been broken
And we are hidden upstairs
 
Like three toddlers good and correct
We lie next to each other in "bed"
If one wants to turn 
The others have to turn with
The turning hurts sometimes 
Sometimes you get hit or pushed 
You understand
The innocent person gets hit
 
Sometimes rats disturb us
They come running
But Harry2 pokes the straw with an iron stick
The rats frightened, run away
 
Even with all our worries
We sleep from evening till morning
When Joep comes to open the door
Our daily life continues
We spin wool and knit and eat well
We almost forget there is a war going on
We have to deal with the situation and keep our courage
We trust in God, one time all will be all right
To finish: our sincere prayer:
That a long lasting peace will come soon.

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
US Holocaust Memorial Museum
Accession Number 1995.A.0514.1
Date Created
April 9, 1944
Author / Creator
Staus, Betty
Language(s)
Dutch
Location
Azewijn, Netherlands
Document Type Poem
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