Chella Velt Meekoms Kryszek (1928-2013)
Rochella "Chella" Velt was born in The Hague, Holland on May 15, 1928. When she was five years old, her mother died, so her father was left to take care of Chella and her older sister, Flora. Her father was concerned that they weren’t going to get the education they needed, so he decided to send Chella and her sister to a Jewish orphanage for a few years until he could get married again. At the orphanage for the next four years, Chella learned to love her religion.
At the end of 1939, Chella’s father remarried and took the two girls out of the home to live with him again. In May of 1940, the war broke out and the Germans took over. Jewish children were not allowed to go to school and were forced to wear the yellow star on their sleeves. One day, Chella’s family received a letter in the mail saying all 16 year olds needed to go to the train station to work in a labor camp, so Chella’s older sister Flora went into hiding. A little later on, Chella’s father was taken away as well. A week later, her stepmother was also gone and Chella was all alone. Chella’s stepmother had told her to wait in the house for someone who would take care of her, and one day a neighbor came for her and hid her with her sister. Eventually, Chella and Flora were captured. For one and a half years, she endured seven different concentration camps, including Auschwitz.
Although their father was killed, Chella and Flora, survived. After liberation and recuperation, Chella arrived in England where she married Daniel Meekcoms, who served in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War and had two sons, Leon and Raoul. The family arrived in the US in 1952; her daughter, Yvonne was born in Portland several years later. In 1989, Chella married Jakob Kryszek. Jake and Chella have supported many causes, including the U.S. Holocaust Museum and were integral members of the Oregon Holocaust Resource Center and the Oregon Holocaust Memorial Coalition, leading to the dedication of the Holocaust Memorial in Washington Park in Portland, in August 2004.
For more than 25 years, Chella addressed thousands of students in the Pacific Northwest and around the US about her experience during the Holocaust. Her chronicle evoked startling similarity to the story of Anne Frank - same age, same country, same ordeal - but she survived. Chella was deeply committed to the lessons exposed by the violations of humanity that came out of the Holocaust. Her story is represented in books, audiotapes and videotapes, located in Holocaust resource centers and libraries around the country. In her own words, she spoke for tolerance and understanding and has inspired many with that message.