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Kurt Philipps: A Child's Life at Apeldoornsche Bosch

Updated: Oct 12


Aerial view of Apeldoornsche Bosch, circa 1926. Source: CODA Archives


In the Forest

Over a hundred years ago, a mental hospital for Jewish patients opened in the forest on the outskirts of Apeldoorn, the Netherlands. At the time, having a mental illness was seen as shameful or frightening, so it was common for mental hospitals to be in remote areas, far away from those considered “normal.” This particular hospital, the Apeldoornsche Bosch (Apeldoorn Forest in English) served patients of all ages, including children, and had services and buildings specialized for their care. One afternoon in February 1939, a new patient was registered. His name was Kurt Julius Philipps and he was four years old.

Exact details of Kurt’s life at Apeldoornsche Bosch are vague. He certainly would have been housed in the Achisomog wing for children. The Achisomog consisted of four buildings, including a school for formal and religious education. Upon registration, each child was evaluated and given a personal care plan. Since boys and girls lived separately, Kurt likely resided in the Ruben-Simeon building.

During his time at Apeldoornsche Bosch, Kurt’s parents, younger brother, and grandmother who lived an hour’s drive away in Amsterdam may have visited him on holidays or special occasions. Perhaps Kurt enjoyed his time at Apeldoornsche Bosch. Maybe his favorite part of the day was taking a stroll through the forest and listening to the birds sing.

Kurt's ID card, 1939. A.B. in the right corner stands for Apeldoornsche Bosch. Source: Arolsen Archives

We Loved Them

Apeldoornsche Bosch (referred to as AB from this point on) opened on May 24, 1909. Its mission was to care for mentally ill Jewish patients within a Jewish environment to make them feel more at home. Additionally, AB took a more progressive approach regarding the patients’ treatments. While many mental hospitals kept patients in their rooms all day, AB made sure each patient had an eventful schedule. A typical day for a child, like Kurt for example, consisted of formal schooling, Hebrew lessons, Torah study, mealtimes, sports, and board games. Adult patients participated in work therapy. They learned shoemaking, carpentry, basket weaving, and cooking. There was also a farm within walking distance from AB and the farmer often allowed the adult patients to help him tend to the land and the animals. Though the outside world may have seen the patients as lesser or even disturbed, AB saw their humanity and encouraged them to use their skills and talents each day.

In 1935, AB opened the Achisomog wing. Before the Achisomog, children were cared for among the adults, but the staff felt the children needed their own space to learn and grow. When the Achisomog first operated, there were 32 children, and by the time Kurt arrived, there were 82. Rhodea Shandler, a nurse who worked at AB, described the Achisomog as her favorite area. She enjoyed walking around the gardens with the children. She also mentioned that some children in the Achisomog were not mentally ill. They were there because their parents refused to take care of them. To make the children feel welcome, the AB staff provided them with a little more affection. On this topic, Shandler wrote “the nurses, doctors, and teachers became their parents and caregivers. They loved us and we loved them.”

Since the hospital’s land was located on nearly 89 acres, patients were encouraged to take nature walks and they were also permitted to go off-campus. Many patients enjoyed exploring the nearby town of Apeldoorn or discovering new sights within the forest. The decade before the hospital opened, there were only 103 Jews living in Apeldoorn. By 1930, there were over a thousand Jews, many of them working at AB or supporting it through nonprofit efforts. As World War II progressed and the Nazi conquest affected the daily lives of European Jews, many Jewish patients were forced out of mental health institutions as part of the segregation laws. AB took in many patients from Germany and elsewhere in Europe to address this hardship. By 1940, with its high number of patients and progressive practices, AB became the largest and most successful Jewish mental health institution in the Netherlands.

Children at AB's school, circa 1940. Source: Apeldoornsche Bosch Remembrance Center

AB's synagogue, circa 1920. Source: CODA Archives


The Invasion

In May 1940, Hitler invaded the Netherlands and life for the Jews changed overnight. Thus, AB stepped in to support their community. They began registering Jews with or without a mental illness as patients in hopes that this would keep them safe from vigilant Nazi eyes. Since AB was in a distant forest, Nazi activity in the area was minimal compared to large cities like Amsterdam and Rotterdam. By late 1941, there were over 1,500 patients, way over the hospital’s capacity. Some patients even slept on the floors of the hallways, but AB refused to turn people away. Consequently, the hospital became crowded, but for a time, the plan worked. Nazis did not venture to the Apeldoorn forest and many patients lovingly called the hospital “Jewish heaven.” Sal van Son, who worked as a janitor at AB, stated he even felt safe as an employee. Van Son was Jewish and despite the horrific news of Jewish persecution happening all over Europe, he was certain the Nazis would never find his workplace in the secluded woods.

On the other hand, Jews living in the surrounding areas of AB were not so lucky. The Apeldoorn Synagogue was set on fire. Jews in the education field were fired from their positions and Jewish children were prohibited from attending school. In October 1941, the Nazis conducted their first Apeldoorn deportation with a round-up of thirteen Jews to Mauthausen concentration camp. None survived. Day by day, the Nazis inched closer to AB. Then, in 1942, tensions skyrocketed. The Apeldoorn Police Department aided the Nazis by forming a squad to identify the town’s Jews and hand them over to their deaths. Over 200 Jews were evicted from their homes or hiding places.

In November 1942, Dr. Aurier, a mental health physician and hospital inspector, visited AB. He spoke to Dr. Jacques Lobstein, AB’s director, about a secret Nazi plan to liquidate AB and use the grounds as a mental hospital for Germans only. With this grave news, Dr. Lobstein warned staff and patients. However, of the approximate 1,000 patients, only 80 left the premises to go into hiding. The majority of the staff did not take the warning seriously because they still believed AB was the best option for them and the patients. Hence, most stayed put, including Kurt, who was then eight years old.

Group photo of AB doctors and nurses, 1940. Source: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum


The Deportation

On January 19, 1943, the Apeldoorn Police Department informed Dr. Lobstein that the AB would be officially declared “Jew-free” within a few days. That same day, the police department arrested the rest of the Jews in Apeldoorn and gave them to Nazi forces. With danger looming, Dr. Lobstein and the remaining staff jumped into action. Packages of food, linens, and medication were set aside for the patients. Despite the rumors of concentration camps, AB staff hoped the patients were only being relocated to another facility. At the orders of Nazi Captain Ferdinand aus der Fünten, the liquidation started on the evening of January 21, 1943. Nazis grabbed sleeping patients from their rooms. Some patients were in their pajamas and others were naked and were not allowed any time to get dressed. They were also not permitted to bring the packages the hospital had prepared.

The patients were hurled onto trucks like luggage, stacked one on top of the other. Those who were resistant or did not quite understand what was going on were beaten. Some patients managed to run away from the commotion but then ran back to the hospital because they did not know where else to go. Shandler, one of the nurses, ripped off her Star of David badge and rushed into town. She pretended to be a tourist and walked around the shops, slowly making her way to the train station to escape to another city. But as she posed under a different identity, escaped patients flocked to her for help. She recalled:

“For years they had been very dependent on the medical staff and as soon as they saw me, they wanted to talk to me and join me. To them I was a nice sister they knew well and they grabbed me and wanted me to go with them. But I pretended not to see them. I whispered to them to leave and I ignored them. I was too scared to show that I knew them. I heard that many of the patients were rounded up by the police and soldiers because of their fearful behavior and their outbursts. Some of them ran all the way back to the hospital. Unable to cope with the freedom and the fact that they now had to fend for themselves, they panicked and became confused.”

Once the adult patients were taken, Kurt and the other child patients were snatched away. The trucks were loaded and driven to the nearby train station where all patients were then thrown onto a freight train headed to Auschwitz. As the patients wailed from bewilderment and fear, the station director, Klaas Bloothooft, opened the train’s window shutters to give the patients fresh air. However, the Nazis quickly closed the shutters, even on the fingers of some. Before the train left, the Nazis asked the AB staff members if any of them wanted to join their patients on the journey, but they were told the train was absolutely not going to Auschwitz. What they were not told was the train's nonstop journey to Auschwitz had been arranged by the vicious Lieutenant Colonel Adolf Eichmann. The staff members, feeling despondent about their frightened patients, boarded the train as well. Kurt, being one of the youngest patients, was likely accompanied by a nurse. Perhaps the nurse consoled him with lullabies or hugged him as the bitter winter raged on outside.

AB in its early years, circa 1912. Source: Jewish Cultural Center


A Three Day Journey

Though the AB patients were gone, some staff remained. Dr. Lobstein was one of them. Nazi officer Mann Grünberg beat Dr. Lobstein with a belt as he cursed at him. Another staff member pleaded with the Nazis to let his wife, who was eight months pregnant, stay behind so she could give birth at home. But Ferdinand aus der Fünten, unmoved, responded “she can also have her baby out there, we make no exceptions.” All remaining staff members were taken to Westerbork in transit to their next destination. Dr. Lobstein and his wife, Gonda, were imprisoned there for a year. Then, they were transferred to Bergen-Belsen where they stayed for another year until they were forced on a final transport train to Theresienstadt. They never arrived because the train was rerouted to a little town in Germany called Tröbitz. Without food, water, or medical aid, the Lobstein couple perished shortly before liberation by the Allies. Their son, Siegfried, who was also present at AB, was murdered in Auschwitz along with the patients.

What Dr. Lobstein did not realize on January 11, 1943 was that AB was being meticulously watched by the Nazis. Aus der Fünten paid a visit to AB on this day. He was not dressed in his Nazi uniform, but in regular clothes and asked for a tour of the AB premises. At his request, he was given a detailed tour and even a map. Dr. Lobstein, unaware of the setup, believed Aus der Fünten wanted to get a better idea of AB’s ability to house more Jewish patients. Since Aus der Fünten never gave clues to his real motives, Dr. Lobstein provided him with lots of information on the hospital’s dedication to their Jewish patients. Therefore, on January 17, 1943 when people needing psychiatric attention were brought to AB from Westerbork for treatment, Dr. Lobstein felt relieved. Indeed, he thought, if the Nazis were willing to transfer people from Westerbork to AB, then they were not planning to liquidate the hospital. Two days later, another hundred patients were brought to AB. The buildings were more crowded than ever, but a liquidation seemed highly improbable. Dr. Lobstein, like the other staff, tried everything they could to stop the liquidation, especially of the children’s buildings. Kurt probably overheard Dr. Lobstein speaking to Aus der Fünten. Being the son of German parents, it is likely Kurt spoke German, so he would have understood Aus der Fünten’s answer of “[the children here] are asocial. That’s the main thing.”

After a three day journey through the harsh winter, the AB patients arrived at the Auschwitz platform. Several patients died during the train ride from starvation, dehydration, or exhaustion. Only the staff members were admitted into the camp. All the living patients, since they were recorded as mentally ill and “unfit” according to Nazi standards, were immediately selected for the gas chambers. A witness, Jacob Izak van Gelder, reported the following:

“In January 1943, I remember it was a Sunday, a transport with mentally ill people arrived from the mental institution, the Apeldoornsche Bosch in Apeldoorn. I was present at the station when the train arrived. It was one of the most horrible transports from the Netherlands that I had seen. Many mentally ill patients tried to break through the enclosure and were shot. The remainder of the patients were gassed immediately.”

Another witness, Rudolf Vrba, stated “some were naked, though the cold was petrifying; and above everything, above the moans of the dying or the despairing, the cries of pain, of fear, the sound of wild, frightening, lunatic laughter rose and fell.” Of the staff members, Vrba said “One nurse walked slowly with an old, frail man, talking to him quietly, as if they were out on the hospital grounds. Another half-carried a screaming girl. They fought to bring order out of chaos, using medicines and blankets, gentleness, and quiet heroism, instead of guns or sticks or snarling dogs.”

Kurt survived the strenuous, three day, nonstop journey. Tragically, along with the other patients, he was murdered in the gas chambers upon arrival on January 25, 1943.

The Achisomog wing where Kurt lived, 1935. Source: CODA Archives


The Aftermath

Once AB was empty, the Nazis stormed inside the property to find anything of value. Soon, the floors were layered with items like laundry, syringes, books, and shoes. Though the inspection lasted under an hour, AB’s appearance was no longer the flourishing site it had been. It would take ten days and a team of two hundred men to clear the damages estimated at 11 million US dollars in today’s time. Of course, once news of AB’s liquidation spread, worried relatives who had not yet been deported to concentration camps, called the hospital to seek answers about where their loved ones were taken. To deal with the mass calls, a Nazi officer was put to work at AB as a mock dispatcher. Whenever a concerned individual called, he would reply: “they’re in Heaven, flew up there this morning.” For the remainder of World War II, the Nazis used AB as a rehabilitation home.

After World War II ended, Aus der Fünten was arrested for crimes against humanity. In addition to AB's liquidation, Aus der Fünten was responsible for the deportations of over 50,000 Jews in the Netherlands. He was given the death penalty in 1950, but he was pardoned by the Dutch monarch, Queen Juliana. Instead, he was imprisoned in Breda, the Netherlands until January 1989. He died in Duisburg, Germany three months later.

In 1946, AB briefly reopened as an orphanage for Jewish children who had lost their families in the Holocaust. But since many Holocaust survivors moved to the United States, Australia, Canada, and elsewhere, there was no longer a need for a Jewish mental institution in the Netherlands. Thus, AB was sold in the early 1950s to the Dutch government. It was then repurposed as a Christian mental hospital which is now called 'S Heeren Loo. However, in early 2020, an AB remembrance center opened inside the former house of Philip Fuldauer, the assistant director of the Achisomog. The nearby AB monument has a list of memorialized names, which includes Kurt.

Princess Juliana (later Queen Juliana, second from the left) visits the Achisomog. Philip Fuldauer is the man with his finger raised, 1935. Source: CODA Archives

Monument for the victims of Apeldoornsche Bosch, 2020. Source: CODA Archives


Kurt and His Family

Kurt’s father, Hugo, was born on May 29, 1905 in Oberhausen, Germany to Jakob and Emma Philipps. He was the youngest of three children. Kurt’s mother, Christina Antonia Anna Schwetschenau, was born on July 31, 1911, in Essen, Germany. Hugo lived in Essen by the late 1920s and probably met Christina in the early 1930s. Since she was not Jewish, this created a problem for their relationship. In an interview with the Shoah Foundation, a late cousin of Kurt, Henry Sharton, states Hugo and Christina fled to the Netherlands because they were affected by Nazi Germany's racial laws. On August 1, 1934, Kurt was born in Amsterdam. About six weeks later, Hugo and Christina announced their marriage in a local newspaper on September 13, 1934. Eventually, Hugo found work as a salesman of men's clothing. He and Christina had another son, Herbert Hugo Philipps, on November 21, 1938.

Sharton met Kurt in 1938 because his parents were able to book ship tickets to the United States from the Netherlands as it was a safer option than leaving from Germany. Since the ship was not scheduled to leave for a few days, Sharton and his parents stayed in Kurt’s home until their departure from the port of Rotterdam, unaware they would never see him again. In early 1939, Kurt’s grandmother, Emma Hirsch Philipps, moved into the Philipps home. Precise details about her relationship with Kurt are hazy, but it can be presumed he was loved and cared for by his grandmother during the earliest years of his life.

Why Kurt’s parents decided to place him in AB is unknown. When Kurt became a big brother after the birth of Herbert, this may have been part of the reason to send him away. It is possible they felt Kurt needed additional attention they could not properly provide. However, it can be assumed that the Philipps family kept in touch with Kurt. The local Apeldoorn doctor was Dr. Arie Querido, son of the successful owner of Querido Publishing, Emanuel Querido, who was sadly murdered in Sobibor in 1943. Though Dr. Querido mostly treated patients in Apeldoorn, he also attended to the patients of AB. It is likely that at some point during Kurt’s stay, the Philipps family built a friendship with Dr. Querido because when Hugo Philipps died, the Querido family ran a note in a local Amsterdam newspaper that reads, translated from Dutch: “Our deep sadness, our dear friend, Mr. Hugo Philipps, has passed away suddenly. We will miss him.”

While it can be believed that Kurt’s family visited him during his stay at AB, this came to a stop in 1942 after the Nazis restricted the movements of Jews, even for going to work. Hugo was deported to a concentration camp but escaped successfully. He made it back to Amsterdam and hid in his own home with Christina and Herbert, who was able to pass as a Gentile child. The family of three found ways to survive on food ration cards for two people. Emma was deported to Westerbork and then unfortunately murdered in Sobibor in May 1943. Hugo died suddenly in Essen, Germany in 1976. Christina died in 1979. Regarding Herbert, he married in 1965; as of 2015, he and his wife were still living in Europe.

During Kurt’s time at AB, he likely played in the sports center or took walks around the grounds. He would have kept a kosher diet as AB’s kitchen enforced this under strict rabbinical supervision. He would have learned Hebrew, studied Torah, attended Shabbat services, and celebrated Jewish holidays. Maybe the nearby farmer taught him how to milk a cow or feed chickens. Perhaps he looked forward to receiving photos of his little brother. Again, these details are only assumptions, but what can be said with sincerity is Kurt’s life was much too short and he was unjustly murdered due to extreme and cruel hatred.

Dutch Red Cross document certifying Kurt's death, filled out by his father, Hugo. Source: USHMM


Conclusion

When I stumbled upon Kurt’s history, I was not researching him, but rather his grandmother Emma to submit her information to the Sobibor Memorial Museum. As I searched through databases for her records, his name often came up alongside hers and I discovered he was her grandson. From there, I began exploring his records. With so many puzzle pieces coming together, I felt the urge to write about him and his stay at AB.

Thanks to the excellent assistance of Niod Archives and Dutch historian John Stienen, I was able to find out a little bit more about Kurt’s life at AB. From 1940 to 1942, under the supervision of Dr. Elisabeth Catharina van der Wal, Kurt was documented as not being able to speak, not playing with other children, groggy, not toilet trained, and experiencing seizures. Dr. Van der Wal noted Kurt had to be cared for like he was an infant and deemed his hospitalization at AB to be a necessary part of his treatment. Unfortunately, Kurt’s official diagnosis uses an outdated term which I will not repeat out of respect.

A second registration card of Kurt's contains the abbreviation G1, which stands for “person of mixed Jewish blood in the first degree.” Since Kurt’s mother was a German Catholic, he could have avoided deportation, at least for a time. This explains why his brother Herbert, whose card has G1 as well, was not taken to a concentration camp. However, when it came to illnesses, the Nazis made no exceptions. According to Hitler’s viewpoints, if a person had any type of mental or physical condition, they deserved death. Hence, if Kurt had not been Jewish at all, he still could have been a Holocaust victim only because he required specialized medical care.

Almost eighty years have passed since Kurt was murdered and the staff members who saw him daily are all deceased. The final surviving staff member, Mr. Sal van Son, the AB custodian, died at 98 years old in 2020. As a result, personal recollections of Kurt’s life at AB from staff members are no longer possible to obtain.

But even though further records are limited or not available, Kurt was much more than a record or a document. He was a child who never had the chance to grow up. Surely, that is enough for him to deserve remembrance.

From left to right: Hugo, Herbert, and Kurt, circa 1941. Courtesy of Philipps family.



Special thanks to the family of Kurt Philipps, Arolsen Archives, CODA Archives, USHMM, Shoah Foundation, NIOD Archives, Amsterdam City Archives, Apeldoornsche Bosch Remembrance Center, Yad Vashem, and Dutch historian John Stienen.


Sources available for download:

Apeldoornsche Bosch References
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The only surviving color footage of Apeldoornsche Bosch. Filmed by Maurtis Levie, 1936-1937. Source: Filmbank Groningen



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