Dr. William Leons (Wim)

Before the War

Wim Leons was born August 29, 1935 in Rotterdam, Netherlands. He lived with his father, Abraham, and his mother, Pawlina in a small Jewish neighborhood in the center of Rotterdam. His father was a paper wholesaler. They were secular Jews. His father had arranged for the family to leave for England, but when war was declared on Holland, they were prohibited to leave.

During the War

On May 5, 1940, the Germans bombed their neighborhood, and their house was destroyed. They spent one year in Amsterdam, but due to the terrible raids they moved again to a tiny house in a farming village just outside of Rotterdam. After his father was killed at Mauthausen in 1942, he and his mother became “onderdiechers,” below social level. In 1943 the police came to William’s house to arrest everyone. William escaped, and was hidden in the tiny attic of a Mennonite family. He stayed up there for nearly two years.

After The War

William’s mother was liberated from Kamp Vught in 1944. She walked 60 miles to Rotterdam, starved and tortured, her feet wrapped in newspapers to reunite with her son. They returned to their tiny house in the village. They lived there for 6 months until the end of the war in May 1945. On November 5, 1949 William and his mother left for the U.S., taking the ship, Veendam. They moved to Hoboken, New Jersey. William was a Freedom Rider during the civil rights movement and moved to Toledo, Ohio in 1975, where he was a Professor of Anthropology at the University of Toledo until he retired in 2010. He spent the last years of his life with his wife, Kim, and their three children and three grandchildren in Vermont. William died on June 2, 2014. You can read his obituary here.

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