“ Fantastic.” The 98-year-old Selma van de Perre is extremely gilded with the knighthood order she received in London on Friday. On the chair where Queen Wilhelmina gave her speeches for Radio Orange at the time, the resistance hero Van de Perre was awarded a Knight of the Order of Orange-Nassau.
The still crystal clear Van de Perre — since last year she has stopped playing golf — is awarded the award for her relentless commitment to keep the memory of the war alive. As one of the last survivors of the Ravensbrück concentration camp, Van de Perre continues to tell her experiences of war tirelessly.
She finally wrote that story down last year in a successful book: My name is Selma. The Jewish Selma Velleman went into hiding in 1942, dyes her hair blond and joins the Dutch Resistance as Marga van der Kuit. Its her job to distribute receipts. In June 1944, she was arrested and a few months later she went through a horrific time in Ravensbrück womens camp.
She survives, unlike her father, mother and younger sister. “Yet I felt lucky for many years,” she says in London, where she has lived since the end of World War II. “After all, I survived the war. But over the last few years, Ive been thinking a little differently. A friend told me that it had not been luck, but that at decisive moments I had said yes or no, or turned back somewhere. No, it wasnt like I forced happiness. But its more of a kind of intuition to make the right decision at the right time. Thats different from just being lucky.”
One of those moments came when she returned to work in a fur factory in Amsterdam. She had just posted a parcel to Westerbork, because she suspected her father was there. She finally decided not to return to the factory that day. It turned out that all employees had been picked up by the Germans. “No one survived the war,” says Van de Perre.
In Ravensbrück she was asked at one point whether she would not go to Mütterheim. “I didnt know what it was, but I said I didnt want it. That was still possible then. Afterwards it became clear to me that it was a place where you were forced to bear Aryan children with Germans. That has been spared to me.” After the war, she leaves for London.
She finds the current curfew “annoying.” Because of her royal award, she would have preferred to have given a big party. But thats gonna have to wait. She doesnt really complain. She doesnt understand well when others do. “Now you cant leave the door, but in the war there were people who lived literally under the ground for years. No, its annoying, but nothing compared to the war.”