Dr. Hedwig C. Rose, Survivor and Scholar, Speaks at WVC

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Dr. Rose speaks at West Valley College.
Photo by DMG.

Some students cried. Everyone in the audience was impacted by Dr. Hedwig C. Rose’s presentation.

On Thursday 20 February 2014, Dr. Rose spoke about her experiences as a child in Amsterdam during Nazi Germany’s invasion and occupation of The Netherlands. The Netherlands had hoped to remain neutral during World War II, but on 15 May 1940, one day after the bombing of Rotterdam, Dutch forces were forced to surrender. Up to then, Dr. Rose was a happy and curious six year old Jewish child who enjoyed the closeness and warmth of her parents and her older sister. She was very excited about attending school and hoped to study, like her sister, Latin, Greek, other languages, literature, music, and history. She delighted in her toys, friends, and neighbors–until the Nazis arrived.

Then her father and her five uncles and their families were rounded up and taken away, never to be seen again. The last letter her family received from her father was from Auschwitz concentration camp in German-occupied Poland. Of the 107,000 Jews deported to camps, only 5,000 survived. Seventy-five per cent of The Netherland’s Jewish population were killed during Nazi occupation. That is, of the 140,000 Jews who lived in The Netherlands before 1940, only 30,000 survived the war. That is the highest death toll of any western European country.

Dr. Rose told her story, a story much like that of Anne Frank, one of the over one million Jewish children who died in the Holocaust–except that fortunately Dr. Rose survived. Dr. Rose, her mother and her sister went into hiding in a tiny secret compartment of the cellar of a store belonging to a family friend. The three of them huddled in silence, until at age eight, Dr. Rose awoke to find that her mother, lying next to her, had died during the night.

Subsequently, the Nazis imposed arbeitseinsatz, the drafting of civilian men (between the ages of 18 and 45) who were then forced to labor in German factories. The family hiding Dr. Rose and her sister had a young son, and thus he too had to huddle in the cellar compartment. The Germans cut off all food and fuel shipments; food was taken out of The Netherlands or gathered into distribution centers and then rationed. Dr. Rose and the family subsisted on sugar beets and tulip bulbs. During the height of this hunger, the Dutch famine–“hongerwinter“–of 1944-1945, hundreds of thousands became malnourished; 18,000 people starved to death.

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Victim of Hunger Winter in Nederland. Photo from the collection at the Dutch Resistance Museum.

Dr. Rose and her sister survived in that tiny space for three years until the country was liberated on 5 May 1945!

In 1947, Dr. Rose and her sister arrived at the home of their aunt and uncle in Rochester, New York, where they finished growing up. She attended the University of Rochester and received a bachelor’s degree from Cornell University, a master’s degree from Smith College, and a doctoral degree from the University of Massachusetts. Throughout her professional career, Dr. Rose focused on teacher preparation, comparative schooling, the philosophy and sociology of education, and on the First Amendment rights of teachers and students.

Today Dr. Rose is a well-known speaker, a frequent visiting scholar at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution (where she continues to research for her book on The Netherlands before and during World War II), a faculty member of the Global Citizenship Program at the Salzburg Global Seminar, the author of Freedom and Restraint in the Lives of American Teachers; she is working on a book titled Living the Life of Anne Frank: A Childhood in Hiding.

Dr. Rose stressed that in telling her story she hopes to convey not just that the scars of the Holocaust are visible and present today, but also that history is alive and sadly recurrent; the world is still experiencing genocide. She hopes that her story will enlighten many and perhaps even prompt some to act against injustice.

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Dr. Peter Rose, her husband, listens as she speaks. Dr. Peter Rose is Sophia Smith Professor of Sociology and Anthropology Emeritus at Smith College and author of many books, his latest being Postmonitions of a Peripatetic Professor.
Photo by DMG.

This entry composed by Dr. Dulce María Gray.

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