“I Broke Down:” ID Tags Of Children At Sobibor Death Camp Unearthed

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The identity tag of Deddie Zak (Yoram Haimi), pictured (l) with a relative. ((Joods Monument, Amsterdam)

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Archaeologists carrying out an excavation dig at the Sobibor death camp in Poland unearthed the identity tags of four Jewish children murdered there during the Holocaust, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced Tuesday.

The discovery left the archeologists in tears.

The four metal personal identity tags belonging to four Dutch children – ranging in age from 5-12, bore their names, their dates of birth, and their hometowns: Lea Judith De La Penha, Deddie Zak, Annie Kapper and David Juda Van der Velde.

Lea De La Penha (on right) with a family friend (Photo: Majdanek Museum Archive)

“As far as we know, identity tags with children’s names have only been found at Sobibor, and nowhere else,” said Yoram Haimi of the Israel Antiquities Authority, who is involved in an excavation at the site prior to the construction of a new visitors center, together with a Polish archaeologist, a Dutch archaeologist and local residents.

“Since the tags are very different from each other, it is evident that this was probably not some organized effort. The children’s identity tags were prepared by their parents, who were probably desperate to ensure that the children’s relatives could be located in the chaos of the Second World War.”

“The tags have enabled us to link faces and stories to the names, which until now have only been anonymous entries on Nazi lists.”

“I have been excavating at Sobibor for 10 years, but today I broke down,” Haimi continued. “As we stood holding the tags in the field, next to the crematoria, we called the center and gave them the names. They responded immediately and we received photos of young, smiling children on our phones.”

“The hardest part was hearing that some of the children whose tags we were holding in our hands arrived in Sobibor on a transport of children aged 4 to 8 who were sent here to die alone, without their parents. I looked at the photos and asked myself – how can anyone be so cruel?”

The center that Haimi was referring to is the former transit camp Westerbork in the Netherlands, which served as a transit camp for Jews being deported from Holland to Eastern Europe and is now a visitors center and memorial site. The children identified in the tags were all deported via Westerbork.

The details of the children are:

  • Lea Judith De La Penha’s tag was found near the railway station in Sobibor. She was murdered at age 6.
  • Deddie Zak’s tag was found in a crematorium. He was murdered at age 6.
  • David Juda Van der Velde’s tag was found near the gas chambers. He was murdered at age 11.
  • Annie Kapper was murdered at age 12.

(YWN Israel Desk – Jerusalem)