My name is Selma
Selma van de Perre - Velleman is the daughter of the Jewish actor, singer and presenter Barend Velleman and Femmetje Velleman-Spier. She had two older brothers, David and Louis, and a younger sister, Clara. It was a completely assimilated, liberal and warm family. When I was 10 years old, a girl who lived opposite our house asked: "Do you want to play with my ball? "That's how Greet Brinkhuis and I became best friends. During the war her oldest brother sailed for the Hollandse Stoomboot Maatschappij, her youngest brother was in England. In 1942 she was called up to report but managed to escape by working in a fur factory that carried out assignments for the German army. When her father was arrested later that year and taken to Camp Westerbork, Selma helped her mother and sister go into hiding in Eindhoven.
After her mother and sister Clara were also arrested in 1943, Van de Perre became a member of the TD group (The TD group was a Dutch resistance group during WW2. The letters 'TD' refer to the sabotaging of the "Tweede Distributiekaart" - in English: Second Rations Card- which the group became known for. The TD group originated in 1942 from individual help to Jewish people in hiding. When it turned out that these people in hiding could be helped by providing them with false identity papers, pedigree cards and receipt cards, the need arose to organize nationwide contacts with authorities that could play a role in providing these papers.) Under the names Wil Buter and later Marga van der Kuit, Selma did courier work throughout the Netherlands. On 26 June 1944 she was betrayed and arrested and deported to Ravensbrück (Germany) via Camp Vught (Netherlands).
On September 6, 1944 we were put on the train transport to camp Ravensbrück. On a piece of toilet paper I wrote a message for my girlfriend Greet Brinkhuis. I wrote her name in German because I thought, that would increase the chances that it would be delivered to her. "Dear Gretchen, keep faith, I will do the same! I'm on a train on the way to Ravensbrück". I threw it out through a crack onto the platform. The note was delivered to Greet in an envelope, probably by the station master.
She arrived in Ravensbrück on 8 September 1944. It was there the horror began. This was a large concentration camp for political prisoners 85 km northeast of Berlin. On the platform SS guards with whips and dogs (even the dogs had the same kind of uniforms: shouted: "Raus, raus!". After a freezing cold shower and the delousing we got a gray striped prison dress with a white cross on the back. There was a red triangle on my left sleeve, the sign for political prisoners, and my number 66947. I met a number of Dutch resistance friends from camp Vught.
Even as a “non-Jew” she was severely beaten. One day I was in the toilet with terrible diarrhea and couldn't get to roll call fast enough. An SS guard knocked me unconscious with his belt. Two Dutch friends brought took me to the infirmary. The next day I heard the nurse say: "That Dutch girl is still alive, I never thought she would make it through the night. " Desperately ill at times, she avoided hospital as few patients were kept alive. “Although it was not an extermination camp then, we knew people were being killed.” Selma had to do forced labour in the Siemens factory nearby offered some protection and close friendships. “My Czech friend told me, ‘Keep your chin up’ to think of nice things. I learnt to push bad thoughts away.” No one knew she was Jewish.
On 23 April 1945 she was liberated in Ravensbrück and taken to Gothenburg by the Swedish Red Cross. She is lucky when she leaves Ravensbrück. She loses a struggle with a fellow inmate over the best seat in a truck, next to the driver. Selma eventually gets in the back of another truck. The vehicle she had wanted to sit was hit in an allied air raid moments later. The liberators thought the truck carried German soldiers. When she arrived in Gothenburg, only then when she knew she was safe, she dared to say that her name was not Marga van der Kuit but Selma Velleman. That is why the title of her book is" My name is Selma" When she returned to the Netherlands, she heard that her parents and sister had been murdered in Auschwitz and Sobibor.
After the war
In 1947 she got a job at the Dutch embassy in London through the intercession of her brother David. She went on to study anthropology and sociology and got a job at the BBC Radio Netherlands. There she met her future husband, the Belgian journalist Hugo van de Perre, son of the founder of De Standaard, Alfons van de Perre. They were married in 1955. After graduating, she became a teacher of sociology and mathematics at Sacred Heart High School, Hammersmith, London. When her husband died suddenly in 1979, she continued his work as a foreign correspondent. Until her retirement she worked as a journalist for the BBC and as a correspondent for Avro Televizier and De Standaard. She became a British citizen.
Since 1995, Van de Perre has been going to Ravensbrück for a week every year to talk about the war with Dutch and German students. At the insistence of her brothers' children, she began writing her autobiography, My name is Selma, in 2003, which was published in the Netherlands in 2020 under the title My name is Selma.
A big thank you to Kamp Vught for their help!
Copyright of the photographs: Selma van de Perre - Velleman family.
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