Clara AsscherPinkhof

1896 – 1984

by Selma Leydesdorff

Not a great deal is known about this prominent orthodox Jewish writer, who had a huge readership in her day. She was born in Amsterdam, the daughter of a doctor, and became a schoolteacher in the remote provincial village of Deil. In 1919 she married the Groningen Rabbi Abraham Asscher (d. 1926) and moved north from Amsterdam, where she had been briefly involved in voluntary work. Clara had met her husband through a network of children’s charity activists working in poor Jewish neighborhoods. As she later explained, they had been reaching out to the Lumpenproletariat community and never came in contact with socialism. In 1918 she published her first book, a collection of Jewish children’s songs. Her aim was to acquaint Jewish children with the Jewish tradition, which she and her husband felt was under severe threat from assimilation.

As an Orthodox woman, she believed girls should be raised as good housewives and mothers. We find her name in the lists of those giving needlework classes to Jewish girls from deprived families. It was here that she started to tell stories, enlivening the girls’ long evenings with fantasies about traditional Jewish life, Van twee Joodsche vragertjes (Too Small to Ask, Amsterdam 1919) and the past.

In 1926 her husband died, but she stayed in Groningen and earned a living as a writer. In 1966 Danseres zonder Benen (Dancer without Legs) appeared, a book that describes her problems with raising her children, her psychological problems and her attitude to religion. In 1940 she returned to Amsterdam to work in the Jewish school, where there was a shortage of teachers. She published regularly in Het Joodse Weekblad (The Jewish Weekly), a journal set up by the Jewish Council, until the censorship became too much for her. She was arrested in May 1943 and sent to Bergen Belsen. She was sent to Palestine in July, 1944 as part of an exchange for German nationals interned there by the British mandatory government.

In the 1930s, Clara Asscher Pinkhof wrote stories for children and articles on charity work for newspapers and weeklies, Rozijntje van Huis (Rosi, The Little Raisin Leaves Home, Amsterdam 1934). After the war she continued her work on Sterrekinderen (Star Children), which she had begun before her deportation. She returned briefly to Amsterdam but soon went back to Israel.

Her motivation for writing was not simply a question of material need. She also wanted to share with a larger audience her feelings about what had happened to those she had worked with and loved. Sterrekinderen (Dutch 1946; German 1961; English 1987), her most moving book, which was translated into a number of languages, expressed her love for the children playing in the sun on the eve of the disaster. She portrays their poverty by describing their ragged clothes, the dirt on their bodies, their ignorance and their joy at playing together in the street; they don’t yet know what is going to happen to them.

Clara Asscher Pinkhof was a nostalgic and realistic writer, who had not read much other literature. When I interviewed her in the early eighties, at her last home in Haifa, she told me that she did not need many books. It was enough that she had so many images in her head. She showed me a shelf of the many editions and translations of her own work. She was filled with stories, she said.

Clara Asscher Pinkhof never became a sophisticated writer, but she is still worth reading. She is at her best in Danseres zonder Benen. As the title suggests, the theme here is loss, dealt with metaphorically. She died in 1984 in Haifa, some years after our last interview, at the age of eighty-eight.


Star Children. Translated by Terese Edelstein and Iner Smidt. Detroit, MI: 1987.


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Marlies Sterk wrote a thesis on Clara Asscher-Pinkhof under the title: Ik heb gedanst. 'Ik heb gedanst' are the final words of the book 'Danseres zonder benen'. 'Ik heb gedanst'- 'I danced'

I just read Clara's autobiography 'Danseres zonder benen' for the 4th time, i believe. The book finds its honorable place among other literature that testifies about the holocaust. Is the book translated in English? It should have been, but I have no knowledge of it. The title translates: Dancer without legs.- Clara portrays herself in the book as the dancer without legs, describing the main three catastrophees that hit her in her life: loosing her spouse, not long after she married him (the man was rabbi in the city of Groningen in the north of the Netherlands). Being jewish, she was deported to the concentrationcamp of Bergen Belsen in Germany. And third, also due to naziterror she lost 2 of her sons during WorldWar II: Menachem and Jitschak. She managed to save a dutch-polish-jewish child, called Mindel Fuld. She found the child (4 years) in the transit-camp of Westenbork, to which she (: Clara) was deported. From this camp the vast majority of the dutch jewry were directly transported to their death in the deathcamps of Sobibor and Auschwitz. Clara convinced an SS-woman to register the child, Mindel Fuld, under her (: Clara's) name as a candidate for exchange with Germans in Palestine. And eventually she was chosen to go to Palestine for that reason in 1944-45. This exchange saved the life of Clara and the child. Clara appears in her book as thoroughly jewish: being the widow of a rabbi, being a victim of nazi-persecution, being a citizen of Israel, being a fervent supporter of the jewish state. Although not at all rejecting the thought of an existing God, she rather clings to the Jews as a people, a chosen people. The book doesnot give outspoken elaboration on God and/or questions that concern God. No bitterness, no hatred against foes, rather care for the jews in particular and for mankind in general. The book makes an interesting report of a life, lived under abnormal and harsh circumstances. Clara appears a talented author (she wrote several books more). She had a gift for languages. She also appears to be a loving mother. In general a blessing for those who crossed her path. She remarried 1958. The marriage did not last longer than 9 years, when her second husband passed away. Clara Asscher-Pinkhof was born in 1896. She died at the age of 88 in 1984 in Haifa and was apparently burried there. Her first husband, Avraham Asscher, was burried in Holland.

Clara Asscher-Pinkhof with Children.
Courtesy of the Jewish Historical Museum, Amsterdam.

How to cite this page

Leydesdorff, Selma. "Clara Asscher Pinkhof." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 27 February 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on September 18, 2019) <>.


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