The case of S:
Possible recollections of two previous lives and of intermediate states between incarnations
by Titus Rivas
Como los judios
aunque la carne me quemen
no reniego de lo que he sio
"Nobody will leave this place alive"
Text on a wall in Chelmno
A gifted Dutch-Jewish girl with an American background, S. of Amsterdam, spontaneously recalled two previous lives and two intermission periods between lives when she was about three years old. S.'s memories of past lives seem to be strongly related to the Shoah and possibly also to the reign of the 17th Century Spanish Inquisition in Peru. Her memories of intermediate states between lives seem to be characterized by relevant Hebrew, Yiddish and Spanish terminology.
The author concludes that the case of S. probably contains paranormal elements and that it fits the transcultural pattern of Dr. Stevenson's "Cases of the Reincarnation Type" (CORTS). The special interest of the case lies in: (a) recollections of two previous incarnations, (b) thematic relations between the two lives recalled and the present life, (c) connections between S.'s memories and experiences of her mother L., (d) memories of an intermediate state or intermission period (MIPS), (e) the connection between the recollections of an intermission period and the Kabbalistic world-view, (f) a dream of her mother about a moment of choice between two incarnations, and (g) a corroboration of a possible link between CORTS and giftedness.
Most probably, there are favourite topics for reincarnation fantasies such as the Titanic, Atlantis, Ancient Egypt and life at the French royal court. A topic that undoubtedly appeals to the imagination just as strongly is the Holocaust of Jews or "Shoah". Quite rightly, the media still give a lot of attention to this enormous crime and tragedy, which is even more necessary than ever, now that misled characters influenced by revisionists claim that there is a so called "Auschwitz-lie" and now that many others claim that "by now, we know very well what has happened to the Jews" (implying that they are simply fed up with the subject). The Holocaust of Jews (and of Gypsies, homosexuals, handicapped people, etc.) has been one of the main crimes against humanity in history, even though it is true that there are many parallels to other forms of genocide, like that of "Native Americans", the Kurdish people, the Armenians or what has recently happened in Kosovo, Bosnia and Ruanda.
Somebody who through her diary has become the symbol for many of the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, is the teenager Anne Frank of Amsterdam. There have already been at least two girls who claimed to have been none other than that same Anne in their previous life. The best known of them is the sympathetic Barbro Karlen from Sweden who would have had memories of this life already when she was still a toddler and who would have developed into a talented author. However, some of Karlen's memories seem to be very dubious or even incorrect when considered from a historical point of view and all of her remaining recollections are limited to things that are generally known.
The other girl is Teresa, a young American who would also possess a lot of literary talent. Obviously, one of them is wrong. Therefore I conclude that the persecution of Jews can also be a topic for reincarnation fantasies. Actually, this is what we may expect if we realize that fantasies often manifest in relation to emotional subjects and one can hardly think of a subject that is more shocking than the Holocaust.
Outside the realm of parapsychological reincarnation research, there recently was a case of abnormal psychology related to the Holocaust, that of Binjamin Wilkomirski (sometimes erroneously written as Wilkimorski) alias Bruno Grosjean. In his book "Fragments" Wilkomirski claimed he had been a Jewish child survivor of concentration camps, but researchers found he really was Bruno Grosjean, a Swiss adopted child. DNA-testing confirmed that Wilkomirski was making up a Holocaust past.
From a scholarly viewpoint, these facts should us make all the more cautious when someone claims to have died as a victim of the Shoah. Moreover, and this is actually even more important, we must never forget how sensitive an issue the Holocaust remains for survivors and relatives. If we want to be ethically sound as researchers, we should never become guilty of participating in a sensationalist exploitation of this horrible tragedy. However, this is not everything that can be said about the role that the Holocaust plays in possible recollections of previous lives. This became clear as never before by the publication of the book "Beyond the Ashes" by the American Rabbi Yonassan Gershom. In this book Reb Gershom first of all gives a lot of attention to Jewish doctrines about the hereafter and reincarnation. As it turns out, reincarnation has for a long time played an important role within the Kabbalah and Hassidism. The rabbi not only deals with these doctrines, but also with the experiences of persons who claim to have perished during the Holocaust in their previous incarnation. As a Jewish pastoral worker he has spoken with about 250 persons who claim this. About these experiences he possesses written declarations of 78 informants. All of these people live in the Western world and many of them are not Jewish in their present incarnation. Gershom, who by the way himself has had a dream about a previous life during the Holocaust, is well aware of possible alternative explanations for the various claims. He is well capable of distinguishing between stronger and weaker cases. The experiences that he describes are quite diverse, but they do show common features, which in their turn remind us of the cases of Dr. Ian Stevenson, the main Western authority in the field of empirical reincarnation research.
Such features include inexplicable inclinations that remind one of Jewish rituals, or recurrent dreams in young children that seem to be directly related to the Holocaust. Not all of the cases that are discussed by him are equally convincing, but I think that some of them deserve to be taken seriously, such as the case of Nancy. This is an American student who wanted to convert to Judaism. During her first service at the synagogue, Nancy suddenly started gasping for breath and coughing while she was saying the so called Shema-prayer. She could not breath and continued repeating Adonai Echad ('the Lord is one') from the first line of this prayer. Furthermore she experienced a vision in which she died in the gas chamber.
'Adonai Echad' turned out to be words commonly spoken by Jewish people at their deathbed.
The book has been reviewed in the American Jewish and Non-Jewish press and this finally led to the publication of a second book based on more experiences of a similar nature, "From Ashes to Healing". Another collection of such cases is that of Reb Zalman M. Hiyyah Schachter-Shalomi. In 1987 he published in 1987 the article "Thoughts on the Shoah: Two Jewish Holocaust reincarnation cases" in Tikkun-Magazine, Vol 2, 1. Just like Gershom, he had been approached as a rabbi by all kinds of people with possible memories of the Shoah. One of these cases is that of person who took part in a so called Havurat Shabbat (Shabbat-retreat). One of the visitors introduced a breathing exercise, in which the participants alternatingly had to breath deep and fast. The respondent panicked and suddenly begged the Maschiach (Messiah) in Yiddish to come (to this world). He tried to open the door, but did not succeed and collapsed whimpering. Afterwards, he told his friends that during the exercise he had lost contact with reality and had entered a state of consciousness in which he relived how he perished in a gas chamber.
The best cases collected by Gershom and Schachter-Shalomi do indeed indicate authentic memories of a previous life during the Holocaust. All the same, it would not hurt if we were to find still more cases that could corroborate the ones found thus far.
After I had organized a lecture by the Indian reincarnation researcher Dr. Kirti Swaroop Rawat together with Lynne de Jong-Decker, the director of Centre Aurora in Amsterdam, Lynne informed her friend about our research. This friend is the "liberal" Jewish photographer and writer L. -, born in New York City. I had explained to Lynne about what kind of reincarnation cases Dr Rawat and I were looking for and she had already announced to me that she would introduce me to someone who had experienced a similar case. This person was L. -.
Apparently, L. found it painful to tell me the story of her daughter S. and she felt a great sadness while describing the events. Also, she had the feeling that she herself had experienced something similar but she could not explain what exactly it would have been. At the end of my description of S.'s ostensible recollections of the Holocaust, I will mention two experiences of L. herself that are possibly connected to the case.
L. told me that when her daughter S. (then seven) was about three years old, she had claimed that she had already lived before twice. L. had never told her anything about the Holocaust and claimed that she never had had any reason to do so. Before the events developed, L. and her husband E., a musician, had had some belief in the idea of reincarnation but L. had not been completely convinced of it. Lynne of Aurora had only been something like an acquaintance. Concerning the "esoterical", L. had once done a course of "psychic self-defense", and she had read a lot about the well-known American medium Edgar Cayce who also taught a reincarnation-doctrine (mixed with Christian concepts). She told me she was not aware of the specific Jewish traditions about reincarnation such as those of the Kabbalah. Among L.'s maternal ancestors there was a chief rabbi. Besides, there was at least one more rabbi among her ancestors plus somebody who was buried at Tiberias who wrote a commentary about Kabbalistic scriptures.
Finally, it is important to mention that her twin sister, who lives in Israel, has an orthodox-Jewish orientation and is interested in the Kabbalah. One way or the other, L. claims that she was still quite skeptical about reincarnation before S. told her story.
L. immediately noted down what S. told her in a notebook, which she called "S.'s book". That she really did so, was confirmed by her husband E.
This first phone-call with L. led to more calls -also with E. -, a written correspondence, messages by e-mail and several meetings with L. and S.. Also, I met a friend of L.'s at Asterdam, Pauli Hofmeester, and her daughter Sissy who confirmed certain details of the story that L. had written down. During my visits to the family in Amsterdam in February and March 1998 I was assisted by Indian researcher Dr. K.S. Rawat of Faridabad [comment 2005: presently based at Indore], director of the International Council for Survival and Reincarnation Researches. In August 1998 I met the family again for an interview by the Dutch Hindustani (for Hindus from Surinam) broadcasting company OHM-radio, together with journalist Lydia.
A case like S.'s is "unsolved", in the sense that it cannot be verified just what historical lives she may have recalled. However, its basic structure corresponds to that of solved cases studied by dr. Ian Stevenson of the University of Virginia. There is absolutely no claim on my part that S.'s case belongs to the hard core of Cases of the Reincarnation Type. My main claim about this case is that it certainly seems to express the same natural phenomenon that we see in solved cases.
I. Life during the Holocaust
Seven years before she got pregnant with S., in 1982, L. had a dream about a girl of about 19 years. "I was standing in a cement room. It seemed to be large. In the middle of the room was a huge pile of bodies. The bodies were clothed. (I realise this made it easier to look at the bodies.) Then I found myself outside walking with a girl whom I judged to be about 19 years old. She had cream coloured skin, very dark, maybe black colour curly hair to the shoulders. Her eyes were the same, so dark they appeared black shining coals. She wore a coat that came to mid calf and was in the style of the 30s or 40s. I don't remember what she had on her feet. We communicated telepathically as we walked along. I didn't know where we were when suddenly we were walking along a small path. To the left was a white wall. At a certain moment the girl stopped.
She raised her right hand and pointed to a house with some sort of railing and said, "That's where I'm going to be born!"
This dream occurred when I lived on the Kromboomssloot."
At first, L. thought that this dream was related to the unborn child of a friend of hers and later also to a child of her twin sister, but there weren't any clear connections between the dream and the surroundings in which the children in question were born.
Only later on, when L. and her husband had moved to their present address they both recognized the railing and the white brick wall in L.'s dream next to their own house. It is remarkable that when she dreamed about the house, it did not even exist yet. At S.'s birth she had the same dark eyes and hair as the young woman in L.'s dream. Therefore L. thought: "This definitely must be her."
Two other dreams of L. took place just two weeks before S. was born. The first dream resembled a non-verbal meeting with members of some kind of committee. The same 19-year old girl from the first dream was standing in front of L. but it seemed as if L. was both standing behind her and "was part of her or the other way round." Before them there was an old house. It looked like an old house at a ranch. There was a veranda surrounding the whole house and on it there were about 7 to 8 people. Among other things, L. saw an old woman who did not look very nice and she supposed that this was someone who was critical. The other people did seem friendly and relaxed and some leaned backwards on their rocking chairs. The sun was shining and the situation seemed to be rather peaceful.
A few days later, L. got yet another dream that was related to the previous two. Once more, she could see the same girl and once more L. was standing behind her and at the same time she was part of her. The people from the former dream were sitting at a long table now. This happened in a dark room in which only a table was lit by a lamp hanging above it. It reminded L. of a movie about spies. The people behind the table started their interrogation: "Have you taken the right decision?", "Are you sure that you want to do this?", "Do you want to go through with this?", "Are you sure that you want to be with these people?", "Do you stick to your decision?" They went on and on with their questions and each time the girl answered: "Yes! I'm sure. I want to be with these people. Yes, I want to go through with it. No, I don't want to change my mind. Yes, I have taken the right decision." This seemed to continue like this for a while. L. felt surprised that she was allowed to be present and also because they did not seem to notice her. She still feels honoured that she was allowed to experience all this. It is interesting to note that according to "Beyond the Ashes" by Rabbi Gershom this dream corresponds somewhat to a Jewish tradition of a heavenly tribunal, mostly formed like the earthly 'beet din' or rabbinal court of justice, at which Jews used to settle their disputes during the centuries before they were given civil rights by secular governments. Gershom also tells us about an interesting correspondence between this tradition and the research of Joel Whitton who regressed a lot of hypnotized subjects to what he calls the 'bardo', a term taken from Tibetan Mahayana Buddhism that refers to the spiritual state in which the soul would dwell between two incarnations. A large percentage of Whitton's clients told him that they had to appear in front of an ethereal council of judgement.
S. Audra was born on September 21st 1990.
L. told me that there was a full moon that night and that it was both Jewish Newyear and the beginning of Autumn. Her first name 'S.' means "gift" in Hebrew. Her second, English, name Audra means "noble strength".
During the pregnancy S. already seemed to have had contact with the world outside, because she responded to touching. The pregnancy was free of complications.
When she was born, S. showed a strange kind of birthmark on her forehead. At first, it just consisted of a white circle with a round spot in the middle of it. Two weeks after her birth, the spot became bigger until it was as big as a small marble. It was dark red and when S. screamed or cried it became purple. At the same time, a second birthmark developed at the exterior of the upper part of her right arm. The shape of this birthmark looks like a leaf. S. did not experience any discomfort from either of these marks. She just found it annoying when other children or "stupid" adults touched it and when they pressed her "headlight" (as it was commonly called) without asking her permission for it.
Right from the start, S. was a remarkable child. She did not take naps during the day, but stayed awake from 9 a.m. till midnight. As a baby S. was alert and she seemed interested in her environment. She did not need a lot of sleep. From the time she was 11 months old she walked alone without anyone holding her hand. She wanted to get out of the pram very soon.
She started talking from the age of 1. When she was 2, she stayed clean day and night.
Just like E., L. stimulated S.'s psychological development from a very young age onwards. She explained to S. what she saw, showed her all kinds of things and explained how they worked. S. responded to all this with curiosity and interest. L. also took S. with her to museums and to the theater, for the first time when she was just 7 weeks old.
When she was 4 months old she could sit by herself and when she was one and a half she was talking fluently. From the start, it seemed as if she had a photographic memory, and she also showed a great linguistic capacity. When L.'s twin sister was visiting them with her husband and son, the son refused to speak English instead of Ivrit. By the end of the week, S. was already capable of making short sentences in Ivrit.
L. described S.'s personality as persistent, curious, caring, sensitive to other people's emotions, with a great sense of humour, and she told me that she was very popular with others. People love her and often spontaneously get in touch with her.
That S. is very gifted, is also made clear by her poems which she created already before she could write and which were written down by her mother immediately after S. produced them.
When she was seven, S. read texts in Dutch very fast (and to a lesser extent also in English). She could read already during second grade (in Holland this is approximately the same as Kindergarten in the US).
She intuitively senses how other people are feeling, she can learn very well and she is very interested in medical topics.
All this is not just claimed by her parents, but it is confirmed by the team of the well-known expert in the field of gifted children, Dr. F.J. Mönks of the Catholic University of Nijmegen as is shown by a report of his center of September 4th 1996, written by Dr. Mönks himself and by M.J. van Overbeek, M.A. In this report they mention as S.'s hobbies: solving puzzles, painting, listening to stories, music, theatre, museums and ballet. Furthermore, her talents are confirmed by the report: "She makes the impression of being very wise and her way with language is excellent." (pag.2); "S. has a very strong memory" (pag.3); "Especially the verbal side of S. seems to be very much ahead of that of her peers." (pag. 4); and "She has good calculating abilities and can concentrate well on her work". And: "She asks a lot of "why"-questions and has an exceptional use of language that does not seem to correspond to her age. Also, she makes up a lot of poems, that her mother writes down subsequently."
Scarred by the Holocaust?
L. claims she had never told S. anything about the Holocaust before she was three, because there had not been any reason to do so and also because S. was still so very young.
From the beginning S. showed some peculiar characteristics that one could easily relate to her later story about (what seems to be) the Shoah. As an infant she was very afraid of fire-crackers, until she was about six months old. She totally panicked over them and in general she did not like loud bangs. When she was still very young she did not want to eat pork, whereas her parents are liberal Jews. This accords well with an orthodox-Jewish diet and thus also with such a possible background in a previous life.
Also, S. had nightmares when she was very young and she never wanted to talk about them. L. told me that S. would often cry softly in her sleep and then finally she would wake up and call for her. Afterwards, S. just told her that she had had a nightmare and that it was bad. Furthermore, S. was terribly afraid to deal with men and especially to visit the family general practicioner. She did not want to hear of it. L. told me that her general fear of men was evident even before she could walk. If a man (other than her father) would try to lift her up, she would scream with terror and she would stretch her hands towards L.. It seemed as if she was afraid of being separated. The screaming was so deafening, that people would always return her to her mother immediately.
This phobia was confirmed during the tests at Mönks's center, because she started to cry out of fear "that a mister would carry out the testing."
From the Oude Schans to "Warsaw"
The very first time that S. said anything at all about a previous life during the Holocaust was when she was between 2 and a half and 3 years old, while she was walking with mother near the Kromboomsloot in Amsterdam and enjoying the sun with her. She was happy and apparently she felt like talking about it, to tell her mother what she could remember. She always talked about her memories if she was alone with her mother, during a walk or after dinner.
In November and December of 1993, i.e. when she was 3 years old S. told her mother that she used to live at the Oude Schans 39 during the 30s. She pointed at the house in question. She claimed she could recall a lot of details of this house. For instance, she described "chachkes" (Yiddish for "small things", which was by the way a word already known to her present family) in the windows on the street side. Such things as a set of elephants; she remembered a small one and a big one and described how small the eyes were. Further there were small boxes made of wood and things were put in them. There were bookcases on one wall from floor to ceiling.
On January 22nd 1994, when she was 3 years and 4 months she once more described the house on the Oude Schans. Following a list made by L. the details were:
"- black brick (dirty)
- front door is green
- red roof tiles
- metal thing holding up the front gable (S. called this a "voortijl", Dutch spelling)
- small balcony
- 2 doorbells
- 9 stories (apparently incorrect)
- white hook for hoisting
- chackes on the windowsill
- boxes with "thingie dingies"
- something to burn garlic in
- there was a pretend door that couldn't be opened, no handle, a little window
- stairs that lead to a landing to the front door
- a mezuzeh next to the door (own door)
- windows had rope and weight things for opening and closing
- windows had a latch that had to be pushed with the finger and it would turn
- S. lived upstairs and others lived downstairs."
On March 18th 1994, i.e. when S. was about 3 and a half years old, she told L. that her name had been "Sabina Olthof" or so it sounded.
About a year later S. and L. were visiting a friend who lives nearby, Pauli Hofmeester and her daughter Sissy. S. was playing with her girl-friend Sissy Hofmeester, when that girl's mother, Pauli, showed L. a book that she had found in her book-case. She had obtained her book from her grandfather. Pauli opened the book at a certain page on which a picture could be seen of the street "Oude Schans" as it had been before the war. You could see some kind of market on it. S. heard this, she stood up, looked at the picture and told everybody present that there had been more than what you could see on the photograph. You had to imagine that you were looking at a spot to the right of what you could see on the picture. On that spot there were women who had rolled up their sleeves. Their arms and hands looked red. If their hands would get too cold, they would hold them against some kind of big tubs and then their hands would get warm again. Pauli Hofmeester was stunned by this behaviour and asked how S. knew this. S. simply replied: "I just do. I've been there". Pauli confirmed the accuracy of S.'s story and said that her own grandfather had told her the same thing. After S. had uttered these words, she went on playing and drawing with Sissy as though nothing had happened. In February 1998 Pauli Hofmeester also told Dr Rawat and me that S. had looked a lot older during this episode and that she had used more Yiddish words than her family normally uses, although Pauli could not specify what words exactly.
At another occasion S. described how "hunters" were chasing after Jews. Later on, she also called these hunters "Nazis".
One day she had gone for some shopping at the Nieuwmarkt and when she came back again she saw that her house was burning. The hunters had set fire to her house. The police and fire-brigade were trying to extinguish the fire. Nowadays the front of number 39 mentions: "restored in 1941", which convinced L. that this statement was correct as well. S. also told her that she was sitting on the roof of the house when Jews were driven together. She recalled how her parents were separated from each other by the hunters, and she used the word "divorced" to refer to this. She also remembered that she saw how they had been shot in the street.
S. told L. that she had hidden herself in a corner of the house for three days but that she was finally discovered by the hunters.
She was deported to Warsaw (sic). She used the English word 'Warsaw' and repeated it: "Warsaw, Warsaw". When S. was talking about Warsaw, she looked, according to L., more lucid than otherwise, more mature, as if she were in touch with something not physically present. It also seemed as if L. and S. were two adults who were sharing common memories with each other.
Then, S. symbolically described an event that she had witnessed. She told her mother that all the "puppies" were gathered on the square. The hunters took hoses and sprayed the puppies and these "all flew into the sky" (sic). As she heard S. telling about this, L. had a kind of vision during which she saw images that were linked to S.'s words and she experienced this as a telepathic impression of the terrible recollection of the scene described.
When S. died, she would have been about 19 years old. In August and September 1994, when S. was about 4 years old, she told her mother, or at least referred to this, that she had died in the gas chamber and that she had left her body behind.
A friend of hers, a person referred to as "Blokker", helped her with it, telling her how to leave her body. She did not mention where she knew this Blokker from.
She also claimed that she would have chosen her present mother or both her parents and the neighborhood because in her previous life she would have lived at the Oude Schans, very close to her present house at the Korte Koningsstraat.
Also, she said that in her previous life she had not been able to do what she had planned to do and that she wanted to do everything in her present life.
When she was 3 and a half, S. had already told L. that she wanted to be something that L. summed up as a "pathologist". By that age, she already showed a rather morbid fascination for diseases and medical matters, that was still there when I met her in 1998. This fascination was recorded as well in the report by Mönks and Van Overbeek: "S. shows a lot of interest in anatomy and likes to watch programs as 'Surgeon's job'. She asks a lot of questions about genetics. In the future she wants to become a pathologist." (p. 1).
When she had just become three, in October 1993, S. also made an intriguing poem which L. related to the Holocaust:
"A copper moon
is the sound
of children crying".
According to L. this haiku-like poem reminds one of the smoke from the crematoria in the death camps.
There is every reason to believe that the poems that L. ascribes to S. are authentic. This point is not doubted by Mönks and Van Overbeek, and E. also confirms that L. really wrote down S.'s own poems and that she did not replace them by her own creations. Perhaps this is hard to believe for someone who has not met S. personally. For those who like me have spent some time in her presence, it is completely credible.
When S. was 7, she could still remember things from this previous life, but not everything. For example, she still recalled a beautiful vase in a cupboard and some things from a period in the hereafter that she experienced after her life during the Holocaust. Especially the episode that she had described when she visited Pauli Hofmeester and Sissy, was something she still remembered very well, which can be explained from the fact that this had remained a subject of conversation over the years. Despite her apparent conscious oblivion, she still seemed to possess some implicit knowledge that she could express spontaneously. In the meantime, she does not feel any nostalgia for her previous life, and she considers it as "just a life." However, she would like to visit the house at the Oude Schans.
Possible connections to the Holocaust
To improve the readability of this paper, I first want to look at the connections between S.'s story about her life and death during the Shoah and historical reality, before paying attention to her remaining recollections.
It's moving to see that the metaphor of hunting, a phenomenon that in my view is in itself horrible enough, also plays a role in the English edition of the book that belongs to the series about the Holocaust, "Shoah" by Claude Lanzmann (p. 9-10). In it, Claude Lanzmann asks a witness, Jan Piwonski:
"- Is there still hunting here in the Sobibor forest?
- Yes, there are lots of animals of all kinds.
- Was there hunting then?
- Only manhunts. Some victims tried to escape. But they didn't know the area. (...) There was a time when it was full of screams and gunshots, of dogs barking (...)."
For the term "puppies" we can also find a parallel in literature about the Holocaust, namely in the book "Maus" (in two parts) by comic artist Art Spiegelman. In this book the Jews are depicted as mice which are chased by cats, the symbol for the nazi's in this comic.
It is remarkable that S. uses the word "puppies" rather than referring to animals that fall victims to "recreational" hunting, such as rabbits, hares, foxes, ducks or deer. This may indicate that she is talking about young slaves rather than preys of the hunters. Just like hounds and their young are in a sense the 'prisoners' of hunters and have to do what the hunters want them to, the puppies that S. is talking about would be the prisoners of the nazis who would have to do whatever the nazis want them to do.
This in turn may indicate that the scene described by S. with the hoses might be related to methods of disinfection and not just with gassing. In that case it would concern children who were not immediately gassed by the nazis but who were used for some purpose as slaves. In fact, such young children were (collectively) used for only one purpose, as far as I know: medical experimentation.
At first sight, the name "Warsaw" seems to be completely displaced within S.'s story, because it is an English name, and because as a Dutch Jew she would not have been deported to Warsaw, but to a concentration camp such as Auschwitz or Sobibor.
The English is less problematic than it may seem, as S. is -as we have seen already- a gifted, bilingual girl who claims that she also spoke English in her previous life. If we follow the hypothesis that she really recalls a previous life, this is quite plausible for intelligent Dutch people in the 1930s.
Strangely enough the fact that she has mentioned Warsaw rather than say Auschwitz even can be taken as a strong argument for the authenticity of the whole story. If these data are not derived from claims from S. herself, but rather from L.'s or E.'s imagination, we would never expect such an enormous error as "Warsaw" is if you take it literally.
First I have tried to interpret "Warsaw" as a possible symbol of the Holocaust, through the massacre during and after the heroic revolt of the Jewish ghetto of Warsaw in 1943. I supposed that in her previous life S. had possibly (illegally) listened to a radio-broadcasting of the allied forces about this revolt and how it was pitilessly struck down by the nazis. To test this hypothesis, I asked my friend historian Pieter van Wezel, M.A., to find out to what extent the revolt of the Jewish ghetto had been known among Dutch Jewish refugees and prisoners during the war.
Van Wezel contacted the "Rijksinstituut voor Oorlogsdocumentatie" and received the following reply from Hans de Vries, M.A., dated August 24th 1998:
"(...) that it is unknown to me if Jews in Dutch camps were aware of the revolt in the ghetto of Warsaw. I have never
heard or read anything like it. The revolt was not mentioned by Radio Oranje. Therefore they cannot have learnt anything about the uprising through this channel. It is possible that the revolt was covered by the BBC and that people in Holland heard the program in question. Unfortunately we do not have at our disposal the texts of BBC-programs.
It is also known that reports about the uprising penetrated the West via Polish refugees who had arrived in London."
Although we cannot entirely exclude the accuracy of my first hypothesis, there is not any evidence that supports it.
Why then is S. talking about Warsaw? I think of at least two other hypotheses:
(1) It is possible that S. mixed up a country and its capital city. This is less far-fetched than it may appear. A capital often serves as a symbol for an entire country. For example, foreigners often associate the Netherlands with Amsterdam, in such a way that they think that the (stereotypical) concepts they have of this city are valid for the country as a whole. Another example is New York (or more correctly, Washington D.C.) as a symbol for the United States. A capital is the first thing we learn of a country at school, and sometimes it is the only thing we remember about it later on. In that case we would have to consider Warsaw (as a capital) as a pars pro toto for the whole of Poland. By the word "Warsaw" S. would have meant: Poland, which obviously would be correct for most Dutch Jewish victims of the Shoah.
(2) The name "Warsaw" might also be connected to a barrack or block in the camp to which S. was deported in her previous life. It is known that parts of camps in which a lot a people of a certain location were concentrated were often called after that location. In that case S. would have been related in some way to such a part of a concentration camp. Still a third, admittedly less plausible, hypothesis might be that S. was really saying something like Saw-war, which after some repetition might be mistaken for Warsaw, and could be based on Sob(i)bor.
3. "There was a place at the Oude Schans where women did their laundry":
This was confirmed by Pauli Hofmeester who had heard it from her grandfather and we have no reason to doubt her testimony, though we have not yet verified this detail separately.
4. Details of the house at the Oude Schans:
All of these details appear to be at least possible, eventhough it does not seem feasible to verify them separately.
The word "voortijl" used by S. and unknown to L. (and not included in any of the Dutch dictionaries I have consulted) may be related to the German "Vorderteil", i.e. front part, or rather a Yiddish word derived from it. The construction of windows from that period was verified by L. herself and independently from her by a friend of mine, Gerard M., who is interested in pre-war architecture.
5. The tenants of 39, Oude Schans:
To establish whether there had lived a Sabine Olthof at the Oude Schans before or during the nazi-occupation, I wrote a letter to the Municipal Archives in Amsterdam. In August 1998 they sent me the following reply:
"According to the population register on May 11th 11 1892 the folllowing persons were living at 39, Oude Schans: Johannes Hunsche (born on July 17th 1864), his wife Wilhelmina Johanna Veldkamp (born here on June 19th 1866) and their son Hendricus Johannes Wilhelmus Maria (born on March 25th 1889). At the same address was born on June 4th 1892: Alida Petronella Maria.
The address book of 1892/1893 mentions on page 275:
"Hunsche, J. Oude Schans 39. In Drugs, Chemicals and Oils and Colours". In the addressbook of 1935/1936 the same J. Hunsche is mentioned as living on 39, Oude Schans.
In the address books of 1936/1937 till 1939/1940 no tenants of this residence are mentioned, whereas J. Hunsche exercised his profession in 1936/1937 at the address 4, Westermarkt."
There is not any mention of a family Olthof, let alone of a Sabine Olthof. Neither is there any registration of a young woman of 19 or younger at this address.
Therefore it can be safely excluded that she was living there officially. She could at best have gone under at his address, but this does not accord with her statement that one day she had returned from the Nieuwmarkt and she had seen that the house was burning. If she considered this house as her own house by that time she cannot have gone under there, as Jews who were hiding obviously were not walking about the streets as if they did not run any risk!
This is why I think that the conclusion is inevitable that she really did seem to have memories of a life at the Oude Schans, but that she was mistaken about the house in which she had lived. Assuming S. had real memories of a previous life, the explanation for this does not have to be very complicated. The beautiful house looks fairly old and it is the first house that draws your attention when you are walking from the Oude Schans to the Korte Koningsstraat, and S. can easily have associated it with her memories of that same Oude Schans.
6. The house was burnt by the Nazis:
The Municipal Archives have not been able to verify this, but considering the fact that S. must have been mistaken about the specific house (i.e. if we assume she may have had real memories of a previous life), it seems more likely that the mention of the "restoration" of the house in 1941, was simply related to a restoration of the old building because of its cultural and historical value. Furthermore, it is strange that the Nazis would have burnt a house in which nobody was living anymore and in which nobody was running a business. I mean, who were they trying to hit in that case? It would seem even stranger that subsequently they took the effort of restoring the building and even located a sign to indicate this.
7. Her name was something like Sabine Olthof:
The name "Sabine Olthof" is a name that from a historical point of view may certainly have been authentic, but unfortunately, as such it cannot be found in the Municipal Archives.
Not one of the names Sabine Althof and Sabine Althoff or Sabine Olthof and Sabine Olthoff are registered in the so called "municipal basic administration personal data" of the Register Amsterdam, Bureau Civil Affairs, as the Archives wrote to me on March 30th 1998.
Nor does the name appear in "In Memoriam", an authoritative, though incomplete list of Dutch-Jewish victims of the Holocaust. The same can be said about an Internet-site about "Häftlingspersonalbogen" of the death camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Searching for names on the list in "In Memoriam" that looked or sounded a bit like Sabine Olthof, I found as the name closest to it Amalia Regina Colthof. However, this girl did not live at the Oude Schans, but at Vechtstraat 63III, according to a letter of the National Institute of War Documentation dated March 26th 1998. More importantly, this Amalia Regina Colthof was only 13 when she died in 1943.
The "Sabine Olthof" who S. possibly has been in her previous life cannot be traced until now. This does not imply that there never was a person by that name, but I find it more reasonable to assume that S. could not remember her name very well (assuming of course that she may indeed have recalled her previous life) or that L. misunderstood her when she mentioned her name.
8. "All flew into the sky":
In the boek "Kind in Auschwitz" there is a drawing of a procedure during which prisoners were sprayed with hoses with a disinfectant. This concerned a chemical spray after the prisoners had been exposed to a shower. On the other hand the words "all flew into the sky" remind us in themselves of a massacre of children through gassing.
It appears as if S. had mixed up two images of experiences that as far as fear and humiliation are concerned, do resemble each other quite a lot: a disinfection procedure and a gassing. It is remarkable that something similar can be seen in the movie "Schindler's List" by Steven Spielberg. A group of female "Schindler-Jews" had been deported to Auschwitz 'by accident' and after they had arrived, they were taken to a shower-room, in which the women expected to be gassed immediately. Contrary to their expectations, it was just a "hygienical" measure, similar to the chemical disinfection, namely a real shower.
The words "they all flew into the sky" can be interpreted in two very different ways:
(1) as a reference to a clairvoyant perception by S. (in her previous life) of the children's souls leaving their bodies when they died. This perception may have taken place while S. was still alive or else after her own death, in an intermediate period between her death and her present life.
(2) as a reference to expressions commonly used during the infernal Holocaust. For example, it was common to speak of a "Himmelfahrtsweg", a reference to the Ascension of Jesus, in other words a cynical, pseudo-religious description of death.
It also reminds us of the process of cremation after gassing, during which the smoke of the bodies rose up to the sky. For instance, 'Hentschel the Moon', a German Kommandoführer from the novel "Daniella" by Ka-tsetnik 135633 when he came to select girls (forced labourers) for the crematorium: " To the blue sky, mein Liebchen. There they are building a road for you." (p. 153)
9. Somebody whom S. calls "Blokker", prepared her for her death:
It is unclear what S. meant with this person "Blokker". In "In Memoriam" there is no mention of anyone called "Blokker", although similar names are registered in it, such as "Bakker", "Blok", or "Bloch". This would imply that if Blokker was really somebody's surname, he was not from Holland, or at least he was not registered as a Dutch victim.
Another possibility is mentioned by a person calling himself "Simon the Yid", on a Kabbalah-Forum on the Internet.
He writes to me that the statements in question may refer to some kind of angel that came to get S. after her death and explains that souls who were victims of the Shoah would possess a privileged position according to present-day Kabbalists.
However, a weakness of this hypothesis is that Simon the Yid cannot explain the term "Blokker" in this context.
Another weak point is that it would be strange if an angel would have to explain to S. how she should leave her body. In the literature about Near-Death Experiences there is no other instance of such an instruction as far as I know. Leaving the body is -if we take NDEs seriously-, more of a natural process that happens spontaneously and for which no preparation is needed as a technique. 'Beings of Light' guide the person declared clinically dead into another world of Light rather than helping that person to leave his or her body, as this is something that occurs automatically after the body's death. For this reason I find it more plausible (assuming the possibility that S. was indeed recalling a previous life) that Blokker was no angel, but a historical character that was known by a name that at least resembles "Blokker". He might have been somebody who had a strong interest in the occult, and possible the Kabbalah, and he might have been someone who had experimented with out-of-body experiences or astral projection. Naturally, I have no idea what historical person might apply for this, but I do find it remarkable that the word "Blokker" resembles somewhat the word "Blockälteste", the term for a prisoner who was responsible for the order in a so called "Block" of a concentration camp. Blockälteste were privileged prisoners and it is well imaginable that some of them were cultured Jews with occult or even mystical interests. As fas as I know, Blockälteste were not particularly known for their kindness, but there is no doubt that there have been exceptions and many of them had their moments of weakness when they succumbed to momentary urges of compassion and humanity. For instance the murderer Pjotr in "Moni" by Ka-Tsetnik 135633 said to a young "piepel" (boy prostitute): "You, Moni, you are an 'alter Lagerhase' (old inmate). That's what I like. Take it from me, Moni, that I am your last friend in Auschwitz." (p. 130).
10. Fear of doctors and of men in general:
If we relate these fears to a possible previous life ended in a death camp, this means that S. may have been treated harshly by men in general, plausibly by the SS at the camp, and by physicians in particular, probably the camp doctors. We know that medical doctors played a crucial role in Auschwitz. They took part in almost all the selections, decided about life and death of the patients in the medical blocks and killed the weakened patients with a phenol-injection. They also used the plentiful "human experimental material" in Block 10. Female forced labourers were sometimes sterilized by them in a primitive fashion.
11. Remarkable interests in diseases and pathology:
Thinking of the Holocaust, and assuming the possibility that S. had real memories of a previous life, we may connect these interests very well to her fear of doctors and alsof to the ubiquitous death in the death camps. Camp doctors such as Dr. Mengele were, just like S. still is today, strongly interested in genetics and in this respect Mengele conducted a lot of very cruel experiments on twins. In Auschwitz there were entire archives of body parts of murdered prisoners. Anyone who was not gassed immediately, was confronted by the corpses very soon. Now, within the psychoanalytical literature we know the phenomenon of "identification with the aggressor", a defense-mechanism that implies an identification with someone who is hurting the person emotionally and/or physically. A well-known example of this is the Stockholm-syndrom of hostages who after a while felt sympathy for and identified with the personality and ideology of the criminals that held them hostage.
A camp doctor such as Mengele offered a fertile background for such a morbid identification with the aggressor, because his personality was very ambiguous and confusing. He could be very nice to prisoners but he always remained extremely dangerous for them. Twins often called him 'Uncle Pepi' and other twins recall how Mengele gave them sweets and took them for a ride in his car, which amounted to 'a ride with Uncle Pepi, to the gas chamber.' Furthermore, there was a so called "Sonderkommando" in Auschwitz, consisting of a number of prisoners that were used by the nazis as assistants during the extermination of their victims. One of the people in this Sonderkomando was the Hungarian physician Miklos Nyiszli, about whom Primo Levi writes: "He was a renowned pathologist [sic], expert at autopsies, and the medical director of the SS in Birkenau, chosen by Mengele".
In 1997 Dr Ian Stevenson was finally able to publish his enormously important books on birthmarks and birth defects related to the mode of death in the previous life. In the first part of the series he deals with the birthmarks. If we wish to relate S.'s birthmarks, and especially the one on her forehead, to her death in the life during the Holocaust, we cannot escape the impression that in that case she must have been shot. The birthmark is round and if somebody is shot through the head on that spot, chances are very high that he will die from it. S. herself found this hypothesis about her "headlight" absurd, when I mentioned it in her presence in August 1998.
If we start from the idea that S. was exposed to medical experiments or forced labour, we might first think that instead of being gassed she would have been shot, as that would have been the normal procedure in such cases. However, if we are talking about medical experiments this is incorrect as far as I have found out, because the human guinea-pigs usually got a lethal injection.
It could have been possible for forced labourers however. For example, Richard Glazar, a survivor of Treblinka (Shoah, p. 120/121) states that apart from gas chambers there also was an infirmary in which the elderly and the sick were shot. He adds: "The 'infirmary' was also for us, the Treblinka slaves, the last stop. Not the gas chamber. We always ended up in the 'infirmary'". However, this shooting usually concerned a shot through the neck and not a shot through the forehead. In this connection we should not forget that the method of gassing was designed among other reasons for the morale of the "common" executioners, i.e. the soldiers who had to execute prisoners.
A shot through the neck is more confronting than gassing, but it still is less shocking than an execution during which you look the prisoner in the eyes.
Thus, only two plausible hypotheses seem to remain for a possible relationship between the birthmark and the cause of death:
(1) She was shot in her head and not in her neck, because the latter had become impossible as she was lying already on her back dying, in the gas chamber. In that case it would have been an act of mercy, to "finish her off". (I've been told by someone who is well read in this area that this seems quite improbable.)
(2) She was shot in the head, because she resisted the "hunters". In that case it could have been an unannounced execution, a short moment of resistance immediately followed by a lethal shot through the forehead.
The first hypothesis accords with L.'s interpretation who still believes that S. was gassed in her previous life.
L.'s own experiences
L. has had two experiences herself that seem connected to the Holocaust and therefore also to S.'s memories of it.
Both seem to be related to classical deja-vu experiences and the first one seems to have been taken from a fairytale.
The first experience concerned a necklace. When a friend of L.'s, Pauli, was 12 years old (around 1968) she was walking along the flee market in Amsterdam with her grandfather. All of a sudden an old man addressed Pauli while offering her a necklace with the star of David, saying: This is for you, to guard but not to keep. If time is ripe you will know whom you must give it to. After he had said those words, the old man disappeared again into the multitude.
Naturally, Pauli was very astonished but she did as the old man told her to. When she was sixteen she went to live on her own and from then she moved to about 10 different addresses but she always made sure that the necklace was not lost.
Pauli sometimes hung the necklace around her own neck, but she always realized that it did not belong to her.
A few months after Pauli and L. became friends with each other (in the nineties) as L. and S. were visiting her, Pauli told S.'s mother: "Oh, I have found it again. I think it is meant for you or for S.!". Pauli went into her bedroom and asked S. to join her. She showed her the star of David but S. just said: "Oh!" Pauli said to L.: "Then it must be for you!" As L. accepted Pauli's gift it was as if the thought "I finally got it back" shouted through her head. Both Pauli and L. felt moved and surprised.
This experience would suggest that destiny or providence reunited L. with a necklace she had owned in a previous life and which is directly related to Judaism and even the Holocaust, the star of David having been abused as a hateful instrument to mark Jewish people.
A second experience seems to be directly related to the first one.
After L. had just returned from the States she had rented a room at a friend's place in Hoorn (The Netherlands). One day, this friend had given a party and when L. came back from Amsterdam she saw that the whole house was full of people. She tried to see who was there and she saw a man sitting on the couch who happened to look at her. They had never met in this life but it was as if they both zoomed in to each other. As far as L. could tell, everbody in the room stopped talking. A few moments later L. had talked to the kitchen and the man stood up and walked over to her. They both continued staring at each other, until he raised his left hand and lay it on the top of her head, stroke her cheeks and finally held his hand under her chin. This felt very natural as if she had experienced it many times before. While he was stroking her cheek, L. said: "It's been such a long time!". He smiled, nodded and sat down again, asking her through gestures to come and sit next to him. It was the beginning of a passionate love affair and they could not bear being separated from each other. The man in question, G., was German. His father had been a soldier during the war and G. was raised with the idea that the Holocaust was a farce and a lie. This hurt L. and after a while she realized that they could not stay together in this life.
This account is less unique than it may seem. Reb Gershom mentions persons who appear to have been Jews in their previous lives (during the Holocaust) and who in this life wanted to remain incognito by choosing a non-Jewish or even antisemitic family for their next incarnation. In his view, this seems to be motivated by an urge not to draw attention within a non-Jewish society and therefore also not to run any risk anymore on this point.
This kind of souls of persecuted Jews would thus be a bit similar to Spanish Jews (the "conversos") who assimilated to the Roman-Catholic majority in Spain and who did anything so that they would not be recognized as Jews, eventhough many of them were still persecuted as 'marranos' (swines). Many of their descendants remain unaware of the background of their family.
Part 2 of this article