Today’s biography is a story of fatherly sacrifice.
Forgive me for this write-up being a little light on the photographs; the reality is that I don’t usually find the lovely family photos I found with the Streep and Barends family, but instead, I often end up piecing together various deteriorating, old ID photos to put together a victim’s story.
Emanuël Pimontel was born on 19 January 1890 in Amsterdam to Abraham and Judith Mullem. At the time of their marriage in 1879, both of Emanuël’s parents were diamond workers — yes, even Judith! Abraham is listed as a diamantslijper (diamond polisher) and Judith, a diamantsnijdster (diamond cutter). Neither Abraham nor Judith are registered in the main Dutch diamond union. However, the union did not become mainstream until the late 1890s, and it is possible that they worked in an area where they didn’t feel it was necessary (or were a part of a different union, or perhaps the paperwork did not survive until the present).
If you all did not know, diamond workers are my soft spot. If there is anything I love more than stumbling across women diamond workers, it is a diamond worker power couple.
Do you recognize any names on the Pimontel family’s population register?
As an author’s note: I almost abandoned writing about the Pimontel’s when I saw their address register because I thought that no one would believe me that I chose them in an entirely different way. It truly was not intentional to choose someone adjacent to the van Os family. The truth of the matter is that the Dutch diamond community was incredibly tight-knit; it is no surprise that the Pimontel and van Os families knew each other and lived in the same building. While Jewish communities historically tend to be relatively isolated from the general population, that was particularly true for the Dutch diamond community. The ages of the youngest van Os kids overlapped with the ages of the oldest Pimontel children, so they likely knew each other quite well and played with each other often.
The Pimontel family was part of the large Sephardic Jewish community in the Netherlands, often referred to as the “Portuguese Jews”. For those unaware of this community: at the end of the 15th century, a large group of Jews fleeing the Spanish Inquisition settled in the Netherlands, and thus, Amsterdam. The Dutch Sephardic Jewish community married freely within the Ashkenazi community, but the families retained Spanish surnames, their own synagogues, and customs.
Some digging in the local newspapers shows that the Pimontel family was a relatively quiet bunch — they never placed ads in the papers for life events; if they showed up in the papers, it was under the general sections for that day’s deaths or births.
Abraham and Judith had nine children that survived into adulthood: Isaac, Elias, Eva, Salomon, Hartog, Emanuel, Sara, Rachel, and Louis. Emanuël was the second-to-last of his siblings to marry when he married Esther Dreesde in 1898. Esther was the daughter of Joël Dreesde and Judith Hamburger. Esther’s father was also a diamond worker, like Abraham, which may be how the couple met.
Emanuël and Esther had a relatively quiet but happy life. The two addresses that the couple has paperwork for in Amsterdam are at Swammersdam 22 I and Ruijterweg 89 III.
Emanuël, like his father, was also a diamond worker. But, unlike his father, he was a registered and dues-paying union member.
Abraham Pimontel passed away on 25 January 1921, less than two weeks after Emanuël’s marriage. Later that same year, on 21 October, Emanuël and Esther welcomed a son named Abraham. As a note: every one of Abraham’s son’s named one of their sons Abraham. It is common, especially during this period, to name children for their grandparents, but I have to say I have never seen it on this level before; I have seen one or two grandsons with grandpa’s name, but never four born in quick succession. It speaks to what an excellent father Abraham must have been to his children.
More happiness was in store for the couple, and they welcomed their second and last child, Joël, three years later on 9 September 1924.
Like many diamond families, Esther and Emanuël frequently moved between Antwerpen and Amsterdam. In the late 1930’s, Esther, Emanuël, Abraham and Joël were registered at Dix Muidelaan 132 in Antwerpen. Funny enough, it is clear that the van Os and Pimontel families remained in contact, because Jacob van Os and Esther Caun also lived on Dix Muidelaan during this period.
And just like that, the German Occupation of Belgium and the Netherlands began in May 1940.
One comment that I did not add during Jacob’s write-up that is important to consider when thinking about Dutch Jews in Belgium: the beginning of the occupation was particularly painful for this group. The German invasion of the Netherlands caught almost the entire country by surprise, as their neutrality had been respected in the First World War. Dutch diamond workers in Antwerp had simply gone back to Amsterdam during the First World War and planned to do the same if another war broke out; Dutch Jews were counting on their nationality to protect them.
But when Germany invaded the Netherlands, that all went out the window. Dutch Jews likely knew what was coming and knew that there was little that they could do. Exactly two weeks after the Netherlands fell, Belgium fell. Dutch Jews had nowhere to run.
So on 28 May 1940, hell began for the Pimontel family at Dix Muidelaan 132 in Berchem, Antwerpen.
The first signs of the Reich’s influence can be seen on Emanuël union membership card, which notes that he lapsed on his union dues in July 1940.
The next member of the Pimontel family to show up in Reich-era paperwork is their oldest son, Abraham, in November 1941: he was registered in an “Intelligence Bulletin Regarding Aliens”. Abraham was living with his parents at Dixmuidelaan 132 and reported that he had lived in Belgium continuously since 1935. It notes that he carries identity papers numbered 11619 that are valid until 22 October 1942.
Unfortunately, no one in the Pimontel family would have any use for ID papers by October 1942.
In the last week of August 1942, Nazi officials sent a round of work notices to the Jewish community in Belgium. We know that about 800 Jews who received these notices complied and reported to Mechelen “willingly”. We also know that another 200 were forcibly arrested and brought to Mechelen for refusing to comply with their deportation notice.
Esther, Emanuël, and Joël were among this group. It is unclear if they appeared willingly or if they were forcibly arrested. However, the fact that their oldest son, Abraham, was missing from this deportation (and thus did not arrive with his family to Mechelen) makes me think that the Pimontel family were most likely among the arrested. The family would have gotten in trouble for showing up with their oldest son missing.
The trio was registered for Transport VI on 21 August 1942. One more thing to note: on the attached deportation list, Cato Caun and her husband, Jacob van Rijn, were registered directly before Emanuël and Esther. Cato Caun is Esther Caun’s niece, the daughter of her brother, Joseph. Emanuël and Jacob are the only diamond workers on the page; the couples were likely arrested together and probably knew each other quite well (and this does further suggest that they were part of the 200 arrested during the raid). Further supporting the arrest theory is that Cato and Jacob had a son a bit older than Abraham, and he also was not on this transport (he was, however, eventually arrested and unfortunately perished).
One more unfortunate reality that Dutch Jews in Belgium faced: in the early years of the war, the Reich had agreed to only deport foreign Jews and promised Belgian officials that they would not deport Jews with Belgian citizenship. In reality, this wasn’t followed very strictly, as a Jew was a Jew to Nazi officials, but it did mean that the Dutch Pimontel family had an additional target on their back as they were Dutch citizens, not Belgian.
Transport VI departed Mechelen on 29 August 1942 and was bound for Auschwitz. There were exactly 1,000 people on-board, all of whom were seated in third-class passenger cars (not cattle cars). Only 11 deportees were over the age of 60, meaning that the average age of this transport skewed relatively young. Before boarding, deportees had been ordered to hand over their valuables: gold, cash, diamonds, pens, and other objects. The Gestapo reportedly beat some people for refusing to give up their valuables. Identity papers, like the ones we have record of Abraham carrying, were also seized and destroyed.
Transport VI traveled for two days until it stopped on 31 August 1942 in Cosel, which is located approximately 100 kilometers away from Auschwitz.
The Belgian government declared that Emanuël and Joël’s fate is “unable to be determined.” However, I think their fate is crystal clear if you look at the Pimontel family as humans rather than as data points.
At Cosel, the SS ordered all men between the ages of 15 and 50 off the train. Joël, Emanuël and Esther’s youngest son, was 17. Emanuël was 52 and thus was not forced to disembark the train.
We know that the van Rijn son, who would have been about Joël’s age, was not on the train. This means that Joël likely did not know anyone who was disembarking at Cosel. Based on the photo of Abraham at the age of 20, I think it is safe to say that Joël was unlikely able to pass as a 14-year-old when he was nearly 18 (unfortunately, no photo of Joël seems to have survived).
If you are Emanuël, do you let your youngest son leave the train entirely alone, in the chaos of whips, German shepherds, and SS men? Or do you lie about your age, tell the SS you are 49 or 50, and disembark with him?
A survivor from this transport, Nathan Ramat, got off the train at Cosel. He reported that his 56 year-old father, Judka, also disembarked the train at Cosel as he refused to let his young son face the unknown alone.
I think it is impossible that Emanuël, who, as of the late 1930’s, looked relatively young for his age, stayed on the train. I am confident that both men disembarked at Cosel. Esther likely even encouraged Emanuël to go with Joël, telling him that her and Cato van Rijn-Caun could handle things on their own (I think it is much more unclear if Jacob van Rijn, at the age of 49, disembarked at Cosel as his sister and older brother-in-law were also on this transport. Either way, Esther would have had Cato van Rijn-Caun with her on the train, and thus, she would not have been alone).
Emanuël made the largest possible sacrifice for his son: at the age of 52, Emanuël could have assumed that he would have been spared hard labor at their final destination, especially if they only wanted men between the ages of 15–50 at Cosel. Whether the Pimontel family believed that they were “resettling in the East” or thought they were facing imminent death, Emanuël chose the more difficult path regardless: if you are going to die, why choose the most painful, drawn-out way possible? If he thought the work would be easier than it was, he still knew that it would be much more difficult for him at 52 than for his 17-year-old son. If he was not worried about death at his final destination, he still chose heavy labor over what may have been a less difficult existence in some ghetto, or whatever fate the deportees believed awaited them in Poland.
Furthermore, while their identity papers were seized, and thus, it was easier for Emanuël to lie about his age at this stage, he was still risking getting caught and whatever punishment that would bring from the SS.
Of course, this was also a sacrifice made by Esther in many ways: being an unaccompanied woman during the war was dangerous. While she was likely not alive for much longer after the train’s stop in Cosel, she had no idea what awaited her at her destination and very well could have put herself in an incredibly vulnerable situation.
Assuming I am correct about both men departing the train at Cosel, they next boarded a truck to the Groß-Rosen concentration camp in modern-day Rogoźnica, Poland. From here, many of the “Cosel group” deportees were transferred to Babitz and Klein Mangersdorf labor camps, where they constructed the Berlin-Breslau-Krakow Reichsbahn. Some men eventually ended up in Warsaw in 1943 to clean up the remains of the ghetto, and others ended up at Auschwitz satellite camps; the aforementioned survivor, Nathan Ramat, and his father Judka ended up at the Auschwitz satellite camp of Trzebinia, where Judka perished.
Unfortunately, neither Joël nor Emanuël survived the war. Deportees were more likely to survive if they disembarked at Cosel (rather than at Auschwitz), but the odds were still abysmal: there are 35 survivors from this entire transport, and every single one of them were men who got off at Cosel.
Emanuël likely perished at a labor camp in Silesia (i.e., Groß-Rosen, Babitz, Klein Mangersdorf, or Trzebinia) in late 1942 or early 1943, and Joël likely passed some time in 1943. However, Joël could have perished as late as 1945 — unfortunately, there is rarely documentation for the Cosel groups due to the nature of the Silesia labor camps.
As for Esther and Abraham: Esther arrived at Auschwitz a few hours after Emanuël and Joël disembarked. She was undoubtedly gassed upon arrival, making her date of death 31 August 1942.
Abraham is a little more difficult to solve: the Belgian government also declared that his fate is “unable to be determined.” I will say that they are not wrong; Abraham’s path is tricky.
Abraham is registered as entering Mechelen on 29 October 1942 and was assigned to Transport XVI.
756 deportees on this transport had been previously arrested at the beginning of June and were sent to France, where they worked in various labor camps for Organization Todt.
When I’ve worked with this transport in the past, I have found that Nazi officials clearly notated which deportees came from the Organization Todt group. I do not see any indication of that on Abraham’s card. However, “his” section of the deportation list (which is also the registration order) strongly suggests that he was among this group: every deportee on this page is a foreign male of working-age with no listed spouse. Therefore, it is safe to assume that Abraham was probably arrested in June 1942 and had been at various forced labor camps in northern France since then.
The problem with determining Abraham’s fate comes with the nature of this deportation.
We know that when Transport XVI arrived at Auschwitz on 3 November, it had only 822 of the registered 999 deportees on-board. This train did not stop in Cosel like Emanuël and Joël’s transport, thus the missing deportees cannot be attributed to the Silesian labor camps.
The SS’s organizational flaw was that they put over 700 young men on the same transport without their wives or parents. These were over 700 men who already had a taste of concentration camp life and had good reason to fear what awaited them. Over 700 men whose families were likely already deported, and thus, the SS had over 700 men, who had absolutely nothing to lose, on a single transport. Contrary to popular belief, rumors of the death camps had spread rapidly among Jewish circles since the start of the war; refugees who managed to escape Poland all brought stories of the ghettos, concentration camps, and gas chambers with them to the West. To this day, you can dig through old newspaper archives in the USA and find articles about Auschwitz, dating as early as 1941, without any difficulty.
When you put over 700 men, who have already suffered abuse at the hands of the SS for five months, on one congested transport, the results are predictable: chaos. This is particularly true when these 700-plus men are single, or have good reason to think that their wives and children have already been murdered.
We don’t know much about this mini-revolt as it often gets overshadowed by the chaos surrounding Transport XX (which I will eventually document, I promise). However, we know that the break happened before the train crossed the Belgian-German border, thus meaning that many of the escapees were on their home turf when they broke free.
We know that there were 177 escapees. By the end of the war, 69 of the escapees had been rearrested and appeared on later Mechelen transports. The remaining 108 deportees remain unaccounted for and their fates are unclear. Some escapees likely survived the war and never spoke of their experience on Transport XVI; others may have died in partisan activities or were killed in another way during the war. The possibilities are endless.
There are three major options for Abraham’s fate, and you are free to believe the one that you think is the most likely:
a) Abraham, being among the youngest deportees on this transport, participated in the rebellion and escape. While there is no documentation of SS guards shooting or chasing those who jumped from the train, I think we can all agree it is inevitable that they did. The SS almost always reported shooting one or two deportees who attempted to escape on transport, and it is unlikely that Transport XVI was any different. Thus, it is possible Abraham died trying to escape or in the immediate aftermath: he could have been shot while jumping from the train, or he could have sustained a fatal injury during the jump. Locals would have discovered his body near the tracks and promptly buried him, likely in an unmarked grave.
b) Abraham successfully escaped from the train and operated underground in Belgium. He could have been killed while acting as a member of the resistance, or maybe he entered hiding and was later discovered by the SS who chose to execute him on the spot rather than deport him. These types of deaths rarely leave us with any documentation, especially if Abraham was using false papers to move around Belgium.
c) there is an error (and believe me, there are so many errors in the post-war research that this is far from impossible) and Abraham was among those who arrived in Auschwitz. Abraham may have been in such poor shape after his time the French labor camp that he was gassed upon arrival (which leaves no records), or perhaps he was chosen for labor and perished in Auschwitz. Not everyone who passes selection has surviving records.
I want to emphasize that the Belgian government is correct in that determining Abraham’s fate is just about impossible. I think it is most likely that Abraham was killed shortly after his escape, either due to an injury he sustained or because the SS shot him. It is possible that Abraham knew that his family had been already deported, but it is equally possible that he had no clue. I believe if Abraham had survived the escape, he would have been among those eventually rearrested because he would have presumably attempted to make his way back to Antwerpen to warn his family about what awaited them.
Yet, you could equally assume that if he knew his family had already been deported, Abraham would have been more inclined to stay on the train in hopes that he would see them at his destination. However, knowing 21-year-old men, I think that is incredibly unlikely, especially considering Abraham, by this point, had already had a taste of German forced labor camps and likely had no desire to experience any more.
I do have one wrench to throw into your theories: Abraham’s cousin, Samson Pimontel, was on Transport XVII. Transport XVI and XVII was a joint transport that departed together on the same date. Samson also appears to have been part of the Organization Todt group from France, based on his transport’s demographics. We know 559 of the 938 deportees on Transport XVII were from the Organization Todt group, so Samson, who was 23-years-old and single, was likely among them. It is also possible that Samson and Abraham were initially arrested together in June 1942 and eventually were separated over the course of their time in France. The question here is: did Abraham and Samson know that they were on the same train?
If Abraham knew that Samson was on this transport, does it make it more likely that he actually did arrive in Auschwitz? We know that Samson did not escape: Samson was assigned prisoner number 72730 at Auschwitz, which would have been tattooed on his arm. Samson is mentioned in records that were kept by fellow prisoners in Auschwitz; these records were eventually smuggled out of the camp and sent to Krakow, where they were archived, meaning that these records are accurate. Samson is registered in the hospital block book (barrack 28), which primarily consisted of prisoners diagnosed with dysentery during this era. Later, Samson also appears in the “Leichenhalle,” or mortuary book, with his date of death notated as 11 December 1942.
Were Abraham and Samson separated on the transport, perhaps on purpose? Were they unaware of each other? Did the two men know and decide to stay on-board together? Or did Abraham escape, assuming that Samson would do the same?
Unfortunately, these mysteries are unlikely to be solved. I believe it is most likely that Abraham’s body is in a shallow grave near the train tracks, close to where the rebellion broke out.
So that is the story of the Pimontel family of Amsterdam, a family that the Belgian and Dutch governments had declared “too difficult” to determine their fates accurately. Per usual, I disagree.
One of the most significant flaws of the post-war tracing services is that they treated each victim’s name as a data point and not as a person. However, to understand the Holocaust and to understand its victims, you have to analyze their entire lives beyond the war: their professions, social circles, and economic circumstances all influence their fate. You have to consider that these victims were humans with emotions and that they made decisions based upon these emotions; yes, on paper, Emanuël and Joël both hover near the “age cut-off” for the Cosel laborers, which makes it difficult to determine their fates at first glance. Yet when you consider their relationships and emotions, the choice Emanuël made on the train that day becomes incredibly obvious.
As always, thank you for reading.
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