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Date & time Sep 15
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The Antiques Roadshow discovering the lost objects of the Holocaust

In a carrier bag stowed at the replica van cleef and arpels necklace alhambra top of her wardrobe, Sybil Van der Velde keeps a pair of trousers. They are made of a thick ersatz cloth, striped blue and a white that has slowly yellowed over the decades.

The bottoms are frayed and legs flecked with stains. Still, unmistakably, they are the uniform of the dreaded Auschwitz concentration camp. Clothes synonymous with the worst of humanity, and for Sybil's husband Joe, the only possessions he had left in the world for four interminable years living in the shadow of the gas chambers.

When the camp was liberated by the Soviet army in January 1945, Joe was skin and bone, weighing less than five stone despite being 5ft9ins and once a formidable amateur boxer before he was taken by the Nazis at the age of 17. His legs had been bitten so badly by fleas during his time in confinement that it took ten years for the scars to fade.

When finally free, though, he decided to keep the trousers, turning a symbol of degradation into one celebrating his own survival. After moving to England and discovering he was the only one of his Dutch family of 22 to have survived the death camps, the trousers stayed with him. When he died in 1997, the garment passed to Sybil, his wife of 45 years.

She has looked after them ever since, loathing everything they stand for yet unable to give them up. "I've never even washed them because I am scared they might disintegrate," she says.

Next Sunday, Joe's trousers will form part of a remarkable collection of objects from the Holocaust in a special edition of the BBC's Antiques Roadshow. During filming presenter Fiona Bruce interviewed dozens of people who had gathered at the Foreign Office as part of an ongoing Government scheme to collect testimonials from survivors of the Holocaust.

The objects range from the poignant to the utterly chilling. One item inspected by the programme's experts is a Nazi board game from 1938 called "Jews Out". In the game players are urged to travel around the board 'collecting' Jewish people. When they have six they are sent to Palestine.

And then there was Sybil, carrying Joe's trousers, an item which the presenter says had a profound effect upon her. "Holding them I personally found those striped trousers are so indelibly associated with horror and cruelty," she says, adding that she felt both "hugely humbled [and] revulsion at what they symbolised."

This year marks the 40th series of Antiques Roadshow and the Holocaust programme is believed to be the first time in its history where objects have not had a value placed on them. "It would have been entirely inappropriate and wrong," Bruce says. "What value can you put on a child's shirt with a yellow star on? What value can you put on Joe's trousers?"

Sitting at the dining table in her flat in Edgware, North London, the trousers draped over a seat next to her, 87 year old Sybil agrees. "I could never sell them," she says. fake van cleef necklace alhambra "To me that would be blood money."

Sybil, a north Londoner by birth, was introduced to her husband after the war by her brother in law. Their first date was a day trip to Southend. One month later they were engaged and four months after that, in February 1952, they were married. Not, she says, because of any unexpected pregnancy, simply that they were in love.

Like many survivors Joe spoke little about what he had been through but three days after they had been married Sybil woke to his screams in the night. "It was a terrible sound and he was shouting 'stop it' in Dutch and crying in pain. I found out he was dreaming about the rifle butts in his back."

The nightmares continued but still Joe managed to build a happy life. They had three children together and six grandchildren. He worked in the fashion industry before later moving into the grocery business.

"We were one of the happiest couples you have ever seen," Sybil says. "Whenever Joe came into a room and saw me his face lit up. We were never apart."

In the Fifties, Joe and Sybil made a trip to Israel to discover the exact circumstances of the death of his family. They had been gassed together on May 8, 1943, at Sobibr extermination camp in Poland. "When he found out he just cried like a baby," Sybil says.

The anger at what Joe imitation vintage alhambra necklace had experienced at the hands of the Nazis never truly left him. Once when a driver on holiday with German number plates shouted at Joe in a traffic jam he launched into a furious riposte, shouting in fluent German: "you can't tell me what to do any more."

He banned any objects made in Germany from the house. When Sybil bought a porcelain model of a Dresden ballerina to mark their fifth wedding anniversary he hurled it from the bedroom window.

Another time he made her return a newly bought white and blue striped trouser suit because it reminded him too much of the Auschwitz uniform.

Nowadays, the dwindling number of survivors of the Holocaust often insist they want to share their stories to ensure history is never repeated.

"Maybe if people see a photograph of a family no longer here or trousers people actually wore it will lodge in their minds," she says. "I want to bring it home to people this really happened."

A few years ago she donated the trousers to a museum in Hendon, but ended up being so wracked by guilt that a few weeks later her grandson had to go and ask for them back. She has vowed instead to keep them until she dies before passing them back to the museum collection.

"It's not that I've grown attached to them," she says. "But they were so much a part of his life that I can't just get rid of them before my time is up."
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