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WWII camp survivor defends her memoirs

Published: Monday, May 21 2007 12:07 a.m. MDT

A handful of Dutch immigrants who now live in Utah question the authenticity of one woman's memoirs of her life in German-occupied Amsterdam and as a prisoner in a concentration camp.

"Too Stubborn to Die" was published in 1995 by Lehi resident Cato Jaramillo. In the book, Jaramillo writes about a childhood in Amsterdam and her abduction at age 12 that led to her being held prisoner for nearly two years at a camp know as Nordhausen.

But Ogden residents Jerry and Hanna Meents, who also lived in Amsterdam during German occupation and the Holocaust, grew concerned about Jaramillo's story after reading her book.

They spent 12 years researching her claims and have collected information that calls into question many of the details in Jaramillo's book.

"I read the book in one day, and that's when I found out that 95 percent is B.S.," said Jerry Meents. "Because all the historical facts of Amsterdam did not happen on the days she said, and she mentioned some things in the book that happened when she was supposed to be in the concentration camp."

Jaramillo said she never knew Meents in Amsterdam and doesn't understand why he would make those claims.

"I never even knew about Jerry Meents," she said. "He's been harassing me for a long time now by making telephone calls and standing in front of book stores (during author signing events)."

Jaramillo's story was featured in the Deseret Morning News in February.

Meents is not the only one questioning the book, however.

Professors at the University of Eastern Piedmont in Vercelli, Italy, have labeled the book a "forgery" and a "fraud" in presentations regarding traumatic historical events as captured in literature.

Prior to her abduction, Jaramillo describes being taken from her home by German troops to witness a public execution and recalls in vivid detail climbing over rooftops to gather food dropped into Amsterdam by Allied planes.

Meents, however, said the timeline of those events doesn't fit Jaramillo's story. The public execution Jaramillo mentions took place in March 1945, and Allied food drops didn't happen in Amsterdam until May 1945 and were not dropped over the city, according to Air Force documents obtained by Meents. According to her book, Jaramillo was in Nordhausen during that time period.

Jaramillo said she could have the exact date wrong but remains firm that the incidents happened before she says she was taken in 1943.

"I don't know when the exact time was, but it was during World War II," she said.

Meents also questions Jaramillo's account of her time in Nordhausen. According to her book, Jaramillo was one of many children at the camp who sorted through the clothing of incoming Jews.

But according to documents obtained by Meents from the Netherlands Institute for War Documentation, Nordhausen was a satellite camp of Buchenwald. It housed male prisoners for the manufacturing of V-1 and V-2 rockets. The men taken there had already had their possessions taken from them at Buchenwald, so there were no sorters, and no children were held at the camp.

Jaramillo said the camp Meents refers to is a satellite camp to Nordhausen, not the one she was in.

"There were two camps associated with Nordhausen," she said. "There was Nordhausen itself and a satellite camp near Nordhausen. I don't know where it was; I never saw it. All I heard was that people worked underground and were only brought up when they died."

After reading Jaramillo's book and gathering some evidence of his claims, Meents set out to disprove the memoirs. He wrote negative book reviews on Amazon.com, wrote letters to school districts that had invited Jaramillo to address children, successfully lobbied the Salt Lake County Library System to reclassify the book as fiction and discouraged organizers of America's Freedom Festival at Provo from honoring Jaramillo for her experiences.

After seeing his documentation, organizers of the festival withdrew Jaramillo's nomination for an award.

"The whole thing bothers me, but how the heck do I express it?" Meents said. "I guess that somebody makes money off a lie. ... History has to be told the way it happened for future generations."

One of Meents biggest concerns is that Jaramillo collects money from schools she visits. Jaramillo acknowledged that she does collect money but said she gives all of the money directly to needy children, but because she doesn't go through a charity, has no documentation.

"If you donate the money to an organization, they take most of the money," she said.

Jaramillo says a tattoo she has is proof her story is true. Doctors at the State Health Clinic of Utah confirmed that Jaramillo does have what appears to be a prisoner number tattoo in her pubic area.

In 2000, Jaramillo sued Meents for defamation, launching an extensive four-year lawsuit that Jaramillo eventually dropped.

The Meents family said they are hoping to reveal the truth of the book by asking questions that people would generally be afraid to ask.

"I think most people, their first reaction is 'Why would you lie about such a horrific event in world history?"' said David Meents, Jerry Meents' son. "I think people are hesitant to question someone who claims to be a Holocaust survivor."

Jaramillo questions Meents' motives, alleging that religion is likely the impetus for their claims.

"The only trouble I can see is he's a Jew, I'm not a Jew, and I've come across lots of Jews who say there were never even non-Jews in the concentration camps," she said. "This is my story. Not this Jerry Meents' story, and I wish he would stop harassing me. I'm getting sick and tired of him."


E-mail: jtwitchell@desnews.com

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