FRIENDSWOOD — Chaja Verveer had a quick answer to the question of how, after living in Holland, Austria, Israel, Brazil and elsewhere, she ended up living here in Friendswood for the last 35 years.
“My husband,” she said with a smile.
Learning about the rest of her life, especially the crisis of her childhood during the Holocaust, takes a bit longer. She will share her story as a survivor with the public at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Friendswood Public Library, 416 S. Friendswood Drive.
“I have to tell people,” she said. “I have a duty to report, but otherwise I’m an ordinary person. The Holocaust both is and isn’t my life.”
Verveer, who is Jewish, was born in Holland in 1941 and betrayed to the Nazis in 1944. She spent her early childhood years in a series of transit and extermination camps set up to house those Hitler declared to be undesirables.
Around her neck, a small amulet is suspended, emblazoned with the Hebrew characters spelling out, “Shaddai,” one of the names for God found in Jewish scriptures. It specifically refers to God’s power. This silver symbol was a gift from her mother. Verveer received it sometime after the survivors of her family were reunited after the war.
Her brothers have stayed silent about their own wartime suffering. She is the only one in her family who has taken up the mission of trying to deter genocides through education.
“One of my brothers really suffers if he talks about it,” she said. “The others tell me I’m a nut to be doing all this. They don’t understand.”
Why does she feel compelled to talk about this darkest time?
“Everyone has a skeleton rattling in their closet,” she said. “And some people keep it in there, and if you don’t bring it out and look at it, it will hit you in the head.”
When not speaking on the subject, she’s just another thoroughly modern Texan. She said the most common response from the crowds after one of her talks is to line up to take “selfies” with her. This new custom may help support the memories she’s trying to keep alive for the next generation — one which will know no living survivors of the Holocaust.
“We used to say, ‘Never again,’ when referring to that time,” she said.
But after the mass exterminations performed by Stalin, Pol Pot and the warlords of Rwanda, the goal posts for the Holocaust remembrance movement have been moved downfield.
“We don’t want students to be so turned off by stacks of bodies that they will stop listening,” she said.
“So we’ve turned away from that (graphic approach) and begun talking about moral courage and individual responsibility and about (the difference between) bystanders and neighbors.”
Verveer is a board member of the Houston Holocaust Museum and a commissioner on the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission. She has been invited to speak to a symposium on child survivors of the Holocaust in Europe at the invitation of the German Chancellor Angela Merkel later this summer.