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Selma Engel, 96, Dies; Escaped Death Camp and Revealed Its Horror

Category: Europe,World

Mrs. Engel was born Saartje Wijnberg (pronounced SAR-cha WINE-berg) on May 15, 1922, in Groningen, the Netherlands. She and her three brothers grew up in the city of Zwolle, where their parents, Samuel and Alida, ran a kosher hotel. She anglicized her name when she moved to the United States in 1957.

She finished high school just as the Germans invaded the Netherlands in 1940. Her father died of a heart attack in 1941, unrelated to the war. She lost most of the rest of her family in the Holocaust.

After the war, the couple, who formally married in 1945, settled in Zwolle, Mr. Engel’s hometown, where they established a textile store and had two children. Their first child, a baby boy, had died in 1944 as they were making their way back to the Netherlands.

But they encountered deep resentment toward Mr. Engel, a Polish Jew. Despite the massive losses that Poles themselves suffered in World War II, many viewed Poland as complicit in the Holocaust; more than 100,000 Dutch citizens had been deported to camps in Poland, and more than 34,000 Dutch Jews had been killed at Sobibor. Mrs. Engel was the only woman from the Netherlands to survive the camp.

The prejudice against them made the couple feel trapped. The authorities threatened them with deportation, Mr. Engel because he was from Poland and Mrs. Engel because she had married him, making her, in their eyes, a Polish citizen, too.

Poland, however, was no longer accepting the return of Polish citizens expelled from other countries, and the Engels had little interest in going there anyway.

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