Walter Suskind was a Jewish businessman who was forced to manage a Nazi deportation center in Amsterdam and used his position to save hundreds of children.
Born in 1906, Walter was a successful businessman and patron of the arts in Westphalia, Germany. Rising anti-Jewish persecution in Germany caused Walter, his wife Johanna and daughter Yvonne to flee to Amsterdam in 1938. Charismatic and highly intelligent, Walter made many friends in Holland and became a respected leader of the Jewish community.
Germany occupied the Netherlands in 1940 . Walter was forced by the Nazis to manage the Hollandse Schouwburg, a Dutch theater that was converted into a deportation center for Dutch Jews. Fluent in German, Walter formed close relationships with German authorities and earned their trust. They had no idea that he was actually working with the Dutch resistance, falsifying lists and created fake identity documents to help Jews escape deportation. He was especially focused on saving Jewish children. Upon arrival at the deportation center, children were separated from their parents and placed in a “nursery” across the street. Along with other brave members of the resistance, Walter set up a system to rescue children by taking them through the nursery garden to a nearby school building late at night. From there, the children were smuggled out of Amsterdam in shopping carts, laundry baskets, or even backpacks and transported by train to the countryside. Walter used his large network of friends and business associates to find safe havens for the youngsters with Dutch farming families. Incredibly, through Walter’s tireless efforts approximately 600 Jewish children were saved.
In 1944, Walter and his family were sent to the Westerbork transit camp and later to Auschwitz, where Johanna and Yvonne perished. As Soviet troops closed in on Auschwitz in early 1945, the Nazis forced Walter and 60,000 other prisoners onto death marches to more remote camps. Anybody who fell behind was shot by the SS, and thousands more died of hypothermia or starvation. Sadly, Walter did not survive the march and died somewhere in central Europe in February, 1945.
A Dutch movie about Walter Suskind was released in 2012 and his story was also told in multiple books. For saving the lives of 600 children – and their many thousands of descendants – we honor Walter Suskind as this week’s Thursday Hero.
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