One day Herr Ullendorf, dressed as usual in his black velvet-collared coat, his homburg on his head and carrying his usual cane, showed up at my Aunt Paula’s apartment and told her that he thought that the children, namely my cousins Wolfie and Robert and I might be hidden from the Nazis in a Catholic orphanage. The first reaction was positive excitement, as the Nazis had become more savage about their arrests and deportations. Everyone knew someone who had been snatched right off the street or from their own homes. My Aunt Trudi and my Uncle Harry had already been captured in one of the raids never to be seen again (years later I read they had died in Auschwitz), and the parents were at their wits ends about what to do about saving their children as they foresaw their own end.
However, after thinking about this possible solution for a while and discussing it, some worries introduced themselves. First there was Irene, who was only about two years old at the time. Would the orphanage take her? And then there was the problem of baptisms and conversions. These Jewish parents simply did not want their children to become Catholics, and I understand since then that conversion and baptism was considered the equivalent of death. So, the parents, my cousins Saul and Hildchen and Rosa and Rudy as well as my mother, and Aunt Paula and her husband, all conferred about what to do, and the result of all this conferring was that that Herr Ullendorf was asked to get more information, and to express the parents’ objections to whoever was responsible for the help offer, and bring back the results. As a brief digression, it should be noted that in France, where some Jewish children were hidden in Catholic institutions, these children were baptized and converted, and one of them rose to be a prince of the Church, Cardinal Leger of Paris.
Since then, I’ve found out a bit more about who was responsible for the generous offer to save Jewish children. It was a Cardinal Van Ruy, who had very little love for the Germans after the atrocities they had committed in Belgium during World War I, which had ended only eighteen years earlier. Being a man of conscience he was also trying to do whatever he could to avert the murder of so many Jews. Children seemed the easiest to save, as the Catholic Church had a great many orphanages and schools scattered throughout Belgium into which the Jewish children could disappear. It should also be noted in this respect that the inglorious role of Pope Pius XII during the war did not keep many individual Catholics from helping save Jews, both as individuals and as officials of the Church.
Herr Ullendorf came back with a promise from Cardinal Van Ruy that there would be no baptisms and no attempts at conversions. The children however, would all have to change their names to more Christian-sounding ones and were to be instructed never to reveal to anyone their real names or that they were Jewish. The family then agreed to send us to the orphanage and our names were changed. I became Arthur Martin, while my cousin Wolfie became Marcel Duchamp. Robert and Irene retained their names. Arrangements were made for us to go to the Couvent St. Joseph, in Brussels, actually an orphanage for little girls, but beggars couldn’t be choosers. Oddly, while I wasn’t the oldest, I was asked by my aunt to make sure that my cousins weren’t converted or baptized, and that if they showed any signs of becoming little Catholics, I was to inform the family. How I was to do this was never discussed. Robert, Irene, and Marcel, went into the Couvent St. Joseph while their parents were still living. When they emerged, three years later, they were indeed orphans.