SPRONK (nicknamed Rie) and her sister CATHARINA (Katy's) story begins in
In 1929, their father, as one of Amsterdam's top
diamond cutters is employed by the De Beers Company in Kimberley, South Africa.
The Spronk family spends three years in Africa. This experience helps to mold
the girls' characters and teach them survival skills that will, at a later
date, enable them to survive a Nazi prison and concentration camp.
1932, during the Depression, the Spronk family returns to Amsterdam where the
girls, on reaching age fifteen, find employment in an exclusive raincoat
factory called Hollandia Kattenburg.
In 1941, in occupied Holland, the
Nazis take over the factory where now only the black Nazi uniforms are
manufactured. Nineteen-year-old Rie and her twenty-year-old sister Katy protest
against the treatment of the Dutch Jews by the Nazis, by partaking in the
nationwide strike on February 25th, 1941. They begin to sabotage the completed
uniforms bound for Germany.
On November 11th, 1942, as part of the Nazi
plan to deport all the Jews to the extermination camps in Eastern Europe, the
Gestapo raid Hollandia Kattenburg. From this fateful raid, a total of 826 men,
women and children were transported to Auschwitz Concentration Camp; after the
war only eight of them survived.
In 1944, Rie and Katy are arrested by
the Gestapo and imprisoned at Weteringschans Prison. A few months later, the
sisters are sent to Vught Concentration Camp where they are each given a
square, twenty-four inch red, black and white handkerchief as part of the
uniform. Prior to Rie and Katy's departure from the camp to stand trial for
sabotage, they ask their friends in the barracks to sign their names in pencil
on the red handkerchief. Rie later embroidered the names and messages.
Rie spends fifty-seven years in silence about the Holocaust, until
after losing her son in an automobile accident, and her eldest daughter to
cancer in 2000; she started to speak of her experiences. In her interview for
"The Eyewitness to History Project on the Holocaust" we learn her story.
The red handkerchief is on exhibit at Holocaust Museum, Houston. Rie
and Katy's story still applies to young people in the twenty-first century as
it deals with setting boundaries, bullying, sexual harassment, degradation and
the will to overcome and survive.