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Dutch American death camp survivor receives apology and knighthood

Government honours persistent critic

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

WESTERBORK - On the 65th anniversary of the liberation by Canadian troops of Westerbork, the Nazi transit camp in the east of the Netherlands, 87-year-old Dutch-American camp survivor Selma Engel-Wijnberg was knighted in the Order of Orange-Nassau.

Dutch Health Minister Ab Klink, the official who represented Queen Beatrix at the ceremony, praised the Leek, Groningen born woman for her ongoing determination in fighting the injustices done to her after her return from the concentration camp and for sharing her story for the benefit of future generations. On behalf of the Dutch government, the minister also offered the Holocaust-survivor a formal apology for the way she was treated by Dutch officials after the war.

Selma Engel-Wijnberg, who grew up in a Zwolle hotelier family, was one of the few Dutch survivors of Sobibor extermination camp in Poland and the only one still alive today. On her return to the Netherlands in 1945, she faced many problems with the Dutch authorities, who no longer regarded her as a Dutch citizen because she had married a foreigner, Chaim Engel, a Pole, who was part of the Sobibor uprising against the Nazis. A zealous Dutch municipal official even attempted to deport her. The Engels emigrated to Israel in 1951 from where they emigrated to the United States six years later.

The Dutch American, who was accompanied by a granddaughter, was also presented a copy of the biography written by Dutch journalist Ad van Liempt, Selma, de vrouw die Sobibor overleefde (in English the title reads as follows: Selma, the Woman who Survived Sobibor.