Oldenzaal, The Netherlands, ca. 1929
Elie and Betje Weijl pass the basilica. Elie wears short trousers, long socks and a large cap. He looks straight into the camera, his expression is open. Elie is twelve or thirteen – hence the photo has been dated around 1929. Betje (49) – she’s also called Bella – is Elie’s mother. She makes an imposing figure: a large head and a sturdy double-chin. Her hat is worn well-down over her eyes and she holds her bag in her left hand. But where are they heading?
Betje Weijl-de Leeuw was born in the Dutch town of Almelo in September 1880. She was a niece of Arnold de Leeuw, butcher and owner of Slobian-Byelaya, and an aunt by marriage of his wife Louisa Weijl. Betje had married the Oldenzaal merchant Maurits (Mau) Weijl in May 1901. The couple had three children, all boys: Leo in 1902, Louis in 1904 and the latecomer, Elie Maurits, on 15 June 1917. Mau had died four years before the picture was taken having been hit by a train. His obituary in the Nieuw Israelietisch Weekblad with its national readership (New Israelite Weekly) said that Mau ‘had numerous friends among all classes of the population’.
Whose camera is Elie looking at? It was a while before I woke up to the special quality of this photo. Then it hit me – this was an action picture – quite unusual in the 1920s. Elie and his mother did not pose… they were walking by the Saint Plechelmus basilica and the photographer caught them by surprise. Who was the photographer? And what was he doing there?
Read also about the last shochet of Oldenzaal, here.
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