It was in the late 1970’s when we were living in the city of Arnhem, capital of the Dutch province of Gelderland, that my father was thrust into a situation no one would ever envy. As the Rabbi of Gelderland and 5 other provinces, his duties included visiting and counseling the sick, visiting Jewish inmates in prison, and probably the most common occurrence, the performance of funeral services. One day he received an urgent call saying that a well-known member of the community had taken a gun to his head and had killed himself. The man, someone we all knew well, was a good man, but a mentally tortured man. Whatever suffering he had endured at the hands of his Nazis was unknown to me, but we all knew that whether it was the suffering caused by the murder of his family or personal torture, this man was a victim of the Holocaust and sadly suffered mentally in a way the majority of people, myself included, could never understand. Under strict Jewish law, someone who commits suicide is not entitled to a proper Jewish burial and is not supposed to be mourned as others would be. My father, someone who had experienced the Nazi-occupation of Holland first hand, and a man of compassion and wisdom, would have no part of this. Understanding that this man was not a weak man taking the cowardly way out, but rather a victim of the horrors, my father ruled his death as a death by illness, regardless of whether or not the final action was self-inflicted or not. By my father making this decree, the man was able to receive the proper burial he deserved, and was mourned and remembered in the days, weeks and months that followed.
I was no older than 17 when this happened. It would be something I would never forget because this action was a testament to what was great about my father, Rabbi Nardus Groen who passed away 7 years ago today on June 13, 2007. As a son I always loved him. As a young man, this decision by my father made me admire him, and stayed we me my entire life.