It is December 1942 and Sinterklaas, the Dutch Santa Claus, is expected any minute. I am six years old and terrified, sitting with four other children in a small room in my “foster parents” house. I am the youngest and know he’ll address me first. Will he call me by my real name Anita, or Liesje. Anita is a Jewish fugitive in hiding. Leisje is a nice Christian girl not wanted by the Nazis. I feel sick to my stomach and want to crawl in a hole, but I have nowhere to go.
Before my brother and I were whisked away from our home, our parents had made it clear: Tell no one you are Jewish or be killed. So I could not tell our foster mother our secret. There was no way Sinterklaas could have been forewarned.
Sinterklaas enters with his helper Zwarte Piet. He looks at me and says: “Well, Liesje have you been a good girl?” A wave of relief sweeps over me and I think, “Sinterklaas knows everything.” I can now enjoy his little present. I do wonder how he found out about my situation, but I can breathe again, safe and grateful that his omniscience knows no bounds.
I am now 80, but will never forget where I sat, what I thought and how I felt during those excruciating minutes before Sinterklaas called me Liesje. I marvel at that little girl, still believing in Santa Claus, yet so aware of the constant danger. Though we would be among the few to survive, the emotional damage was profound.
A lifetime later, I worry for all those who must live in shadows – the undocumented, the Dreamers, worshipers of unfavored faiths. We are not living in Nazi Germany, but talk of registries and deportation is profoundly unsettling to this survivor of official hate. It must be profoundly unsettling to them.
In this holiday season, I pray for their safety, and peace of mind.
With a Perspective, I’m Anita Frank.
Anita Frank is a retired adjunct professor of communications and human development. She lives in San Anselmo.