Man revisits home where he and his mother hid from Nazis 80 years ago
Nearly 80 years after the Holocaust, a man visited the home in Brussels where he hid with his mother and hadn’t been back to since.
David Rossler, now 83, was five-years-old when his mother Haja Sura Zoltak was hidden by the Bourlet family, Georges and his four children: Paul, Jacques, Anne-Marie and Christiane.
Rossler met up with the Bourlets for a reunion when he visited his former safe haven.
The extraordinary meeting would not have taken place if it weren’t for the persistence of Rossler’s son, Lionel, 55. Lionel spent years trying to find the family who saved his father and grandmother to no avail until a genealogist responded to his social media group.
Two months later, David was finally reunited with the descendants of the Bourlet family and visited the home he lived in in secret. His son Lionel was elated to grant his father his lifelong wish.
L-R back: Bernard Moens, Anne Moens, Pascale MoensL-R front: Christine Moens, David Rossler, Xavier Dedoncker
‘Well, hello everybody,’ David said to the grandchildren of George Bourlet: Anne, Pascale, Bernard and Christine Moens, and Xavier Dedoncker,’ who were eagerly waiting to greet him.
As he looked at the house – the towering three-story home with its large windows and wrought iron balconies – that looked almost the same as he remembered – he was overcome with emotion. Suddenly more than seven decades of memories came rushing back.
‘It’s been 80 years since I last saw this house,’ he said with great emotion. ‘It’s not just a good deed it’s risking your life- pure and simple.’
‘I was there when the tanks came from the side,’ he said pointing upwards. ‘When the Allies liberated Brussels. On the second floor was my father,’ he said standing on the home’s walking path.
When he walked inside, he started to point out things he remembered. ‘In the corner of the room, there was a radio set. The radio on which we heard of the liberation of Brussels, and everything.’
‘You couldn’t go 100 meters in the city without meeting the Germans.’
He then spoke about the courageous and compassionate people who risked their lives to save others during World War II.
‘It’s not often said … people who protected Jews were simply risking their lives. You wouldn’t end up in jail, but in Auschwitz … and in Auschwitz, you didn’t end up anywhere but in the crematoria,’ he said.
One of those truly remarkable human beings was his surrogate father Georges Bourlet. He shared how he managed to keep him, and his mother hidden from the Germans.
‘Mr. Bourlet, who worked in an administrative position, in reality he would leave in the morning and come back in the evening. There was nothing unusual about it,’ David said.
‘And then we learned that for almost a month he did not go to work. He would go to the local cafe. He wasn’t drinking alcohol, but he spent his time in the cafe so that he wouldn’t be seen and then he would go back home,’ David wept.
‘Because he was afraid that he had been denounced as having Jews hidden in his home.’
The home in Brussels where David lived in secret with his mother Haja Sura Zoltak (also known as Sabine) after they were rescued by the Bourlet family
Lionel Rossler, 55, spent years looking for the Bourlet family with no success until 2022 when he took to social media and a genealogist from MyHeritage told him she ‘believed she could help’
A photo of a young David with his father. According to MyHeritage, David’s father was not arrested like his brother and father. He went into hiding and later became ill and died
Lionel explained that Georges never revealed to his family, what he was doing, and it was only after the war that he told his grandmother and his father what he did for them.
‘Because of his heroic action, Georges was able to save the lives of my father and grandmother,’ Lionel said. ‘Nine people were saved thanks to what he did; my brother, myself and our children would not be here today if not for his courage and kindness.’
Lionel said his father was born Daniel Langa in 1938. The family lived in Brussels when the persecution of the Jewish community began.
David and his family moved several times over the course of the war. His grandfather and uncle were found by the Nazis during a raid they were arrested deported and then taken to Auschwitz – never to be seen again. His father was hiding elsewhere, later became ill and died, according to MyHeritage.
His father and grandfather sought shelter in a Catholic convent in Brussels; but then, the convent was raided, and were able to escape with the help of Mother Superior. She was later granted the title of Righteous Among the Nations, Lionel said.
After their evacuation from the convent, David and his mother were taken in by the Bourlet family. They secretly lived in their home located in Auderghem, one of the boroughs of Brussels, during the spring and summer of 1944 until the liberation of Brussels in 1945.
Lionel said the children of Mr Bourlet were like brothers and sisters to his father.
‘They took good care of him, entertaining him with stories and keeping him busy while he couldn’t venture out of course,’ he said. ‘They even told him where to go and what to do if he had to escape.’
After the war, David’s mother remarried, and his father took the last name of his stepfather, who was a survivor of Auschwitz.
He said the family moved to Austria and then lost touch with the Bourlet family.
A photo of the Bourlet family located in Auderghen, Brussels taken sometime in the 1930s or 1940s.
After Marie Cappart, the genealogist for MyHeritage.com, connected with Lionel on Facebook, she started her research browsing records and cross-referencing data.
She found Ann-Marie Bourlet born in Auderghem in 1929 and then learned that Anne-Marie married someone with the surname Dedoncker and had five children, all of them still possibly alive, MyHeritage.com spokesperson Sarah Vanunu told DailyMail.com.
Cappart said: ‘I really felt for David’s story and also the fact that it was a race against time to fulfill his last wish to find the family.’
After more searching, Marie found Xavier, one of Georges Bourlet’s grandsons, and managed to contact him. She learned that Xavier had heard a little about this story, and from there Cappart was able to reach out to the other descendants of Georges, including the ones who still owned the family home in Auderghem.
That was when they all decided to meet there.
‘I was able to see, with my own eyes, the place where my father was kept safe from the Germans all those years ago,’ Lionel said.
And, described it as ‘an incredibly emotional day …one he will never forget.’
David Rossler and geneologist Marie Cappart pictured here during the reunion. Cappart helped bring the family together
An undated photo of Georges Bourlet, the man who helped hide David and his mother from the Nazi’s during World War II- David’s grandfather and uncle were killed in Auschwitz
A photo of Georges Bourlet and daughters Anne-Marie and Christiane in an undated photo
Georges Bourlet frolicking in the hay with some of his children
Lionel expressed how grateful he was to Marie and to MyHeritage ‘for making it possible.’
‘In Jewish tradition, there is a saying that ‘He who saves one life saves all of humanity,” Georges Bourlet saved humanity nine times over,’ he said.
The family plans to submit their testimony to Yad Vashem in hopes that Georges Bourlet will be recognized for his heroism and granted the title of Righteous Among the Nations.
‘The cost of war, as he experienced it, was too great. We hope and pray that this message will be heard, for the sake of all those still suffering from violence.’
David’s remarkable story marks International Holocaust Remembrance Day today – January 27.
The day remembers the killing of six million Jews, two-thirds of Europe’s Jewish population, and millions of others by the Nazi regime and its collaborators during the Holocaust between 1933 and 1945.
In closing, Lionel added, ‘It’s important to my father for younger generations to hear his story and understand that there must be no more hate and no more war,’ he said.