From the Archives

Selma van der Perre – Holocaust Survivor, Dutch Resistance in WWII and Roehampton Club Member

The incredible life story of Roehampton Club Member Selma van der Perre was published earlier this year in Holland to coincide with the liberation of Auschwitz Concentration Camp. Her book entitled My name is Selma tells the story of how she joined the Dutch resistance organisation TD Group during WWII at the age of 20 taking the false name of Margareta van der Kuit or Marga for short to hide her Jewish background from the occupying German army in 1940. Her decision to join the resistance movement was influenced by the arrest of her mother and younger sister Clara. The Germans paid a reward to Dutch police, administration officials and even members of the public to identify people of Jewish origin or those involved in the activities of the Dutch resistance. It was this change of name that saved Selma when she was arrested in 1944 as a member of the resistance but avoided being recognised for her Jewish background. Her double name had at least provided the faintest of hopes for surviving what was to come which Selma took with both hands.

Taken initially to Camp Vught – one of only three concentration camps in Holland, she was subsequently moved to the Ravensbruck concentration camp in Germany – the only concentration camp set up by the Germans specifically for women. Liberated from the Ravensbruck camp in April 1945 by the Swedish Red Cross, Selma was taken initially to Denmark and then to Sweden where she experienced the end of the war. During this time, she found out that her parents and sister had not survived the war but her two older brothers had survived in the UK where Selma decided to move to start a family and began working as a journalist.

She worked for the BBC for eight years where she met her future husband, the Belgian journalist Hugo van der Perre who sadly died in 1979. After the death of her husband, Selma took over the role of Foreign Correspondent for Dutch and Belgian media companies AVRO Holland and Het Volk Belgium. It was only after the war that Selma dared to say her real name out loud without fear of reprisals and it was only recent encouragement from her son’s children that her book came about. The book is dedicated to the Jewish population in Holland decimated during WWII and especially those who joined the Dutch resistance working as couriers sending messages to the allied forces and helping stranded British airmen get back home to safety.

Since the launch of the book in Holland, Selma has become a media celebrity with interviews on TV, Radio and the newspapers. Every year on May 5th, Selma is invited to the commemoration of the Liberation of Holland laying an official wreath from the Women of Ravensbruck in Dam Square in Amsterdam. She lectures regularly to audiences of all ages spreading her message of hope and optimism for the future and the lessons we should learn from the past. While the story of her survival is sometimes uncomfortable and unnerving, her overriding message is uplifting and positive citing the need for tolerance and goodwill to all people. Selma is currently in discussion with a UK publisher for the launch of her book later this year when she can expect a similar response. All this activity is taking place after 30 years of membership at Roehampton Club. Selma joined the Club in 1989 and took up the game of golf which she has enjoyed playing until last year when she decided it was time to stop at the tender age of 97. Meeting Selma is a rare privilege to spend time with someone with such an amazing will to survive and her ability to lift the spirits for anyone fortunate to be in her company.     

Steve Riedlinger | Club Archivist