Mona Verhage. Button box

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The box contains buttons with which Jewish hidden child Norbert Vos played while in hiding in 1942-1944 at the home of the donor’s parents Raymond and Julia Verhage-Leenknecht in Kortrijk.
1942-1944
Kortrijk
"Mona Verhage", in: DE WEVER Bruno, VAN ASCH Martine en VAN DOORSLAER Rudi, Gekleurd verleden. Familie in Oorlog, Tielt, 2010, p. 88-101.
Julia Verhage-Leenknecht
Original item stored with the tin objects.
KD_00550
item
1 object
Norbert Obstfeld-Vos, hidden by the Verhage-Leenknecht family, donated several items and a photo album to Kazerne Dossin (KD_00384).
Mona Verhage was born in Kortrijk as the daughter of Raymond Verhage and Julia Leenknecht. Mona’s mother held a café. In November 1942 Lea Zwaaf (born on 21 June 1920 in Amsterdam, the Netherlands) came in to drink a coffee, with her baby boy Norbert Obstfeld on her arm. The desperate Jewish mother asked Julia, whom she had never met, to help her find a hiding place. Lea and her husband Abraham Obstfeld (born on 11 June 1903 in Mielec, Poland) had suffered a lot already. The couple had fled to France, returned to Belgium after missing the boat to England, lost their business early in 1941 and returned to France again a few weeks later where Norbert had been born. The Obstfeld-Zwaaf family finally returned to Belgium in 1942 because Lea couldn’t leave her parents behind in Antwerp upon. Lea’s husband Abraham Obstfeld was arrested in September 1942. He was deported from the Dossin barracks via Transport XIII and didn’t survive.
After only just escaping arrest during the second large anti-Jewish raid organised in Antwerp (night of 28 on 29 August 1942) by pretending to be her family’s housekeeper and after freeing her sister and niece from the collection point for arrested Jews at Grotehondstraat, Lea fled westward. After being forced to leave a first hiding place she arrived with Norbert in Kortrijk where she stumbled upon the café of Julia Verhage-Leenknecht. Julia immediately fell in love with baby Norbert and took mother and son in. Julia and her husband Raymond would also help hide Lea’s sister Emilie ‘Millie’ Zwaaf and her niece Jacqueline Da Cunha. Julia and Raymond arranged a false ID for Lea, telling neighbours she was a niece from Mouscron. Lea earned a living selling medical equipment, while Julia took care of Norbert. Mona, the only child of Raymond and Julia Verhage-Leenknecht, immediately excepted Norbert as her baby brother, taking him out for walks in her doll stroller and giving him her teddy bear to comfort him. Since there were almost no toys available, little Norbert often played with Julia’s button box.
Lea, Norbert, Emilie and Jacqueline all survived the war in hiding, thanks to the Verhage-Leenknecht family. They returned to Antwerp after the liberation, at the end of 1944. Lea remarried camp survivor Emile Vos, who adopted Norbert Obstfeld. The departure of Lea and Norbert left a void in the Verhage family’s life, but they remained in close contact. Until today, Mona and Norbert have a relationship of that of a big sister and her baby brother. In October 2018 both participated in the unveiling of a showcase with objects donated by Norbert Obstfeld-Vos to Kazerne Dossin. In 2019 Mona kindly donated her mother’s button box with which Norbert used to play to the museum.
Mona Verhage inherited the button box from her mother and saved it for decades after the war. In 2019 she kindly donated the original item to Kazerne Dossin.
Mona Verhage, 2019

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