Photo Credit: Piotr Bakun
The extermination area at Sobibor camp, where three of the tags were found.

Chilling evidence has emerged from the Sobibor death camp in Poland as metal personal identity tags belonging to four children ages 5–11 who hailed from Amsterdam, the Netherlands, were retrieved from archaeological excavations conducted at the camp.

The metal pendants that were worn around the children’s necks bear their names, date of birth, and the name of their home town. The extraordinary excavation, begun before the construction of the new visitors center at the camp, is being conducted by the archaeological team of Wojciech Mazurek from Poland, Yoram Haimi from the Israel Antiquities Authority, and Ivar Schute from Holland, with the assistance of local residents.

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The children whose identity tags were found are Lea Judith De La Penha, Deddie Zak, Annie Kapper, and David Juda Van der Velde.

According to Haimi, “as far as we know, identity tags with children’s names have only been found at Sobibor, and nowhere else. 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. Lea, Annie, Davis, and Deddie’s tags enabled us to link faces and stories to the names, which until now had only been anonymous entries in Nazi ledgers. The archaeological excavation provides us with an opportunity to tell the victims’ stories and to honor their memory.”

To discover the children’s details, the archaeologists contacted the Herinneringscentrum Kamp Westerbork, which was used as a transit camp in the Holocaust for Jews being deported from Holland to Eastern Europe and is now a visitors center and memorial site.

“I have been excavating at Sobibor for ten years,” says Haimi, “but this is the hardest day I have ever had. As we stood holding the tags in the field, beside the crematoria, we contacted the center and we gave them the names. They responded immediately. By phone, we received photos of smiling young children. The hardest thing was to learn that some of the children whose tags we held in our hands reached Sobibor on a children’s transport – 1300 little children, ages 4–8, who were sent here to die alone, without their parents. I looked at the photos and asked myself, how could anyone have been so cruel?”

These are the names of the children, with their photos and identity tags:

Lea Judith De La Penha, died at age 6.

Lea De La Penha (on right) with a family friend. / Photo from the Majdanek Museum archives
Lea De La Penha’s identity tag. / Yoram Haimi

Deddie Zak, died at age 8.

Deddie Zak (L) /  Photo from the Joods Monument
Deddie Zak’s identity tag. / Yoram Haimi

Deddie’s name appears on a charred metal tag found in one of the crematoria. Engraved with his name, Deddie Zak, his date of birth, 23.02.35, and his family’s address, Amsterdam Uiterwaardenstraat 71 III. Deddie was deported to the camp on the so-called Kindertransport, named after the large number of children it carried to their death. About a third of the 3,017 Jews deported to Sobibor from the Vught Via Westerbork concentration camp were children ages 4–8, many of them without parents. Deddie was murdered with his family when they reached Sobibor camp on June 11, 1943.

Annie Kapper died at age 12.

Annie Kapper’s identity tag, showing the girl’s name and address on this side. / Yoram Haimi
Annie Kapper’s date of birth. / Yoram Haimi

Annie’s aluminum identity tag was found near one of the mass graves. The girl’s name is engraved on one side of the tag, with the family’s address in Amsterdam. AMSTERDAM Z. HOLLAND. On the other side of the tag is Annie’s date of birth: GEBOREN JANUARI 1931. The Kapper family was deported to Sobibor on March 30, 1943, in the fifth transport, which contained 1,255 Jews in 25 cars. The train reached Sobibor on April 2, 1943, and all those on board were murdered in the camp’s gas chambers.

David Juda Van der Velde died at age 11.

Identity tag belonging to David Juda Van der Velde. / Wojciech Mazurek

Half a broken aluminum identity tag was found to the west of the gas chambers. David’s initials are engraved on it, D.J.V/D, and the address is engraved below, PRES.RD. Beneath the address is the city, AMSTERD. The lower line contains the beginning of David’s date of birth, GEB 21-, or 21 November 1932. David and his family were deported on transport number 5 from Westerbork to Sobibor on March 30, 1943, and reached Sobibor camp on April 2, 1943, where they were immediately taken to the gas chambers.

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