The following post was already published on my old website. I am now republishing it with some corrections.
Justin was born on 5 November 1921 as the son of Salomon Gerstner and Frieda Sundermann in the village of Ebelsbach which is in the German state of Bavaria (according to the NIOD he was born on 5 February 1921). The town of Ebelsbach is about 20 km northwest of Bamberg and about 86 km north of Nuremberg. The Gerstners are originally from Lisberg and its area in Bavaria.
According to a letter (of 12 maart 2004) from the NIOD to Ms. Kappner from Haszfurt (Germany), Justin fled in 1934 from Nazi-Germany. He initially lived with his uncle Joseph Gerstner in Enschede. Justin appeared on the Enschede list of the “Zentralstelle für judisch Auswanderung” (the Zentralstelle für judisch Auswanderung was the Amsterdam office of the Nazi Sicherheitspolizei and the SD, which supervised the deportation of Jews from the Netherlands. Ferdinand Hugo aus der Fünten was in charge of this office, which was situated in the Euterpestraat).
Justin worked as an office clerk in Enschede and, according to the above mentioned list of the Zentralstelle, he lived on the Soendastraat number 11. His uncle Joseph Gerstner lived on the Lipperkerkstraat number 26 which, according to googlemaps, is about 15 minutes away by foot.
Justin appears to have moved at a later date to Amsterdam (I am still not sure as to what Justin’s address was in Amsterdam). He has, like many other Jews who moved from Enschede to Amsterdam, not registered with the list of the Zentralstelle für jüdische Auswanderung in Amsterdam. Bertha Strauss for example, Joseph Gerstner’s wife, did register with that list.
In a later stage he went together with others into hiding in the farmhouse of the family of Bauke Sjoerds Buwalda and Syke Baarda in Eemswoude.
Eemswoude, a hamlet with about 7 farms and a few houses, is at the end of the Eemswouderlaan, about 4 to 5 km outside the village of Tjerkwerd . Tjerkwerd is in the West Frisian town of Wonseradeel and has about 600 inhabitants. The village of Wolsum begins on the east side of the farm. Wolsum is located in the town of Wymbritseradeel and has about 145 inhabitants.
Justin took the name Lytse Douwe in order to hide his Jewish background. Lytse is Frisian for small and Douwe is a typical Frisian name. So “small Douwe” eventhough he was already about 23 years old.
I read the following on Feike Mulder’s website which is dedicated to Tsjerkwert:
“Justin was a cheerful man, made a lot of jokes. Likewise Tine Kuipers-Twijnstra told that he regularly came to them on the farm and with always another hat. He also learned the farm work very fast. He helped a lot on a farm, had even an “own” cow which he milked and secretly fed some extras, so that it gave more milk in return. He planned to move and work after the war in a kibbutz in Israel. No job as a clerk anymore for him after the war. “
There was only one bridge through which the farm could be reached. Day and night someone was on the lookout to warn the other hiders in case of a possible razzia by the Germans. The rule was that if the guard of the night was caught napping while he was on duty, the guard would be punished by having to milk 5 cows.
On Tuesday, October 31, 1944 there was a heavy fog due to which the vision was firmly obstructed. Suddenly a gunshot which did warn the people sounded in the distance, and whomever had to escape, fled from the farm. Justin seems to have been too afraid to flee. Nervously he walked back and forth.
The Germans only got Justin in sight after which they ran towards him. The Germans finally got him and kicked and beat Justin who kept refusing to give away the names of the other hiders and his helpers. He was shot on with a gunshot and his body was left in a ditch near the abandoned farm.
Later the body was transferred to the mortuary at the cemetery of Wolsum where he was buried. Later he was burried at the Jewish Cemetery in Sneek, 13 km east of Tjerkwerd (grave number 24).
This incident did not deter the Buwaldas from taking another twenty hiders in their home.
Please contact me (or add your comments below) if you have more details on Justin Gerstner or other names which are mentioned in this post.
- De Donkerste Kerst by Hylke Speerstra (published in the Leeuwarder Courant on 24 december 1994, http://www.archiefleeuwardercourant.nl/vw/article.do?id=LC-19941224-31001)
Hylke Speerstra, is himself a Tsjerkwerder from birth. He met with Justin when he was about 12 years old. Hylke is the author of the article from the Leeuwarder Courant and his source was Lucas Drese. Lucas Drese in his turn was sexton in the liberal synagogue of North Holland and according Hylke Speerstra he would have seen everything happen.
- Justin Gerstner on http://www.tsjerkwert.nl
- Feike and Gerrit Mulder from www.tsjerkwert.nl
- Oorlogsgravenstichting, http://srs.ogs.nl/index.php?go=home.slachtoffer&id=201236
- Digital Monument to the Jewish Community in the Netherlands, http://www.joodsmonument.nl/page/274081/nl?lang=en
Prof. Aant Elzinga sent to me the following very important additions (on November 24, 2012) which give a clearer idea of this sad episode. I am thankful him for allowing me to publish it here:
Was interested to read your information about “Lytse Douwe”. I remember him from my visits to the Buwalda farm when I as Bauke Buwalda’s and Sijke Baarda’s grandchild is spent time there in the summers and sometimes on weekends, often with my mother but occasionally alone walking all the way from Bolsward. Was quite nervous once when I ran into and had to pass a German by patrol coming towards me and blocking the little gravel roadway that had ditches on both sides. I was 7 years old in Oct 1944. Recall my aunts telling me of several razias prior to that and after Oct. how my father (Hendrik Elzinga) was the one who brought “Douwe’s” body up out of the ditch where German soldiers had left him. The detail about his going too and fro on that fatal day is not entirely correct. The Buwaldas had constructed a shelter under a mound by the Sneeker canal on the edge of their land, and it was here Douwe was about to head when he saw soldiers approaching from the Wolsumer Ketting side through the field about 600 meters from the barn. The he headed to the next farmhouses and managed to get there and hide in the water under a wooden platform used for milk-cans that the milkboats used to pick up. Here he stayed all quiet and unseen for quite a while until he thought the German patrol had passed by; unfortunately one soldier happened to be straggling far behind the others and when Douwe came out from his hiding place he was immediately taken. Thereafter the patrol went back to the Buwalda farm and then made the rounds by other farms along the laneway, but despite threats and beating “Lytse Douwe” refused to say where he had been living. His bravery is still remembered, and at the time it saved my grandfather’s farm from being burnt which would have forced at least four other “onderduikers” hiding away under the hay and two young Jewish girls hidden away in a secret compartment above the bedroom in the fore-end of the farm (Frisian farms have the stables and barn all together with living quarters under one roof). After the war my parents together with my three sisters and myself immigrated to Canada.
Aant (now living in Sweden)
On November 30th, 2012 Prof. Aant Elzinga sent to me the following additions:
1. The farm is still standing today, marked as Eeemswoude 12. After my grandfather Bauke Buwalda retired he lived on there while his son Sjoerd Buwalda (the one on the right in the family picture) took it over. In 1983 Sjeord B. sold the place to two brothers, Sjerp and Sietze Heeres, neither of whom is married. The old farmbuilding has been pulled down and in its place there is a small new house to which is attached a long storage shed. Apart from that there is adjacent on the one side a large modern barn that was built soon after the Heeres brothers took over. Inside it has open pens for cows, about 200 in all, with a milkstall that takes 8 cows at a time. The Heeres brothers have also put up a large windpower facility. The Tjerkwerd website has a series of pictures that show the changes over time. See <http://www.tsjerkwert.nl/Mambo/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=142&Itemid=130>
2. Yes, my mother is a daughter of Bauke Buwalda and Sijke Baarda. She is the eldest of the four children and appears on the left in the family picture. Her unmarried name was Geertje Buwalda (later Elzinga-Buwalda).
3. Apart from my mother’s second cousin Hielke Speerstra’s article in Leeuwarder Courant there has been very little public recognition of Pake Bauke’s contribution to hiding Jewish persons during the war, however informally in the neighbourhood and the Tjerkwerd area in his and my parents generation he was remembered as a softspoken democratic and charitable person. I believe Justin’s family or perhaps through an organization a tree was planted in his honour in what now is Israel. From what Sjerp Heeres has told me two […] ladies of Justin’s family had found out about the history and visited the farm at Eeemswoude 12 and Wolsumer Ketting several years ago to pay their respects. I do not know in
what way they may have documented their visit.
(note from Gershon: the two ladies mentioned are the sisters Leni Sjöstedt-Gerstner and Friedel Hoffmann-Gerstner who visited the farm and its surroundings on May 14, 2008 – see: http://www.tsjerkwert.nl/Mambo/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=854&Itemid=229)
4. I might add to my earlier testimony that the Eemswoude farm was the last one on the long laneway which one entered from the bridge that is depicted on your website. In the early days before cars became common one reached the farm by bicycle, and I remember we also joked about how to reach the place one had to pass thirteen gates. At each of these one had to swing the bike over water-filled ditches holding onto the gatepost, which was quite a trick. In other words the place was not easily accessible. There was however also a for the most part grass-covered path whereby one could reach the farm from the other end (near Wolsumer Ketting turning right a short way along the road to the little town of Blauwhuis) by going through a farmer’s yard into the field and then over a wooden structure across a small “canal” that led into the Buwalda fields. It was from this (south) rarely used end that the German razia parties came. Thus when “Douwe” fled northward across the field to the next cluster of farms the German soldiers would not have seen him since their view was obscured by the Buwalda farm and it gave him time enough to hide in the water under the milk-can platform on one side of the 13th gate waiting for the patrol to disappear around the corner of the two farmhouses northbound further along the laneway. It was good thinking on his part, and seems it might have worked if one of the soldiers had not been lagging so far behind the rest.
On the Tjerwert website under Eemswoude 13 there is another series of images, including one of the gate I just mentioned.
When I sent a note to Prof. Aant Elzinga to tell him about the updates I added here, he replied to me (on January 22th, 2013) with the following text which again proves how some people and their families were not only brave and risking their lives, they also made sure that the hidden felt as comfortable and as at home as possible. No words…:
[…]Thank you for confirming that you have received the photo and for posting it on your website. I see it fits in well where you placed it, underlining the sense of family Justin became part of in the Frisian countryside.[…]