It was 10 years ago today that my grandmother's cousin, Bertram Polak, was memorialized with a Stolpersteine in from front of his childhood home in Tilburg.
In 2010 my genealogy research was focused on my Dutch ancestors and their descendants. Of all of my ancestral branches, they were and still are the easiest to deal with as Dutch authorities did not destroy Jewish records and my ancestors lived in the Netherlands at least as far back as the 1600's. Back then my primary source of information was a site called Dutchjewry.org which had not only indexed records but user submitted family trees which is how I found the site. In the course of my research I came across another site called Joodsmonument.nl which is the digital monument to the more than 104,000 Dutch victims of the Holocaust. When I first started using the site you could connect relatives to each other and add connecting relatives if needed. One such group of family members I did this with was my maternal grandmother's father's family. While I was doing this I noticed another user whose name I did not recognize had added information about my grandmother's uncle Max Henri so I sent them a message asking who they were. The answer I got would lead to one of the more interesting adventures of my life. The person who posted information about my 2nd great uncle was a history professor from the University of Tilburg by the name of Arnoud-Jan Bijsterveld who a number of years prior had bought Max's house. Over time he had heard stories about Jewish family who built the house and being a historian began researching the history of the house, the family, and the family business. The timing of my message to him couldn't have been more perfect as the week before he had begun searching for my family to get in contact with us as he had planned to have a Stolpersteine installed in Bertram's memory in the sidewalk in front of his house and needed the consent of his relatives. This began a multiple month's long process of stories and arrangements going back and forth with various family members.
In April of 2011 family members from the US, Israel and other parts of Holland descended upon the town of Tilburg for a weekend of not only memorializing Bertram but also remembering other family members who were no longer with us. The agenda for included a visit to the cemetery, our ancestral synagogue, a tour of both my great and 2nd great grandparents homes, and dinner at a restaurant which occupied the space where my great grandfather's hide tanning business was located.
In 2012 a documentary film was released - Here was Bertram - and expands upon what I talked about above. Additionally, Arnoud-Jan wrote a book, House of Memories, about his work with contributions from me and my extended family.
Bertram was born on March 29, 1918 to Max Henri (Hans) Polak (2/1/1888 Tilburg - 11/12/1942 New York) and his first wife Bertha Cohen (5/18/1895 Groningen - 10/16/1933 Tilburg) in Tilburg. He was their first born, and the second grandchild of my 2nd great grandparents Barend Polak (12/29/1848 Dordrecht - 9/26/1929 Tilburg) and Albertina Levy (10/19/1852 Duisburg - 3/15/1933 Tilburg.)
Bertram, and his three full sisters, grew up two doors down from my grandmother's family and the two families did almost everything together. When the Nazi's invaded the Netherlands he was in the army and was unable to meet up with the rest of the family as they escaped Europe. Eventually Bertram made it back to Tilburg and went into hiding. He was however eventually betrayed by those hiding him and was sent to Scheveningen. In December of 1941 his father Max, through the Joint Distribution Committee, attempted to get his son to New York, but by then he was already in Auschwitz and by the time everything came together in 1942, Bertram had been murdered that August. In November of that year Max passed away, possibly of a broken heart. (This story has been abridged)