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Volunteer Jewish fire brigade saved the Dutch Portuguese Synagogue in WWII

TJI Pick
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Published: 24 January 2020

Last updated: 4 March 2024

16-year-old with chutzpah convinced Nazis not to use Amsterdam’s Esnoga as a collection point for deportation as his comrades helped rescue building from a bomb plot

WHEN ASKED WHY the Nazis did not destroy his family’s cherished Portuguese Synagogue, Bram Palache called the decision “a bit of a mystery.”

In the opinion of Dutch Holocaust historians, however, Palache’s own father — the late Leo Palache — was a guiding force behind helping the landmark synagogue make it through World War II intact.

Although Leo Palache was only 14 when the German occupation began, he helped dissuade the Nazis from turning the “Esnoga” — synagogue in Portuguese — into a Jewish deportation centre. The adolescent also guarded the complex until 1944, when he and other volunteer firefighters concealed ritual items between the sanctuary ceiling and attic floor.

“During the war my father was a member of the fire brigade to protect the building, if there was anything to protect,” said Bram Palache, today a biochemist renowned for his influenza research.

At the end of November, this reporter and Palache were given special access to the Esnoga’s attic and vaulted cellar, both of which are off limits to tourists. Obscured by wooden beams, the attic crawlspace where Palache’s father hid religious objects and Esnoga membership lists was uncovered for us by a security guard.

FULL STORY How a volunteer Jewish fire brigade saved the Dutch Portuguese Synagogue in WWII (Times of Israel)

Photo: Famous photograph of services at the Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam on May 9, 1945, with Holocaust survivors in attendance (public domain)

The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

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