Heinz Joachim Unger was born on September 26, 1928, as the only child of Franz Joseph and Therese Unger, née Rothholz, in Berlin. Since both of his parents worked, he lived with his grandparents, Martha and Julius Rothholz, at Friedbergstrasse 7 during the week, starting when he was five years old.
His grandmother called him a “charming child” and a “sweet-bird,” whom she loved with all her heart, in a letter she wrote on November 9, 1938. That was the night that synagogues were torched, Jewish-owned shops were plundered and destroyed, and many Jews were beaten, killed, or arrested in Germany, Austria, and occupied Czechoslovakia. With her letter, Martha Rothholz tried but failed to get an affidavit from a distant, very prominent relative in the U.S. that would enable Heinz Joachim Unger and his parents to emigrate. These notarized guarantees of support were a prerequisite for entering the U.S. and several other countries.
Only ten years old at the time, Heinz Joachim suffered the complete destruction of his parents’ laundries during the “Night of Broken Glass,” the departure overnight of a number of close family members, and the suicide of his beloved grandfather, who had helped his oldest daughter, Bertha, and her family to flee and knew it was only a matter of time before he was arrested by the Gestapo.
Therese and Franz Joseph Unger decided to save their son by putting him on a “Kindertransport,” a train taking Jewish children to the Netherlands, especially since they knew they were being watched by the Gestapo. At the end of 1938, Heinz Joachim arrived in the Netherlands and was put into foster care in Amsterdam with a family named Pelz. Since no one knew whether his parents could afford to pay for his care, he was sent to Eindhoven on January 5, 1939, to the “Dommelhuis,” which took in refugee boys for a time. He then moved in with the E. Vecht family at Hugo de Grootstraat 104 in Rotterdam on August 16, 1939.
The street they lived on was a mixed industrial and residential area that was reduced to rubble when it was bombed on May 14, 1940, shortly after the German army invaded the Netherlands. The Vechts’ home was destroyed; we do not know whether they even survived the bombing.
Since Heinz Joachim Unger was being treated for a broken leg at the Israelite Orphanage at Mathenesserlaan 208 in Rotterdam at the time, the Control Commission for Jewish Refugee Children in Foster Care asked the orphanage to keep him there.
On October 8, 1942, Heinz Joachim Unger – along with all the other refugee children from Germany and Austria living in the orphanage – was sent to the Westerbork transit camp. The trip to Westerbork, which was about 200 kilometers away, apparently took two days, since October 10 is given as the date of the children’s arrival in the camp. He was first housed in Barrack 21, spent a few days in the camp hospital in February 1943, and was then moved to Barack 35, the camp orphanage.
Heinz Joachim Unger was transported to the death camp Sobibor on April 13, 1943, where he and many others were murdered in the gas chamber shortly after their arrival on April 16, 1943.
He was only fourteen and a half when he died, and his carefree, happy life as a sheltered, much-loved child had ended when he was ten years old.