Two toddlers on Nazi death train identified thanks to restored footage

Children of the Holocaust identified after 77 years: Toddlers seen gazing from Nazi death train window are a New Yorker, 78, and her brother who were saved by the ‘Angel of Bergen-Belsen’ and have now watched haunting footage for the first time

  • Harrowing footage filmed at Camp Westerbork back in 1944 shows Jewish people put to work for the Nazis and being piled onto trains 
  • Children are seen gazing out of windows and, until now, no one knew their names or if they survived
  • The infants have been identified 77 years later as Stella Fertig, 78, and her brother Marc Degen, 80 
  • Fertig now lives in Queens, New York City, and is passing on her family history to her sons and grandchildren
  • She told DailyMail.com she and her brother never knew they were the innocent faces in the film 
  • Fertig said she has no memory of what happened: ‘People tell me “you’re better off not remembering” but I disagree – I think it’s better to have some sort of memories of what happened’ 
  • Westerbork was a transit camp with more than 100,000 Jews sent on trains from there to death camps 
  • Video is the only known footage of the deportation of Western European Jews to the death camps 
  • A group of four historical organizations restored the footage and slowed it down 
  • Researchers Koert Broersma and Gerard Rossing were then able to identify 13 people in the video

Two tiny toddlers seen staring out the window of a train on its way to a Nazi death camp have been identified thanks to newly-restored footage as a 78-year-old New Yorker and her brother who were saved by the ‘Angel of Bergen-Belsen’. 

Stella Fertig told DailyMail.com from her home in Queens, New York City, that she and her brother Marc Degen have gone 77 years not knowing that theirs are the innocent faces captured in the harrowing footage at Camp Westerbork back in 1944. 

To this day, the siblings have no memory of being packed onto a train in the transit camp in Drenthe, northeastern Netherlands, sent to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and ripped from their parents, never to see their father alive again.  

‘People tell me “you’re better off not remembering” but I disagree – I think it’s better to have some sort of memories of what happened,’ said Fertig, previously Stella Degen.  

Almost eight decades later, researchers have tracked down Fertig, now 78, and Degen, 80 and living in Amsterdam, and told them they are the children in the video who, over the years, served as the faces for the millions of Jews sent to their deaths in the Holocaust. 

Westerbork was a transit camp where people were first sent and put to work for the Nazis. 

Then, every week, the Nazis would round up a group of men, women and children at the camp, pile them onto a train and send them on to their deaths at concentration camps in occupied Poland or Germany. 

In total, 107,000 people were sent on trains from Westerbork to the death camps. Just 5,000 came back. 

The video is the only known footage of the deportation of Western European Jews to the death camps during the war.  

Two tiny toddlers seen in the window of a train on its way to a Nazi death camp have been identified thanks to newly-restored footage. Stella Fertig circled in the arms of an adult in the left window and her brother Marc Degen circled in the right window


Stella Fertig (left at her home in Queens, New York City) told DailyMail.com she and her brother Marc Degen (right) have gone 77 years not knowing that theirs were the innocent faces captured in the harrowing footage at Camp Westerbork

It is part of a compilation known as the Westerbork Film which also shows Jewish people being forced to work at the camp and has been featured in countless war documentaries, firstly in the well-known Night and Fog in 1955.

The footage was originally shot as Nazi propaganda but has instead provided a valuable insight into one of the worst atrocities in human history. 

But, until now, little has been known about the people in the footage and what became of them after the train departed Westerbork. 

No one knew whether the little children seen gazing out the window of the train survived the Holocaust or ended up among the roughly six million Jews murdered by the Nazis.

For the last two years, a group of four Dutch historical groups have been restoring the footage, making it clearer and sharper. 

Once the footage was cleaned up, Koert Broersma and Gerard Rossing, Holocaust researchers and authors, were able to identify 13 people in the video, finally putting names to the faces of some of the people who suffered at the hands of the Nazis.

The film is now the focus of Broersma and Rossing’s new book Kamp Westerbork gefilmd and an exhibition at Camp Westerbork Memorial Center.

While Broersma and Rossing share the identities of the other 10 people in their book, the researchers revealed they now know the infants in the train window to be the Degens. 

The two siblings are the only survivors of the 13 people newly identified in the footage.  

The newly-restored footage shows people looking out of two windows before the train sets off. In the right window, Degen is seen standing looking out with his mother standing behind him

The window on the left shows the boy thought to be Marcus waving at a man and woman on the other side of the glass who wave back. Behind Marcus, a baby girl can be just made out in the arms of an adult

The footage also shows other Jewish people being packed onto trains to be sent to death camps in occupied Poland and Germany

The doors to the train are shut and battened down before the train takes off sending hundreds to their deaths 

Bernard Hartlooper (center) a buyer and warehouse clerk, waits to board a train at Camp Westerbork with his satchel over his shoulder

To this day, the siblings have no memory of being packed onto this train in the transit camp in Drenthe, northeastern Netherlands, sent to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and ripped from their parents

The date was May 19 1944 and around 1,000 Jews, Sinti and Roma people were sent by train from Westerbork to concentration camps in occupied Poland and Germany.  

Fertig was just one and her brother was three. The two children had been rounded up at their home in Amsterdam by the Nazis alongside their mother and father, aunt and uncle and cousin Marcus Simon Degen.

Marcus, the researchers believe, is the other child seen in the footage. Marcus, who was around three years older than his eldest cousin, survived the war but passed away in 2006. 

Fertig’s father had just started a business with his brother and had received a diamond certificate from the city of Amsterdam which was supposed to make them and their families exempt from being sent to the camps. 

‘It didn’t mean anything and we were all picked up and sent away anyway,’ Fertig told DailyMail.com.  

Like thousands of other Jews, they were taken to Westerbork and packed onto the trains to be sent to death camps. 

The newly-restored footage shows people looking out of two windows before the train sets off. 

In the right window, Degen is seen standing looking out with his mother standing behind him. 

The window on the left shows the boy thought to be Marcus waving at a man and woman on the other side of the glass who wave back. 

Westerbork was a transit camp where Jewish people were first sent and put to work for the Nazis. Then, every week, a group of men, women and children were sent on to concentration camps in occupied Poland or Germany

Camp Westerbork: The ‘Gateway to Death’ 

Camp Westerbork was a transit camp in Drenthe, northeastern Netherlands, where people were first sent and put to work for the Nazis. 

Conditions at the camp were far better than at the death camps. 

There were no gas chambers, the work was less exhaustive, the food was more reasonable and the sick were treated in the medical facility. 

But then, every week, the Nazis would round up a group of men, women and children at the camp, pile them onto a train and send them on to their deaths at concentration camps in occupied Poland or Germany. 

Between July 15 1942 and September 15 1944, 107,000 people were sent on trains from Westerbork to the death camps. Just 5,000 came back.   

The camp was originally built by the Dutch government before the war to provide temporary shelter for Jewish refugees from Germany.

When the war broke out, the Nazis took over the camp and it would soon earn its name as the ‘gateway to death.’  

Westerbork transit camp in Drenthe, northeastern Netherlands

Behind Marcus, a baby girl can be just made out in the arms of an adult.     

Fertig told DailyMail.com she is unable to recognize the little girl as herself and was too young to remember the events.  

‘I know it happened but have no memory,’ she said. ‘But the bottom line is I was there.’   

Her brother also has no memories of his experience but was sure it was him in the video when he saw it, she said.  

Degen, who still lives in Amsterdam, traveled to Westerbork with his family for the book launch Wednesday and was presented with the first copy in a ceremony.

The second book is on its way to Fertig in New York. 

She said she didn’t mind missing the ceremony as she doesn’t think she could handle going back to the camp where she was once held.  

‘[Degen] has been two or three times before to Westerbork but I don’t think I can handle that,’ she said.  

‘He wants to go to Bergen[-Belsen] to see [the camp] but I could not do that as I don’t want to get upset.’  

The project to restore and identify the people in the footage began around two years ago as a collaboration between four organizations: Sound and Vision, Camp Westerbork Memorial Center, the NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies, and the Jewish Cultural Quarter in Amsterdam.  

Valentine Kuypers, curator Sound and Vision, told DailyMail.com they wanted to restore the footage so they could ‘tell the story about the film and the whole context of the film.’

‘The footage had a lot of scratches so it was really time to restore it to a clean, quality version,’ she said.  

‘That way people can really look at the image and focus on what it shows. The hope is that newer generations will then look at it more which is important for people to keep remembering.’

She said the footage is very rare being the ‘only known footage of these trains and people going on these trains to concentration camps.’

‘It is very rare you really see the horrors of the Holocaust at Westerbork.’

After securing funding, the group got hold of all the available film reels. It was at this stage that Kuypers said they unearthed two original negative films. 

‘Until then, we only had duplicates so this meant we now had much sharper footage of parts of the film including the part showing Jews being transported to Bergen and Auschwitz,’ she said.   

The video is the only known footage of the deportation of Western European Jews to the death camps during the war

The footage is part of a compilation known as the Westerbork Film which also shows Jewish people being forced to work at the camp and has been featured in countless war documentaries, firstly in the well-known Night and Fog in 1955

The Degens were packed onto the train on May 19 1944 along with around 446 Jews and 245 Sinti and Roma people

Jewish people are seen with stars pinned to their coats carrying their luggage as they board the trains headed for death camps

The project to restore and identify the people in the footage began around two years ago as a collaboration between four organizations 

The team also slowed down the footage to its real life speed meaning the original 80 minutes worth of footage is now around 2.5 hours long, giving a clearer and more poignant insight into life at the camp. 

In the footage of the transport, Jewish adults and children are seen boarding the train with their luggage, yellow stars attached to their clothing. 

Elderly men and women sit on the ground inside the carriages before the doors are pulled shut and battened down, closing many inside who would never be seen alive again.   

Broersma and Rossing used the restored footage to research the identities of the people in it. 

It proved to be a major breakthrough. Before now, only two of the passengers packed on board the trains had ever been named. 

Settela Steinbach was identified in 1992 as the Sinti girl looking out between two cattle doors while Frouwke Kroon was previously identified by Broersma and Rossing as the woman being pushed in a wheelbarrow gurney through the camp.

The 61-year-old Dutch woman died in Auschwitz just three days after the footage was shot.     

Before now, only two of the passengers packed on board the trains had ever been named. Settela Steinbach was previously identified in 1992 as the Sinti girl looking out between two cattle doors above 

Frouwke Kroon was previously identified by Broersma and Rossing as the woman being pushed in a wheelbarrow gurney through the camp. The 61-year-old Dutch woman died in Auschwitz just three days after the footage was shot

Broersma told DailyMail.com the clearer footage enabled them to make out parts of the names and birth dates written on some of the luggage tags, meaning for the first time they could put names to some more of the faces.

‘By combining these details and doing thorough research of the transport list, we could find their names,’ he said. 

Not everyone was seen carrying luggage, however, so they used the footage to search for any other details they could see. 

In the case of the Degen children, Broersma said they were dealing with only a two-second clip of the film.   

He said they could make out the three children and a woman and a man and determined that the carriage was going to Bergen-Belsen. 

One half of the train carrying the Degens was headed for Bergen-Belsen; the other half (the cattle wagons) to Auschwitz where most were murdered in the gas chambers as soon as they arrived.  

‘So we looked at the transport list and looked for any family with three young children,’ Broersma told DailyMail.com. 

‘And the Degen family jumped out as the only possibility. There was no other option other than the Degen family because they were the only family with three children that young.’

Broersma said Fertig was the only girl aged around one on the train to Bergen-Belsen that day, with the other girls being much older.  

‘So we tried to find out if they were still alive and traced down Marc to the Netherlands and Stella to New York,’ he said.  

Fertig told DailyMail.com everything she knows of what happened after the train set off comes from other people’s accounts.

The family was sent to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in north Germany.

There – at the age of one and three – Fertig, her brother and cousin were torn from their parents.

Their mothers were sent to work in salt mines and their fathers were sent to the Sachsenhausen camp where they died in 1945.

At Bergen-Belsen, the children were taken under the wing of Luba Tryszynska – the woman who would later be known as the ‘Angel of Bergen-Belsen.’ 

Much of the footage shows Jews working in the camp in the likes of toy factories, blacksmith’s and shoemaker’s 

Inside a medical facility in Camp Westerbork. For the last two years, a group of four Dutch historical groups have been restoring the footage

Jewish men are made to work in a woodwork workshop. They are seen sawing and filing wood in the footage 

Food is seen packed onto the trains though those headed to Auschwitz and other camps would be killed on arrival 

Shoe insoles are made by women in the camp. The footage was originally shot as Nazi propaganda to show the camp’s use as a work camp

Women hand stitch gloves in the camp. The footage provides a valuable insight into one of the worst atrocities in human history

Tryszynska cared for more than 50 children abandoned in the concentration camp, ensuring they had what there was of scraps to eat and drink and hiding them from the Nazis so they wouldn’t be killed.

Fifty years later in 1995, a reunion was held for the surviving children and Tryszynska, and she was presented with the Silver Medal of Honor for Humanitarian Deeds on behalf of Queen Beatrix of Amsterdam.  

The following year, Fertig took her own children to meet Tryszynska at her home in Florida. 

‘I felt it was very important that they meet her,’ she told DailyMail.com. 

‘I got her phone number and called her but she wasn’t home so I left a message.

‘She called me back and said “of course I remember little Marc and Teddy!”‘

Fertig said Teddy was her nickname as her brother couldn’t pronounce the name Stella as a child.  

‘Still today they call me Teddy in Holland as my brother couldn’t say Stella so I became Tedda then Teddy,’ she laughed.  

When the war ended and the people in the camps were freed, Tryszynska took the children to Holland where they were reunited with their grandparents.

Fertig’s mother and aunt were both sent to Sweden before later reuniting with their children in Holland. 

Fertig said her upbringing was hard as her mother ‘was great’ but ‘was hurting her whole life’ following what she had suffered in the camps.  

The family stayed in Amsterdam before Fertig spent a year in London and then moved to New York City in her 20s because ‘there was something about’ the Big Apple.

‘I always wanted to come to New York,’ she told DailyMail.com. ‘There was just something about it.’ 

Women sewing shoes in the shoemaker’s. For the last two years, a group of four Dutch historical groups have been restoring the footage, making it clearer and sharper

The camp’s SS commander Albert Konrad Gemmeker is pictured in the camp. Gemmeker commissioned the making of the film because he wanted to show the camp’s economic value to the Nazis as a work camp

Once the footage was cleaned up, Koert Broersma and Gerard Rossing, Holocaust researchers and authors, were able to identify 13 people in the video

Elderly people sit on the floor of the train carriage. The film is now the focus of Broersma and Rossing’s new book Kamp Westerbork gefilmd and an exhibition at Camp Westerbork Memorial Center

Broersma said the clearer images enabled them to make out the names and birth dates written on some of the baggage, meaning for the first time they could put names to some of the faces

The man behind the camera: Rudolf Breslauer

While the footage has been seen the world over, less is widely known about the man behind the camera.

German Jewish photographer Rudolf Breslauer was among the people rounded up by the Nazis and taken to Westerbork along with his wife and three children.

He was assigned to the role of camp photographer, capturing photos of the people held by the Nazis – a role that afforded him and his family exemption from being sent on to the death camps. 

In spring 1944 he was told to make a film showing work in the camp.   

By then, around 90 percent of Dutch Jews had already been sent to camps in eastern Europe leaving the camp’s SS commander Albert Konrad Gemmeker concerned the transit camp would no longer be needed. 

He wanted to show the camp’s economic value to the Nazis through a propaganda film.

But Breslauer filmed more than just the work, with footage showing two transports of Jews to the camp and one leaving the camp headed for death camps.  

The film was never finished and stopped sometime in May. It is not clear why but researchers believe Breslauer was filming the transports to serve as proof after the war of what had taken place. 

It is thought the Nazis then realized the film would be damaging to them and stopped it.

That September, Breslauer was sent to Auschwitz with his wife and three children. 

They were on one of the last trains to the death camps. Only his daughter survived.   

At first she worked as a nanny and then took a job in an office in the city. In the 1990s, she became a US citizen as she realized ‘I wouldn’t be moving back to Holland.’

‘I’ve been here more than 50 years now,’ she said.  

During this time, she got married and had two sons, later getting divorced.

Fertig said her two sons both live close by in Brooklyn and she is now a proud grandmother to a nine-year-old boy and six-year-old girl.

While she may not remember what she went through firsthand, she said it has been important to teach her children and grandchildren their family history.

‘[My sons] knew the whole story growing up, my mother came to visit every few years and they have known what happened to their mother’s family their whole lives,’ she said.

Her son is now starting to tell his own children about their heritage as they start to learn about the Holocaust in school.

Fertig recounted how she spent hours every day during lockdown translating postcards and letters sent between her grandparents and her mother from Dutch to English so her grandchildren will be able to read them in the future. 

‘When the pandemic started last year I thought if I don’t translate these now I never will,’ she said.

‘So every day I sat down for a couple hours and translated them and put them in an album. 

‘Eventually they’ll ask me questions and I’ll be able to show them.’

Fertig is now able to also show them the footage of her and her brother inside the train at Westerbork too.  

The transportation of Fertig and her family to the death camps makes up only a fraction of the footage captured at Camp Westerbork as part of the restored film.

Much of the rest shows the Jewish prisoners forced to work in support of the Nazi war efforts in the likes of  greenhouses, toy factories, furniture factories, a blacksmith’s and shoemaker’s. 

Men are seen sawing and filing wood in a workshop, while women are seen sewing shoe soles and hand stitching gloves.   

The camp’s SS commander Albert Konrad Gemmeker commissioned German Jewish photographer and camp inmate Rudolf Breslauer to make the film because he wanted to show the camp’s economic value to the Nazis as a work camp, Kuypers told DailyMail.com.  

Men and women work in the camp. The footage has featured in countless war documentaries over the years but few people have been named before now 

People are seen playing football in the footage. Between July 15 1942 and September 15 1944, 93 trains transported more than 100,000 Jewish people from Westerbork to the death camps

Women dance in the camp as the people held captive by the Nazis tried to find joy where they could in their circumstances

There was a script for what the SS commander wanted the Nazi propaganda film to look like. But the German Jewish filmmaker filmed more than just the work

Between July 15 1942 and September 15 1944, 93 trains transported more than 100,000 Jewish people from Westerbork to the death camps, earning the camp the name ‘the gateway to death.’ 

By spring 1944, around 90 percent of Dutch Jews had already been sent to camps in eastern Europe.

‘There wasn’t many Jews left in the Netherlands to deport,’ said Kuypers.

‘So the commander wanted to show Westerbork could be an economic camp for the war instead of a transport camp so that’s the reason we see all these different shots of people working.’ 

There was a script for what the SS commander wanted the Nazi propaganda film to look like.

But Breslauer filmed more than just the work, with footage showing two transports of Jews to the camp and one leaving the camp headed for death camps. 

He also filmed people enjoying a football game, women dancing and a cabaret night as the people held captive by the Nazis tried to find joy where they could.

The film was never finished. Filming started at least May 5 but stopped sometime later that month (the train carrying Fertig was filmed May 19).  

The footage was never edited so it remained as raw photos and video – showing an uncut version of life at the camp.

It is not clear why the filming stopped but Broersma has an idea. 

At Bergen-Belsen, Fertig and her brother were taken under the wing of Luba Tryszynska – the woman who would later be known as the ‘Angel of Bergen-Belsen’ (above) Tryszynska cared for more than 50 children in the concentration camp

Fifty years later in 1995, a reunion was held for the surviving children and Tryszynska (third from left), and she was presented with the Silver Medal of Honor for Humanitarian Deeds on behalf of Queen Beatrix of Amsterdam

‘We think Breslauer was the one who convinced the authorities in the camp that he should film the transports to give a general impression of the camp,’ Broersma told DailyMail.com. 

He believes the photographer did this so that the footage would serve as proof of what had taken place after the war.  

‘He was convinced the filming of transports would be of importance to people after the war especially in late 1944 as it was proof of people being transported to the death camps in Germany,’ he said. 

‘We think the camp authorities suddenly realized this would be dangerous to them after the war so filming was stopped.’  

Breslauer was sent on one of the last trains to the death camps with his wife and three children that September.  

Only his daughter survived.   

Though Breslauer didn’t survive, his footage did. 

Some of the reels were smuggled out of the camp and were later given to the NIOD, before being spliced together to make the original 80-minute film.  

Kuypers said being able to put a name to the faces in the images all these years later is ‘incredible.’ 

‘I think it’s really important as you now have a name and a backstory and can really relate to them,’ she said. 

‘I really got tears in my eyes when I heard the children actually survived as who would have known – they had hardly any chance of survival.’   

Fertig said it was ’emotional’ for her watching the restored footage and seeing herself as a tiny infant in the camp.

But, she added, ‘on the other hand I’ve lived with this my whole life.’ 

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