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Jewish Heritage: The Oral Histories - Cuba Family Archives

MEMOIRIST:                       ELI SONDERVAN

INTERVIEWER:                   JOHN KENT

LOCATION:                         ATLANTA, GEORGIA

DATE:                                 OCTOBER 9, 2002


BIOGRAPHY
Eli Sondervan was born in 1939. He was the first child born to a recently married Jewish couple living in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. His father was a teacher and economist. His mother and father’s parents and siblings also lived in Amsterdam. In May 1940, the Germans invaded and occupied the Netherlands. In 1942, Eli’s family was forced to move to the cramped Jewish quarter and deportations began. Eli’s father and mother were both teachers and were allowed to stay in Amsterdam with permission from the local Jewish council. However, Eli’s paternal grandparents received deportation papers in November 1942. When the authorities came to collect them, Eli’s grandmother died of a heart attack. Eli’s parents sent him to the city of Utrecht to temporarily live with a German woman while the family decided what to do. After a few days, his parents came for him. Eli, his parents, and his father’s two sisters illegally travelled south to Brussels, Belgium. Eli’s paternal grandfather and maternal grandparents refused to leave Amsterdam. All three were deported and killed. Using false papers and with the help of the Belgian resistance, Eli’s family stayed in Belgium for the remainder of the war. A younger brother was born in Belgium around 1943. Both of Eli’s aunts and his mother’s brother survived the war in hiding as well. 
After the Americans liberated the Netherlands, his father returned to Amsterdam where he worked for the United States army. Eli, his mother, and his brother returned to Amsterdam in August of 1945. En route to Amsterdam, they were temporarily housed in the Eindhoven transit camp. When they returned to the Netherlands, Eli returned to a country and city that was not eager to recall the deportation of nearly 75 percent of the Jewish population. Rather, the narrative focused largely on resistance efforts. In Amsterdam, Eli returned to school and another brother and a sister were born in the 1950’s. Eli’s relationship with his mother, who suffered from depression, soured. After his father suddenly died in 1959, Eli left the Netherlands for Israel.
Eli returned to the Netherlands after a few years and met his wife. His wife’s family had also survived by hiding during World War II. As a baby, a Dutch family hid his wife from the Germans. Eli and his wife moved to Israel for many years, where they had two children. Eli was a journalist in Israel and covered the Yom Kippur War. He personally knew Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion. He also interviewed Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. Eli and his family returned to the Netherlands for a few years, while waiting for visas to move to the United States. In 1987, they moved to Atlanta, Georgia. Eli began to reexamine his Jewish heritage and eventually joined an Orthodox Sephardic synagogue. Following Jewish law and living an orthodox Jewish life became extremely important to Eli. He also became a collector of Judaica. Eli died on January 16, 2016.

Scope of Interview:
Eli introduces his parents and shares what he knows about his family’s life in Amsterdam at the beginning of World War II. He describes his family’s decision to go into hiding when deportations began. Eli recalls being hidden temporarily by a German woman in another city before his family fled to Belgium. He recounts the kindness of the Belgians who helped his family. After liberation, Eli considers his father’s decision to return to the Netherlands. Eli discusses post-war Amsterdam and his family’s efforts to reclaim their lives in the shadow of the Holocaust. Eli describes his move to Israel, meeting his wife, and his career as a journalist. He expresses his views on the Arab-Israeli conflict. Eli details his return to Orthodox Judaism and the prophecies that he believes exist in the Torah, which enable his understanding of the hardships endured by Jews and has helped him come to terms with the Holocaust. Eli explains his family’s move to the United States and decision to settle in Atlanta, Georgia. Eli closes with a brief discussion of his children and his hopes for the future.


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