Selma van de Perre-Velleman

The Netherlands
07.06.1922 -
Selma van de Perre-Velleman © Chris van Houts

Jewish Selma van de Perre-Velleman was imprisoned in Camp Vught under her pseudonym Marga van der Kuit for her resistance activities. It wasn’t until after the war she dared to say out loud: “My name is Selma.”

Selma Velleman grew up in a liberal Jewish family, and it was not until the war that she was confronted with her being Jewish. Suddenly it became a matter of life or death.

When she turned twenty in June 1942, Selma received a call to perform forced labour in Germany. She managed to evade this, however, and decided to join the resistance not much later. She bleached her hair and, thanks to a forged identity card, went on to live as the non-Jewish Margareta ‘Marga’ van der Kuit. Under that false name she distributed illegal newspapers, false identity cards and coupons.

After being betrayed and arrested in July 1944, she was imprisoned in Camp Vught and, later, in the German women’s camp Ravensbrück — still as the non-Jewish Marga van der Kuit. She knew that if her Jewish identity was discovered, she would be sent to one of the extermination camps. “At night I barely dared to sleep, afraid as I was to say my real name and reveal my real identity.”

Only when she was evacuated to Sweden after the liberation of Camp Ravensbrück did Selma dare to say it out loud: “My name is not Margareta van der Kuit. My name is Selma.”

She and her older brothers David and Louis survived the war, but her father Barend, mother Femmetje and younger sister Clara were murdered in the extermination camps.

In November 1945, Selma moved to London, where her brothers lived and worked. She found a job at the BBC, where she met Hugo van de Perre. The two married in 1955 and had a son in 1957. Selma van de Perre-Velleman still lives in London to this day.

She did not talk much about the war for a long time, until she started to put her life story on paper. This resulted in a book with the apt title My name is Selma, which became an instant bestseller after it came out in 2020.

About the lasting impact of the war, she wrote in her closing words: “The death of Papa, Mama and Clara is still the most shocking event of my life. Worse than anything I’ve experienced in the war is knowing how they were killed. Even now, 75 years later, I lie awake at night and say to myself: ‘Selma, go to sleep. You cannot change what happened by thinking about it.’ By participating in commemorations and talking about the Holocaust, I found a way to deal with all of this.”