The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus


A woman’s journey and lucky escape

Liny Pajgin escaped the Nazis during World War II.
liz Ford
Liny Pajgin escaped the Nazis during World War II.

Liny Pajgin escaped the Nazis during World War II. (liz Ford)

It was 1944 in The Hague, Netherlands. An abandoned doll sat lifeless in a deserted house on the city’s oldest street. Hand-knit clothes clung to her porcelain body; specks of dust grayed her hair. Suddenly, knocks echoed through the narrow street and watery eyes peered through curtains in neighboring homes. Heavy fists hammered on the wooden door. There was no answer. The Nazi soldiers came too late. The Pajgin family was gone.

Today, Liny Pajgin Yollick sits in her Dallas home with her husband Bernard. Her right hand fiddles with a gold watch on her left wrist as her light blue eyes scan the walls. Her own paintings meet her gaze. She spends much of her time filling empty canvases with the striking colors nestled in her mind.

Liny was 16 years old when the Germans marched to the Netherlands. Her family, like many, went underground during the initial takeover. She hid in a small air raid shelter with her mother, father and three sisters, terrified to see what was happening outside.

“I hated to come out because I knew I was going see them,” she said. “It was better than living under the Germans.”

Soon those, like Liny, who lived to see the atrocities of the Holocaust, will not be able to share their stories. Survivors and war veterans are now at least 80 years old. SMU Professor of Human Rights Dr. Rick Halperin believes that it is crucial that new generations understand the plight of the Jews and other victims in World War II. The nearly 6,000,000 people who were systematically slaughtered because of their religion cannot be forgotten. Knowledge and action are the two things humans have than can ensure a tragedy such as the Holocaust does not reoccur.

“What happened in the Holocaust is not an aberration of human behavior. In every damn decade since World War II there is genocide. It’s up to us to make sure they stop,” Halperin said.

When Liny emerged from the shelter after five days, the royal family had fled to England and new edicts had been enforced. She walked to city hall with her family and was given a star to wear. A large “J” was printed on her ID card and she was removed from school. By 7 p.m. she was indoors, dreading any knock on the door.

Her father, Leo, hid the family’s gold coins under floorboards in the attic and returned to work every day. His wife Emma was young, smart and beautiful. She cared for her children and then went to work in the family shoe store. When Leo died of a heart attack on Dec. 7, 1941, Emma was left to provide for the family.

Emma Pajgin would not stand idly by and watch her three daughters starve. Risking instant death, she sold shoes to Nazi soldiers on the black market, using her charm and beauty to disguise her Jewish identity. She convinced grocers to save food for her family after specified “Jewish shopping hours” had elapsed. Her daughters never went hungry.

“She thought of everything,” Liny said.

After two years of German occupation, Emma made a decision. She rounded up her daughters and gave them instructions. Liny, instead of celebrating her 18th birthday, slid on two dresses and cut a slit inside her shoe. She slipped a few gold coins in while sandwiches were prepared in the kitchen. The four women left The Hague in the morning of July 14, 1941, leaving all of their belongings behind, including her prized possession: a doll wearing clothes she knit herself.

It was a four-week journey to Southern France. Though Jews were banned from train travel, the Pajgin women boarded.

“People never think I’m Jewish,” she said. “I don’t know what you have to look like to be Jewish, but people never thought I was. That helped us.”

The journey was hard. Afraid of being captured, the four women took separate paths and decided to meet at a small farmhouse near the Belgian border. Completely alone, Liny set off on her journey. Before long she lost her way and was forced to ask a nearby farmer for help.

“He told me that everyone knew what I was doing, so I should just turn around and go home,” she explained.

Though she was terrified, Liny kept walking. She turned from the farmer without a word and wandered the countryside until she found the farmhouse where her mother and sisters awaited her arrival. They spent days in the house under the protection of a friend. Finally, word came that the border was clear, and the women set off again.

Once across the border, Liny boarded another train.

“I was so nervous, I trembled the whole time,” she said.

The four women took the stop at Antwerp, deciding to hide at an uncle’s house. The visit was short; Emma knew they needed to keep moving. For two days the women pleaded with Liny’s uncle to join them, but he could not be swayed. He remained in Antwerp with his wife and 12-year-old daughter. All three were taken from their home and killed before the war was over.

The Pajgin women continued their journey. Bartering the gold coins for their lives, all four arrived safely in Southern France, where they remained for two months. Knowing they could not stay for long, the women took a train to Portugal. It was here the Dutch Console sent a ship to transport 75 refugees to Dutch Guiana, at that time a Dutch province and safe haven for Jews on the north coast of South America.

The Pajgins found safety in Dutch Guiana. Liny was given an exam to complete high school, and soon after was offered a job at the Dutch Embassy in Washington, D.C. Liny Pajgin arrived in America before World War II was over.

She was planning on returning to Europe after a few years in the United States, but Bernie Yollick changed her mind. A friend of Liny threw a party to catch the eye of the eligible Bernie, a surgeon in training. Unfortunately for the hostess, Bernie’s eye was caught by Liny. They wed three months later. The couple has been married for over 60 years. They raised two children: a daughter who graduated from Agnes Scott and a son who received his diploma from Princeton University. Mr. and Mrs. Yollick live in a Dallas home of their own design and, according to Bernie, they could not be a happier pair.

“She has been through a lot and she’s such an incredible woman. We have so much fun together, and we’re going to for a long time,” he said.

More than 100,000 Jews were killed in the Netherlands during World War II. Today, more than 70 years after the war, Holocaust survivors and their families are still fighting to regain property that was stolen. Legal battles rage and many find themselves still without the money they had before the Nazi takeover. According to Halperin, this is but one problem the war society must face.

Brittany Gonzalez, a senior anthropology major and student of Halperin’s, wholeheartedly agrees with the professor’s teachings. She believes that humans have a higher responsibility to aid one another. Education, she says, is the first step.

“I just watched ‘Schindler’s List’ for about the 10th time,” Gonzalez said. “They only way people will forget about the Holocaust is if they want to.”

After World War II many countries vowed that another Holocaust would never take place. Halperin believes that all those who made that promise have failed miserably.

In the Sudan hundreds of thousands are now being slaughtered. Halperin believes that if World War II should have taught people anything, it is that the largest failure of human beings is to stand idly by while others are murdered because of race or religion.

“Children need to know that in order to live in a better world, you have to get involved. It can’t happen on its own – you have a responsibility to do something,” he said.

Today a porcelain doll named Lieselotje rests on top of an old piano in a Dallas home. It is the only thing that remains of Liny Pajgin’s life in the Netherlands.

Liny Yollick’s artwork is on display until March 31 at the Cerulean Gallery at 6609 Hillcrest Avenue, in front of Snider Plaza. For more information please call (214) 739-2583.

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