My dad was born in the Summer of 1938 in Berlin; he was the only child of a businessman, Hermann Schliesser, and a fashion-designer, Margarete Neumann Schliesser (recall her drawings). After Kristallnacht later that Fall (recall) they left Germany for Holland. Until the age of seven, my dad grew up in Westerbork--first a refugee camp and then a German deportation camp (recall here; and here). After liberation, the family moved to Amsterdam, where, at once, they moved back into the fashion and women's ready-to-wear-business. Next to his bed was a picture of Hilde, a German fellow survivor, who lived near them at Merwedeplein. She became a surrogate mother to him while his parents were hard at work. He cared for another such surrogate, Lini Bunjes Rosenthal to the end of her life.
The stateless family became naturalized Dutch in 1950. The request was promoted and expedited by the Dutch ministry of economics, emphasizing the "international reputation" of the family. After a period in New York City and Berlin, he joined the family business as fashion designer. In the 1970s, the manufacturing business was sold and he represented foreign women's ready-to-wear-manufacturers in the Netherlands.
When I was young, he did not speak much about his war-time experiences or what it was like being a foreign born native in Amsterdam after the war. But after his retirement, he became increasingly interested in sharing his stories in elementary and high schools. He emphasized the plight and vulnerability of refugees and was adamant about comparing his own family experiences to contemporary events. Last year, during one of his last school visits, he was very moved by his contact with kids who turned out to be Syrian refugees. In recent years, he was especially pleased by the warm welcome he received in Dortmund, Germany, striking up friendships with young people eager to confront Germany's past and pass it in to younger generations. It was in Dortmund that he finally learned the fate of Klausje Weinberg, his childhood friend from Westerbork (recall).
In New York he met my mom, Marleen Krieger. She was the youngest daughter of Abe Krieger, who had been a business associate and family friend of his father in Berlin before the war and Amsterdam after the war. It had been at Abe's suggestion that my dad moved to New York, where he studied at FIT. My mom and dad married in 1970. After the divorce, my younger sister (their only other child), Malka, ended up living with my dad. He raised her alone (with help of his loyal house-cleaner, Mevrouw Quist), and excelled at being Yiddishe mama and papa at once to her. He never remarried. When my sister had kids, -- Eli & Isa -- in turn, with her husband Ralph de Vries, he repeated the performance and became their trusted confidante, chauffeur, and partner in mischief.
My dad is proof that people can change at a later age. After retirement he got involved in various self-help courses, and started to become comfortable sharing his feelings and talking about his experiences. One means toward self-expression were his haunting bronze statues. (He had always regretted that he had not pursued a career in art and had joined the family business--and he encouraged both his kids to follow their passion. ) Briefly, it looked as if he would develop a second career as a sculptor, but one day he simply stopped. I asked him about this recently; and he said that even though he had paid the rent for the studio, he simply felt no need anymore. But he was pleased by the interest of his three grandchildren (Eli, Isa, Avi) in his artwork as they each picked a sculpture to remember him.
While he could have a biting, dry sense of humor, he developed many life-long friendships. Many of these shared his passion for bridge. And through them he stayed in touch with all the news in the kehila.
He disliked aging; he found his physical fragility fearful -- a bad fall had lead to a hip replacement -- and the increasing lack of mobility annoying. But most of all he loathed the narrowing of his world as loved ones passed away. By the time his final disease was diagnosed, there was nothing that could be done. While my sister, brother-in-law, and I cared for him at home, during the last six weeks he amazed me by his spirit: he enjoyed meeting his friends and sharing memories; he was touched and genuinely surprised by the outpouring of fondness and love he received (and thoroughly enjoyed), including visits from all over the world. He returned this attention with astounding good cheer, tenderness, and mental lucidity, even though his body was visibly faltering.
Yesterday, after smoking a last cigarette, in the presence of my sister and myself, he died peacefully in his sleep.