The NIOD ImageLab Behind the Star project aims to identify individuals who were forced to wear the Yellow Star during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands and who are depicted in images held in the Beeldbank WO2 / the ImageBank WW2. Our research team has conducted a crowdsourcing campaign through which we invited members of the public to send in details about people shown in the photographs. The information we received was sent to us by researchers, relatives of those shown in the photographs, and in one rare case, by an individual who recognized herself in one of the photographs. We verify the identifications we receive by comparing photographs and information we find in archives in the Netherlands and across the world. If a person is identified by a relative, we ask if they have other portraits in their family collection, and if possible, to share these with us. This allows us to compare the images and to try to ascertain whether the person shown in the photograph that forms part of the Behind the Star project is the same person shown in family photographs. We also look for other sources of information about the person. For instance, we search for a transport or camp registration card at the Arolsen Archives, and if one is found, we check whether the dates on these cards align with the date the photograph was taken. We also search for additional photographs in Holocaust archives and online.
It is sometimes difficult to know with certainty that two different images depict the same individual as perspective, exposure and composition all affect how a person looks in a photograph. Archival data is not always accessible, and sometimes dates, places and names were not recorded correctly at the time, or in the post-war period.
An example from the Behind the Star project that brings some of these challenges to the fore is a photograph at Camp Westerbork showing a man amongst a crowd of people taken by the camp photographer, Rudolf Breslauer (see Figure One below). The photograph shows the dark interior of a cattle car in which two men can be seen standing in the doorway, and in the foreground, a large crowd of people seem to be moving in different directions. Among them are a man and a woman who both have worried expressions, their faces directed towards the ground. It is difficult to know whether everyone in the photograph is preparing to board the transport, particularly as several people seem to be walking away from the train.
Figure One: NIOD Collection - 66089.
The current caption for this photograph in the Beeldbank WO2/ WWII Imagebank is as follows:
Westerbork. Uitgaand transport, blijkbaar na april 1943 (beestenwagens). Bijna 107.000 mensen zijn met 97 transporten vanuit kamp Westerbork gedeporteerd. Op 15 juli 1942 vertrok het eerste transport naar Auschwitz-Birkenau. Vanaf 2 maart 1943 tot 16 november 1943 was er sprake van een wekelijks ritme: iedere dinsdag vertrok een trein met duizend tot soms meer dan drieduizend personen. Het laatste transport vertrok op 13 September 1944. Foto R. Breslauer.
[Westerbork. Outbound transport, apparently after April 1943 (animal wagons). Nearly 107,000 people were deported from camp Westerbork on 97 transports. On 15 July 1942 the first transport left for Auschwitz-Birkenau. From March 2, 1943 to November 16, 1943 there was a weekly rhythm: every Tuesday a train with a thousand and sometimes more than three thousand people left. The last transport left on September 13, 1944. Photo R. Breslauer.]
Through the Behind the Star crowdsourcing campaign, we received a comment from Benno Karkabe, who thought he recognized his grandfather, Albert Heijermans, in the foreground of this photograph.
Albert Heijermans was born in Rotterdam on July 18, 1886. He worked as a sales agent in oils and fats. On August 7, 1943, he was arrested in Rotterdam and later brought to Camp Vught. From Vught, he wrote letters to his wife. These letters are included in the NIOD archives. The last letter is dated October 23, 1943. Before the end of January 1944, he was murdered in Auschwitz.
Heijermans’ family do not know what happened to him between the date he sent his last letter from Vught and his death, but it was assumed that he was taken to Camp Westerbork and from there, deported to Auschwitz. This would make it likely that it was indeed Heijermans in the foreground of the photograph taken at Westerbork. However, through archival research we found a transport list that shows that Albert Heijermans was transported directly from Camp Vught to Auschwitz on November 15,
Mr. Karkabe sent us several photographs of his grandfather so that we could compare them with the man who is shown in the photograph taken at Westerbork. The photographs Mr. Karkabe sent to us were taken in the early 1930s, approximately 10 years before the photograph taken by Breslauer. While there are similarities between the man shown in the photograph taken at Westerbork and Albert Heijermans, it is difficult to provide a conclusive answer about whether or not they depict the same person. According to the archive, and assuming the transport list is correct, Heijermans was never in Camp Westerbork, and therefore cannot be the man in the photograph of the deportation. The process of seeking to identify those who are depicted in the Behind the Star photographs has sometimes resulted in greater clarity about the lives of those who were persecuted during the Holocaust, but in many instances the identity and the details about the fate of those who were deported remains unknown.
Figure Two: Three portraits of Albert Heijermans sent in to the NIOD Behind the Star project by Benno Karkabe, the grandson of Albert Heijermans, alongside a detail from a photograph of an unidentified man at Westerbork.
Do you have more information on Albert Heijermans or about any of the individuals depicted in the photograph taken at Westerbork? If so, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.