Dutch Boxing Association commemorates former boxer Leen Sanders as a war hero

16 May 2018 Featured

President Boris van der Vorst of the Dutch Boxing Association celebrated a special person during the day of the national sports commemoration on May 4th in Amsterdam. In the Auschwitz concentration camp during the war years 1940-1945, the Rotterdam-born boxer Leen Sanders put the importance of others far above his own interests. He always knew how to find a way to give his fellow men a glimmer of hope without losing his dignity. In commemoration of this ‘war hero’, Boris van der Vorst, during a ceremonial commemoration, laid down a garland of flowers near the statue of Promotheus in the Olympic stadium. 

Leen Sanders (born 21 June 1908 in Rotterdam) was deported to Auschwitz from Westerbork on 11 January 1943, together with his wife Sellina and their sons Josua and David. In Aschwitz, his wife is murdered on 30 April 1943, at 32 years old, and their sons were murdered on 14 January 1943, at 10 and 8 years old. The drama cannot be described with a pen. His good fortune was that a member of the SS (Schutzstaffel) recognized him as an old champion and gave him the job of having food in the kitchen arranged and distributed as a form of corvée, provided he participated in boxing matches. There was no other way to avoid the gas chamber. To gain physical strength he received extra bread and soup and he was allowed to jump, jog, shadow box and spar. On Sunday a ring was placed on the apple place. SS men, kapos, block elders and other ‘prominent people’ took place in the first four rows. Jews were not welcome. 

With great risks and danger to his own life, Leen Sanders stole, concealed and smuggled food and clothing from SS nursing units for years to alleviate the unbearable suffering of the prisoners in need. He also regularly supplied extra food to the Dutch women in Dr. Mengele’s experiment block 10. Former members of the Dutch resistance group “De Geuzen” later wrote: “… when the desperation was near, the rescue in person of Leen Sanders came with a gamel of soup, bread and underwear and he made sure that we could put on something clean and that we could somewhat satisfy the overpowering hunger.” 

Resistance hero Bill Minco was sentenced to death, but got pardon at the last minute and ended up severely weakened in Auschwitz. In his memoir “Koude Voeten” he wrote: “I was hardly stood half an hour at block 24, when he asked my name and asked if I was hungry. It was the first time someone asked me that. He went back and gave me a loaf of bread. A bread! I didn’t know what was happening. After all the hunger I’d suffered. After all that happened to me, a loaf! And someone who thought about me. I had forgotten that existed. For a moment the sky opened, you felt for a moment that you were a human being and someone was sympathizing with you.” 

Louis de Wijze described a similar experience in his book “Ontsnapping uit de dodenmars”: “Out of nowhere a prisoner came to me. He looks a bit older than me. The friendly eyes and the open face immediately inspire trust in him. “Dutch,” he asks? I nod and tell him who I am. Then he introduces himself. Leen Sanders takes me to a quiet corner. “Are there any more Dutchmen in your bunker?” he asks. Yes, I say. From under his coat and from his pants he takes out various food items. I can’t believe my eyes. There are even a few apples in there! “How…” I do not get the chance to finish my question. “Don’t ask anything,” he says, “you just have to promise me that you will share everything honestly with your friends.” What a wonderful guy! For the first time in this barren place, I met some fellow humanity again…” 

After 1945 Leen Sanders remarried Henriette van Creveld. The couple moved to Aruba and in 1954 they moved to California. Leen Sanders never was forgotten. He passed away April 8th, 1992. 

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