Willy Halpert

Willy Halpert
Born 1933 in Metz, France He was nine when the Nazis suddenly arrested his father on the streets of Antwerp. Willy was hidden by the Belgian underground and kept in boarding schools until the war’s end.


Click to view fullsize.
Willy Halpert, age 13.
The Halpert family before the war. Top: Willy’s father, Moses, maternal aunt, Martha, and mother, Blima. Bottom: Willy and sisters Solange and Miriam.
Moses and Blima Welner Halpert. Willy found these photos of his parents in an archive in Belgium in 2014.
Willy’s birth notice, published in Metz France in 1933.
Andrée Geulen-Herscovici risked her life to arrange hiding places for Jewish children during the Holocaust, including Willy and his sisters. She kept secret records of where all the children were hidden.
Willy found his name in a copy of Andrée Geulen-Herscovici’s ledgers, where she kept track of the Jewish children hidden by the Belgian underground. He believes the fact that it is crossed out indicates that he was rescued.
The identity cards belonging to Willy’s parents were discovered in an archive when Willy returned to Belgium searching for information about what happened to them during the Holocaust. Belgian Jews had to have a red stamp on their ID cards in both Dutch and French identifying them as Jews. The Nazis also required them to wear a yellow star at all times on their outer garments.
An archival photo showing the courtyard of the Nazi military headquarters where Belgian Jews were assembled before being deported. From here, they were taken by train to Antwerp and then put in cattle cars and taken to concentration camps. Willy assumes this is what happened to his parents. He has no information about how, where, or when they died.
Archival photograph of Belgian Jews being taken to concentration camps.
Jews waiting to board the cattle cars in Mechelen, a city between Brussels and Antwerp. Willy assumes his parents were taken here on the way to the concentration camps.
The bridge over the moat at Château de Beloeil, which was the first place Willy was hidden by the Belgian underground. He vividly remembers seeing the dragons in the faint light of the car’s headlights.
Château de Beloeil was the home of Prince Eugene II of Ligne, who was part of the Belgian resistance. During the war, he took in war orphans and risked his life to hide Jewish children among them. Willy remembers him as being a kind and caring person.
At the Château de Beloeil, girls lived in the wing of the building under the white roof and the boys lived under the black roof. The cobblestone parking lot was a play area where Willy and his friends often played marbles. When he went back to visit in 2014, Willy found a marble on the ground.
When Willy returned as an adult to the Château de Beloeil, the child-sized sinks in what had been the boys’ bathroom reminded him how young he had been during the Holocaust.
Worried that the Nazis knew that Jews were being hidden at the Château de Beloeil, Willy was moved to a Catholic boarding school in Melle, Belgium. This was his dormitory. Behind each curtain was a bed and a cupboard for clothes.
The Church in Melle where Willy sang soprano in the children’s choir. He remembers being given a slice of cake when they sang in the main Cathedral.
When the war ended, Willy was 12. He was sent to Profondsart, Belgium, where he waited to learn if any of his family members had survived.
Willy’s sisters Lilliane and Miriam in Australia after the war. He met Lilliane for the first time after liberation. When he went into hiding, he didn’t know his mother was pregnant.
Willy in Australia with sisters Solange (left) and Miriam (right) in their school uniforms. They lived with an uncle.
Willy researched the fate of his family members and was able to find photographs in archives of relatives who were killed by the Nazis.
Willy went back to the Château de Beloeil and had tea with the the current resident, Prince Antoine Lamoral of Ligne, who is one of ten grandchildren of the prince who saved Willy’s life. “Among all the evil-doers during the Holocaust, there were good people as well,” says Willy.
Willy moved to Israel and opened the first diving business in the Middle East— Aquasport Red Sea Diving, in Eilat.
Willy’s father first taught him how to swim in a mikveh — a Jewish ritual bath — which was the secret meeting place of Antwerp’s resistance movement. “Since then, I’ve always loved water,” he says.
Willy with sons Lorin (left) and Daniel (right) and his wife, Marilyn.
Willy became an avid oil painter. “This is a self-portrait,” he says. “The yellow flowers are me. The bud is me just starting out. In the middle, it's the full bloom of life. One day it will be finished—the flower on the right. The red flower on the left is all the people that helped me and on the right are those that turned their backs.”
AZPM is a service of the University of Arizona and our broadcast stations are licensed to the Arizona Board of Regents who hold the trademarks for Arizona Public Media and AZPM. We respectfully acknowledge the University of Arizona is on the land and territories of Indigenous peoples.
The University of Arizona