Holocaust survivor shares story of resilience with DLA employees

By Craig M. Rader DLA Land and Maritime Public Affairs

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The boy was just five years old when the Gestapo took away his grandfather and forced his family into hiding in occupied Holland. He would spend the next two years in the care of a Catholic family who took him in, while his father joined the Dutch resistance movement and his mother’s fate remained unknown to him. 

That same boy was nearly eight when Allied forces liberated the Netherlands in 1945 and he was reunited with his family, but he never saw his grandfather again.  During those two years in hiding, his home was a small cottage in a Nazi-controlled village in southern Holland, hidden away by a sympathetic couple with four children of their own.   

John Koenigsberg now calls central Ohio home, and for more than 70 years he has lived with the memory of his hardship during the Holocaust and the suffering the Nazis forced upon Jewish and other minority groups during WWII. Despite those harrowing experiences, he’s a survivor driven to share his story. 

“I am one of the very, very fortunate ones,” he told a full auditorium at Defense Supply Center Columbus. “Only seven percent of children under the age of 16 survived the Holocaust. By recent estimates, there are probably less than 75,000 fellow survivors left in the world.”

Koenigsberg’s April 20 presentation was part of the agency’s Days of Remembrance observance. The event is just one part of the organization’s European American Special Emphasis Program, designed to promote and enrich cultural diversity at the agency.   

He shared his story about what it was like living under an assumed name and hiding his identity for more than two years during the war. He also talked about his personal journey of rediscovery following his participation in a video interview for Stephen Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation Institute in the 1990’s. 

Part of that journey led him to reconnect with surviving members of the family who protected him. One of those family members was Tonny Snijckers, his adoptive sister during his time in hiding. Before her death, Koenigsberg visited her in Holland and even saw the house where he stayed during his time with the Snijckers.  

Following a lengthy application process, the national Holocaust memorial in Israel granted the Snijckers family “Righteous Among the Nations” honors and added their names to the Wall of Honor in the Garden of the Righteous in Jerusalem in 2009. This is the highest honor Yad Vashem bestows upon non-Jews who risked their lives to come to the aid of the Jewish people during the Holocaust.

“If it was not for the bravery of mom and pop Snijckers – I, my children, grandchildren and generations of descendants in the future would not exist,” Koenigsberg said. “The reason I speak about my experiences and relive these memories is because I believe the lessons of the Holocaust should not become a footnote in history.”

He said programs like this are important not only so his own story can be told, but also as a way for the more than six million Jews who died during the Holocaust to have their voices heard. He added that remembering past events and talking about them is a way to ensure they never happen again. 

That sentiment was echoed by Alan Shatz during the event’s invocation. “We know that while we can’t change the past, we can change the future,” Shatz said, “We know that while we can’t bring the dead back to life, we can make sure their memories live on and their deaths were not in vain.

We must commit ourselves to just one simple act – to remember.”