It’s been more than 75 years since a young boy and his mother first hid from the Nazis in a small town in the northern Netherlands, and Pete Metzelaar will share his remarkable story of survival and the kindness of strangers at Flathead Valley Community College during a public program Tuesday, April 10, at 7 p.m.
Metzelaar, 82, is among the youngest living survivors of the Holocaust, having first fled his Amsterdam home at just 7 years old, and he is returning to Northwest Montana for the second time in three years. The Nazi state killed an estimated six million Jewish people after the party came to power in Germany in 1933, and organizers of Metzelaar’s visit noted that as the dwindling number of survivors continues to age, a sense of urgency accompanies their stories. In addition to the program at FVCC, Metzelaar will speak at Columbia Falls, Flathead and Glacier high schools on April 10 and 11.
“The door is closing quickly,” Rabbi Francine Roston of the Glacier Jewish Community/B’nai Shalom and one of the event’s coordinators said. “It is important to hear personal narratives from people who lived through it, so they understand it’s not a story, it’s a real thing that happened.”
In 1942, Metzelaar and his mother were the only members of his family to avoid capture by the Nazis and were connected with Klaas and Roefina Post, who sheltered the pair on their farm for more than two years. Metzelaar and his mom later hid out in The Hague and Amsterdam before immigrating to the United States in 1949. Metzelaar took photos while in hiding and shares those pictures during his presentation.
“It’s an extraordinary story of survival and an extraordinary story of people risking their lives to do what they know is right,” Roston said.
Roston said that Metzelaar’s presentations two years ago had high school auditoriums in rapt silence, but added that some of the students who saw him speak hung around afterward to take selfies with the octogenarian.
“At first I was like, this is really odd,” she said. “But I realized that once they hear his story they are now witnesses to the Holocaust and they have an obligation to tell the story. And if they have a picture, they have their own artifacts, their own records. And now anytime, if they encounter anyone who denies, they have proof.”
Metzelaar’s appearance occurs on the same week as Yom HaShoah, an international Holocaust memorial day commemorated by the Jewish community. His visit is being co-sponsored by the Glacier Jewish Community/B’nai Shalom, the Seattle Holocaust Center for Humaniy and FVCC.