Sacramento survivor Julia Bos killed in Yom HaShoah auto wreck

Julia Bos, a Dutch-born survivor who cheated death on multiple occasions in several concentration camps, was killed at age 88 in a car crash on Yom HaShoah.

Bos was the passenger and her husband of 53 years, Johannes, the driver when their 1990 Lexus collided with another car on a busy Sacramento street in the afternoon of Tuesday, April 25.

Johannes Bos, 82, has been in and out of hospitals with a number of broken bones and maladies since, but is expected to recover fully. His wife was not so fortunate.

It was especially cruel timing for Bos to die on Holocaust Remembrance Day, just a day after she and roughly 90 other survivors were honored at the California State Assembly, which passed a bill designating the last week in April as Holocaust Remembrance Week.

Bos grew up an only child in Utrecht, Netherlands, the daughter of a Jewish tool-and-die manufacturer and non-Jewish saleswoman. By 1942, all of Bos’ Jewish family had been deported to Auschwitz; her father hoped his expertise as a handyman might keep him alive, but Bos found out later he was immediately gassed.

Bos and her mother ran errands for the Dutch underground and were rewarded with food cards. When a friend in the underground was arrested, though, he ratted out Bos and she was captured.

After a year in the Dutch transit camp Westerbork, she was deported to Theresienstadt. There she displayed a rare degree of feistiness; on one occasion she violated camp rules regarding addressing guards in German, and spoke directly to the commandant.

She managed to escape that transgression — and Theresienstadt — with her life, but the commandant did not. When next she saw him, he was swinging from the gallows as she left the camp after liberation.

In a brief oral history transcribed by Sacramento-area high school student Hannah Broad, Bos recalls a Russian soldier forcing the smallest German prisoner of war he could find to give Bos his boots, as she was wearing makeshift sandals made out of wood.

“Mrs. Bos said this was the first moment that she knew she was still a human being because she felt sorry for the German prisoner,” wrote Broad.

“Mrs. Bos and another woman walked and took trains for many days and finally arrived at a refugee center run by the American Army. Mrs. Bos told one of the Americans that she was Jewish and had escaped from a work camp. The man confessed he was Jewish too. Mrs. Bos broke down and began to cry…[She] was never sure whether her weeping was caused by seeing another Jew or being referred to for the first time in years as a ‘young lady.'”

Forbidden to talk to fellow prisoners in the concentration camp, Bos and others would sing, and she carried on her singing for the rest of her life in the Beth Shalom choir.

Bos worked as a beautician in Europe and New York, and by the early 1950s had made her way to Sacramento where an uncle helped her set up shop. Johannes, who had seen her before the war back in Utrecht, arrived shortly thereafter and the couple were soon wed in Reno. They operated a beauty shop together, retiring only in the last decade or so.

“You couldn’t find a more devoted couple. They were totally devoted to one another,” recalled longtime friend Bea Buter.

The Boses, Buters and another couple participated in a monthly Trivial Pursuit game, and Buter recalled her friend as “sharp as sharp could be.” The couples always pitted the men against the women and, thanks to Bos, the women won more often than not.

Bos is survived by her husband, Johannes. Funeral services have been postponed until he is well enough to attend them.

Donations in Bos’ memory can be made to Congregation Beth Shalom, 4746 El Camino Ave., Carmichael, CA 95608.

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.