69 years ago today was Friday August 13, 1943. In Holland this was a time when as a Jew, if you were fortunate enough to still be alive, your life was in constant peril. If you did not look Jewish you still needed to have a false identity and what was perceived as a benefit or purpose to the Nazi occupiers. The Jewish institutions were being systematically depleted and destroyed with the ultimate goal of total extermination. The NIZ, the hospital where my mother lived and worked as a nurse, had reached that point where the final raid was upon them. As a young pretty woman who was clearly Jewish and one who had seen her whole world turned upside down, Sipora Rodrigues-Lopes was on the verge of giving up. She would find the strength and with the support of Nardus Groen would find her way out of the NIZ.
In many ways their story takes on its greatest significance on this day, August 13, 1943, a day when their connection became strong and their travels began. The following is the books Prologue and shows the events of this fateful day.
The date was Friday, August 13, 1943, and it felt like the worst moment of Sipora’s young life. She knew that the Germans were in the building and getting closer to finding her. She had already been through so much and she knew that the situation was going to get a lot worse before it got better. Her will to live was being taken over by despair. She was not the type of woman who would ever do anything to speed up her own death, but she also did not feel like running or fighting. So she decided that she would just wait on the third floor and when the Nazi soldiers located her,
she would willingly leave with the rest of the patients and hospital staff . At least then she felt as though she could do some good by making the sick and elderly patients a little more comfortable.
Nardus, however, had no intention of allowing this to happen. As had been the case since the beginning of the Nazi invasion of Amsterdam, he instinctively knew that whatever Jews were not murdered instantly would instead suffer greatly through torture, experimentation, rape, or brutal slave labor. Since he found Sipora before the soldiers did, he knew he had to get her out. And to a man like Nardus, it did not matter what Sipora thought of this idea. It was going to happen his way. And that was that.
When Sipora saw Nardus, she had already sunk so deep into
hopelessness she wasn’t even able to feel any sense of relief. And she was determined to let him know. “I am just going to wait here and let them take me too,” she told Nardus.
“They will need a nurse for the trip. If nothing else, I can make
them feel more comfortable.”
Some moments define an individual, and other moments can define a relationship between two individuals. In many ways, what was about to take place would define much of Nardus and Sipora’s relationship. True to his nature, Nardus was not suggesting or asking what would happen next. What he was doing was telling Sipora what would happen next.
“I’ll tell you what,” he said in his straight-to-the-point manner, “since you are going to your death anyway, and that is your plan, I will throw you out the window right now myself. At least then you will die quickly. Either way you will die.”
Sipora was crying now. “What’s the point?” she said. “There’s no hope. My family is gone; your family is gone. They’re even taking sick and old patients from here and transporting them out of the city.”
Knowing that he needed to remain calm and in control, Nardus made it very clear to Sipora what was to happen next.
“Get up and let’s get out of here. We will find a way to survive this. All you have to do is trust me and listen to what I tell you to do.”
Although what she was experiencing felt like hell, Sipora was at least able to move now. What made the difference was that someone else, someone she was growing to trust more and more by the day, was taking control and leading her in what at least felt like a better direction.
Neither Nardus nor Sipora had any idea what was to come next, but it did not matter. The only thing that mattered now was that Nardus would never allow either one of them to just sit and wait to be killed. At this moment, which signified all the drama, horror, and significance of the times they were living through, these two people were thrust together in a way that set the tone for all that was yet to come.