In the late fifties and early sixties I attended a Jewish High School, the only one at that time in Amsterdam. The student population was small, only about three hundred students. High School started right after grammar school, no Middle School or Junior High school. We all knew each other and were a close knit bunch.
One of my classmates was Rene. A nice boy, his parents were German Jews who had survived the genocidal frenzy of World War Two. Good looking, with glossy black hair, he was voted “best looking boy in the class” in ninth grade.
One morning Rene was absent. We didn’t think much of it until the principal entered the classroom. He told us that Rene had had an accident on his bicycle on his way to school. Apparently he had been hit by a truck, and was in the hospital. Please, please be careful when you are riding your
bicycles, the principal urged us.
Rumors went around the rest of the day that Rene was doing well, sitting up in his hospital bed and talking to his parents. Was this true? And how did anybody find out?
The next morning the principal, grimfaced, entered our classroom again. He told us he had some terrible news. Rene, the only child of Holocaust survivors, was dead. The principal again begged us to please be careful.
One of the Hebrew teachers came in and said some prayers in Hebrew and Dutch.
The next hour was language class and we told the teacher we were too upset to learn anything. She nodded and I noted her wiping away a few tears.
The funeral was held a few days later. Our class went to the mortuary, so we could walk behind the hearse a certain amount of steps, to show our respect per Jewish custom. Family and friends were in front of us when we started to walk. Rene’s mother was a slight woman and had to be supported by two men.
For many days afterwards I kept wondering: what if Rene had left his house five minutes earlier, or later, or even one minute! What if his father had driven him to school as he often did. I can only imagine how his parents must have tortured themselves with the same questions the rest of their grief-stricken lives.
Today, had he lived, Rene would be in his seventies, perhaps enjoying time with his grandchildren.
A church near my house has a large banner in front. “The Lord is Kind and Merciful” it proclaims.
I guess there are people who believe that.