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   from the issue of April 15, 2004

Book recalls Leviticus’ childhood among the Nazis


Lou Leviticus vividly remembers the horror and heroism he saw while living as a Jewish child in the German-occupied Netherlands during World War II.

Lou Leviticus, professor emeritus and volunteer curator at the Larsen Tractor Museum on East Campus, holds a copy of his...
 Lou Leviticus, professor emeritus and volunteer curator at the Larsen Tractor Museum on East Campus, holds a copy of his recently published memoirs detailing his childhood in the German-occupied Netherlands. His parents were killed at Auschwitz in 1942. Photo by Brett Hampton.

The professor emeritus and part-time curator at the Larsen Tractor Museum on East Campus has self-published his memoirs, Tales from the Milestone. The book covers the time period from his birth in 1931 to his being placed in an orphanage called the Milestone at the end of the war. In it, he recounts being terrorized by Nazis and their sympathizers, fleeing from raided safe houses, and seeing friends and families being abducted and sent to concentration camps.

Leviticus used the pen name Ben Wajikra as a testament to his parents. The name consists of two Hebrew words: Ben means “son of” and Wajikra means “Leviticus,” the third of the five books of the Torah.

* * *
In the spring of 1942, when Lou was 10 years old, assaults on Jews from members of the Dutch Nazi Party, from the Jeugdstorm, or “Youth Storm,” and other Nazi sympathizers were commonplace:

All the time they insisted they were going to kill us.

In the beginning these groups harassed Jews and destroyed their property. There was no protest from the public, the Dutch police or the German authorities. By 1941 - from when Jews were required to wear the yellow Star of David with the word “Jood” on their clothes - the attacks became more serious. Jewish youth and older adults were singled out by the young Nazi sympathizers.

On a spring day in 1942, Lou and two friends were walking home from school. Six older boys, two wearing the uniform of the Jeugdstorm, ambushed them and pushed them into a recessed hallway of an apartment building. Lou and his friends were beaten, and one was sexually assaulted. The boys yelled for help but bystanders and a resident of the apartment building saw what was happening and didn’t intervene.

Lou ran home with cuts on his face, a broken tooth and torn clothes. His mother tried to comfort him, but all he could think of was that he wished he had been able to defend himself better, like the heroes in his books and movies.

* * *

At 10 years old, before the time of hiding, he fell in love:

This is the way I remember her - the most beautiful girl in the world.
Anita Grunewald and her family came to The Netherlands from Germany shortly after Hitler came to power in 1934, and she entered Lou’s school in 1941. Leviticus describes the family as “tall, beautiful, blond people - the real, ideal Aryan type,” but they were still marked in the eyes of the Nazis because they were Jews.

Anita was often teased for her German accent and heritage, but Lou defended her. They saw movies together, when Jews were still allowed in certain theaters, roamed the riverside and parks, played games and were inseparable friends. In his naivete, Lou offered to marry her “when I make enough money.”

One day after doing his homework and running an errand for his mother, he stopped by Anita’s house. He rang the bell, but there was no answer. There was no sticker on the door to indicate the family was taken away, but there was a note that Lou couldn’t read in the darkness. Lou panicked and pounded on the door, yelling Anita’s name, until a neighbor told him to be quiet. She said she believed the Nazis had taken them away and might return.

The next day she wasn’t in school. This time Lou couldn’t protect her.

Long after the war, in 1993, Leviticus said, he found the courage to visit the transfer depot in Westerbork, The Netherlands, from where many Dutch Jews were sent to camps. He found Anita’s name and those of her mother and sister. They had been killed in the Sobibor concentration camp in 1943.

* * *

When Lou was 11 years old, he and his parents were in their second hiding place in Amersfoort, a city about 30 miles east of Amsterdam:

It was about three o’clock on a typical Dutch fall afternoon.

They were playing Monopoly on the second floor of the multistoried house in which they were hiding.

The doorbell rang. Instead of the usual greeting in Dutch, a German voice shouted, “Police … stay where you are,” and soon they heard footsteps coming up the stairs. His mother’s screams spurred Lou into the action that would save his life. He ran to a balcony and jumped off; a canvas awning luckily broke his fall. His father waved at him to run away and closed the doors behind him.
It was the last time he saw his parents.

Lou found a hiding place nearby and considered his options. He decided to try to make his way to another safe house in the center of Amersfoort. He waited for night to fall. He groped his way through the city, which was blacked out because of the war, to the temporary safety of a family known for being sympathetic toward Jews.

Leviticus learned later that his father and mother were killed in Auschwitz in late 1942.

* * *

After the raid in Amersfoort, Lou returned to a farm in Hoevenlaken where he and his parents had hidden previously. He earned his room and board by performing farm chores while the owner of the farm made connections with the underground. One day visitors came to the farm:

I thought I had been handed over to the Nazis.

Lou was summoned from his chores and told to clean up and come to the Sunday room. Two men were in the room, one wearing the style of leather boots favored by the Nazis.

“The one with the boots turned out to be my protector, savior, wartime father, war hero, and current friend, Karel Brouwer,” Leviticus said. Brouwer loaded Lou onto his bike and took him to the orphanage De Mijlpaal, Dutch for “The Milestone.”

There Lou was given a new identity. Brouwer told him his new name would be Rudi Van Der Roest and he was to use it at all times. Documents, which had a complex set of rules and formats, were forged with his new identity.

Suddenly I lost my fears. I was finally someone else. … I was free!

Upon arriving at De Mijlpaal, Lou unknowingly became part of a major center of underground resistance to the Nazis. With his new identity he was able to live as normally as was possible during wartime, attending school and even traveling. Although the house was raided once, Lou was part of the Mijlpaal “family” from late December 1942 to the end of the war and several months after.

* * *

Leviticus earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in 1960 and 1963 and his doctorate at Purdue University in 1969. He taught at Technion and was a graduate research assistant at Purdue before coming to UNL in 1975 to take a professorship in the Department of Agricultural Engineering. He served as director of the Nebraska Tractor Test Laboratory until his retirement in 1998, and he is volunteer curator at the Larsen Tractor Museum.

Leviticus returns to the Netherlands every few years to visit Karel and Rita Brouwer from the Milestone house. They exemplify the lesson that Leviticus said he learned from the war.

“Bad doesn’t exist without good,” he said. “The Nazis actually brought out heroic efforts in some, like Karel and Rita, who rose to the challenge by helping people.”

The book
Professor Emeritus Louis Leviticus’ book Tales from the Milestone is available at bookstores, from the author or at



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