Norbert Vos-Obstfeld. Collection

Bijkomende meta info

This collection contains: the French ID card of Chuma Rajzel Galant-Holcman ; pre-war family photos of the extended Obstfeld-Fleischer and Zwaaf-Vos families, including childhood, wedding and vacation photos ; photos of the Obstfeld-Zwaaf family after fleeing to France during the war; photos of Norbert Vos and his mother Lea Zwaaf while hiding in Kortrijk with the Verhage family ; photos of Elisabeth alias Lilly Zwaaf and her husband Maurice Da Cunha living in India during the war ; post-war photos of Norbert, his mother Lea Zwaaf and his stepfather Emiel Vos ; photos of Emiel Vos’s deported family members and friends ; Abraham alias Albert Obstfeld and Lea Zwaaf’s wedding menu ; documents regarding the rescue of Norbert Vos-Obstfeld by the Verhage family ; the goodbye letter sent by Albert Obstfeld to his family while detained at the Dossin barracks in 1942 ; documents regarding the repatriation of camp survivor Emiel Vos, stepfather of Norbert Vos-Obstfeld ; the fake ID of Lea Zwaaf ; a published collection of drawings on Buchenwald by Henri Pieck ; a REX pin ; a teddy bear given to Norbert by his “hiding sister” Mona Verhage ; a documentary on Norbert Vos-Obstfeld created in 2021 by the municipality of Menen and Wereldraad Menen in colleboration with local schools ; a suit worn by Abraham Obstfeld ; the wedding suit worn by Abraham Obstfeld ; a handbag which belonged to Sara Vos ; a dagger with the inscription Meine Ehre heisst Treue
Content Date
DE WEVER Bruno, VAN ASCH Martine & VAN DOORSLAER Rudi, Gekleurd Verleden : Familie in oorlog, Tielt, 2010, pp. 88-101.
Norbert Vos-Obstfeld
French, Dutch, Hebrew, Polish
Latin, Hebrew
Physical characteristics and technical requirements
The family photo album is digitally available at Kazerne Dossin. The teddy bear is on permanent display at the Kazerne Dossin museum.
Norbert Vos-Obstfeld, Private collection, Belgium ; Kazerne Dossin, Mechelen, Belgium
Digital copy available as collection KD_00384 at Kazerne Dossin
Level of description
Extent and medium
882 digitised images (407 photos, 25 documents, 6 objects, 1 precious print and 1 documentary)
Related units of description
Norbert Vos-Obstfeld's "hiding sister" Mona Verhage donated to Kazerne Dossin the button box with which Norbert played while in hiding at the Verhage family home (KD_00550).
Administrative and biographical
Norbert Obstfeld was born on 19 July 1941 in Pau, France, as the son of Abraham alias Albert Obstfeld (born on 11 July 1903 in Mielec, Poland) and Lea Zwaaf (born on 21 June 1920 in Amsterdam, the Netherlands). Albert was a textile merchant who had migrated from Poland to Belgium in 1929. He married Lea Zwaaf in Berchem, Antwerp, on 25 July 1939. Lea was the daughter of Marcus Zwaaf, the well-to-do owner of an international import and export business that dealt mainly with firms in India. The Zwaaf family had migrated from the Netherlands to Belgium in 1934 where Lea became a corset maker. After her marriage to Albert she took care of her own household.
Upon the invasion of Belgium by Nazi-Germany on 10 May 1940 Albert and Lea fled to France in an attempt to catch a boat to the United Kingdom. However, they were forced to return to Belgium and then decided to flee to southern France. Their son Norbert was born in Pau a year later. Albert’s plan was to reach Spain and flee oversees. However, Lea did not want to leave her parents Marcus Zwaaf and Sara Vos who had stayed behind in Antwerp. She together with Albert and Norbert therefore returned to Belgium in April 1942. The Obstfeld-Zwaaf family first settled at 39 Rue Vandenbussche in Schaerbeek, Brussels, and then at Avenue Brugmann 510 in Uccle, Brussels.
In the night of 28 on 29 August 1942, Lea was staying at the house of her parents Marcus Zwaaf and Sara Vos at Marsstraat in Antwerp. That same night the Zwaaf-Vos family home was raided during an anti-Jewish raid organised in the city of Antwerp by the German authorities with the help of the local police. Lea, who was not registered at the address, pretended to be the maid and thus escaped arrest. After her parents, her younger sister Emilie Zwaaf and her niece Jacqueline Da Cunha (whose parents Maurice Da Cunha and Lily Zwaaf were in India) were taken, Lea hurried over to the school at Grotehondstraat where the arrested Jews were gathered. Although Lea was able to get Emilie and Jacqueline out, she had to leave her parents Marcus and Sara behind as they refused to come with her. Neither would survive deportation from the Dossin barracks via transport VII to Auschwitz-Birkenau on 1st September 1942.
After the raid in Antwerp, Albert and Lea planned to leave for France as soon as possible. However, they needed sufficient funds to do so. Albert Obstfeld therefore decided to collect outstanding business debts and travelled by train between Antwerp and Brussels to do so. He was arrested on the train on 3 September 1942 and was taken to the Saint-Gilles prison. A month later, he was brought to the Dossin barracks in Mechelen from where he wrote an extensive letter to his wife and son. Albert Obstfeld did not survive deportation from the Dossin barracks to Auschwitz-Birkenau via transport XIII on 10 October 1942.
Upon Albert’s arrest, Lea together with her son Norbert, her sister Emilie and niece Jacqueline fled to the province of West Flanders where she found them a hiding place with a former business partner of her husband Albert Obstfeld. However, when the man tried to take advantage of the situation and when Lea noticed Norbert was being beaten, she left in search of another hiding place. She ended up in a café in Kortrijk. The owners, Raymond Verhage and his wife Julia Leenknecht, decided to take mother and child in as Julia immediately fell in love with little Norbert. Lea took on the false identity of Rosalie Van der Melsens and started working as a representative of hospital and pharmacy equipment. Lea’s sister Emilie Zwaaf was placed with another family in Otegem, Jacqueline Da Cunha with a relative of the Verhage family across the street in Kortrijk. All Zwaaf family members in hiding thus survived the war.
Norbert became part of the Verhage family. Raymond and Julia Verhage’s daughter Mona was like a sister to him. She gave the little boy her teddy bear to comfort him when he was sad. The two of them remained very close, even after the war. Upon Liberation, Lea, Norbert, Emilie and Jacqueline returned to the Zwaaf family home at Marsstraat in Antwerp. The separation was very hard on both Mona and Norbert. In 1951 Lea Zwaaf married her cousin and camp survivor Emiel Vos who lost his wife and three sons during the war. Norbert was adopted by Emiel, obtaining the surname Vos-Obstfeld. In 2018 Norbert and his “hiding sister” Mona together inaugurated a showcase at the Kazerne Dossin museum containing the teddy bear Mona gave to Norbert in 1942.
From 1996 onwards Norbert Vos-Obstfeld kindly permitted the Jewish Museum of Deportation and Resistance, as well as its successor Kazerne Dossin, to digitise items from his family archive. These digitised items include his complete family photo album as well as lose photos of deported family members and friends. Norbert also donated original items to the museum collection. These include a REX pin, several family photos such as the wedding photo of his parents Abraham alias Albert Obstfeld and Lea Zwaaf, their wedding dinner menu, Lea’s false ID, post-war ID cards of Norbert’s stepfather Emiel Vos, the teddy bear given to Norbert by his "hiding sister" Mona Verhage, a suit and the wedding suit worn by Norbert's father Abraham Obstfeld, the handbag of his maternal grandmother Sara Vos and a dagger with the inscription "Meine Ehre heisst Treue" given to Norbert by an acquaintance. The teddy bear is on permanent display at the Kazerne Dossin museum.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Norbert Vos-Obstfeld, 1996 and onwards
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