BY MOLLY CONGDON
CLIFTON PARK — Joyce Rosano, a Clifton Park resident for the past seven years, always agreed to be a speaker for her grandchildren’s high school history classes while they were studying World War II.
Then, one year, after being introduced by the teacher, something happened that she didn’t expect. A boy sitting at a desk in the front row stood up and said, “Yeah, well there was no Holocaust, right? That’s all a lot of crap.”
When the young man returned, after being quickly escorted out of the room, he apologized and Rosano turned to him and replied, “I lived it, believe me it is the truth.”
Turn back the clock to May 10, 1940. It was a time of fear, suffering and death. This was the day that Germany invaded the Netherlands. Bombs flattened and toppled the city of Rotterdam, and a land once full of beautiful castles was reduced to rubble.
Meanwhile, already in motion and gathering momentum was one of the darkest periods in human history, the Holocaust, in which much of the Netherlands’ Jewish community would perish, along with millions of others considered undesirable in the Nazi vision of the future.
Back then, Rosano was only 2 years old. “It’s amazing how no matter how young you are, bad things stand out,” she said. “The older you get, the more you remember, and you have to remember in order to forget.”
She recounts taking a walk with her father near a school in their city, Bussum, when it was suddenly bombed; seeing body parts scattered in the streets; and all of the times she would lie in between her two older brothers in the closet under the stairs in her parents’ home, waiting silent in the darkness for hours until the Nazis were no longer in the area and her mother came to get them. Sometimes they fell asleep because they were there for so long.
She also recalls how scared she was when members of the Dutch underground resistance movement reprimanded a Dutch girl, who lived across the street from her, for dating one of the occupying German soldiers. Rosano stared out the window and watched as the 15-year-old’s head was shaved, tar was poured on top of her and chicken feathers fluttered before settling on her body. “Dutch people were doing this to Dutch girls,” Rosano said. “They were so full of hate because of what the Nazi soldiers were doing to our people.”
One of her worst memories, though, was the day that her father was taken away to a concentration camp. Before the war, Rosano’s parents were quite well off. Her father owned a delicatessen and grocery store, but as the war dragged on, they lost everything and eventually resorted to eating tulip bulbs and clothing starch.
One day, her mother saw the soldiers coming and there wasn’t enough time to hide. “They took my father away; they took all the Dutch Christian men and put them in a concentration work camp, Kamp Amersfoort,” Rosano said. “They had to do all the dirty work.”
Her father and the other enslaved men slept on the wet ground within canvas pup tents. “At night, my father would sneak out on his belly to where the food was and steal some for all of the guys,” Rosano recollected with a smile.
In combination with the heavy workload, lack of nutrients and terrible conditions, her father became hunched over, like an ape. “At one point in time, they came to him and told him, ‘Go. You’re no good, you can’t do anything,’ ” Rosano said. “My father knew what was going to happen; he was going to be shot in the back like so many others he had seen, but for some reason he was spared. The only thing to this day I can think of is that God was riding on his shoulder.”
He walked to the home of a man who had once sold him all of the eggs, chickens and hams for the store. By the time he arrived, he had nothing left on his bleeding feet. The man’s wife bathed him like a child, tended to his feet and gave him a real bed to sleep in for the night.
The next day, they took him home on the carrier of a bicycle. “We were all in a state of shock,” Rosano said. “We didn’t expect to ever see him again; it had been almost three years.”
Rosano’s parents had a lot of Jewish friends; one family of seven that they were particularly close with hid in a secret room in her father’s store. The hosts shared food with the fugitives.
As a result of the bravery and kindness of Rosano’s parents, their Jewish friends survived the war; they were never discovered, unlike the famous Holocaust victim Anne Frank who tried to hide but was found and shipped to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where she died.
Rosano’s baby brother was born April 21, 1945, shortly before the Netherlands was liberated on May 5. Rosano remembers the day of deliverance like it was yesterday. “The troops came down in tanks and trucks — all American and Canadian soldiers — throwing gum and hollering, “You’re free! You’re free!” Rosano said. “People were yelling, crying and dancing in the street.”
Finally after the war, Rosano and her family arrived in America on Dec. 19, 1948, when she was 10 years old. Her life began anew in a fresh setting — Colonie. She learned English, made friends and became a prominent roller skater, winning state and regional competitions.
The roller skating rink is also where she met her husband, Charlie, when she was 18 years old. After they got married, she and her husband continued to live in Colonie because he worked for his father at Rosano’s Farm Store while she took care of their three children, Michael, Michelle and Charles (Chuck) as a stay-at-home mom. Then, when her kids were grown, she became a receptionist-secretary for a local chiropractor for 28 years.
She and Charlie, now married 56 years, moved to Clifton Park seven years ago when the house in Colonie began to feel too big.
Through it all, the fear and horror she knew as a small child remained etched in her mind, and the memories remain sharp 70 years later.