“Lemerlerveld was the best”

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A brief introduction for those who don’t read Dutch and don’t know the backstory. During the war, when my father moved my mother from hiding place to hiding place in order to keep her safe, it was not till she reached the home of Lubertus & Geeske te Kiefte that she was somewhere she would be safe and fed till the end of the war. The te Kiefte’s saved my mother at tremendous personal risk and had it not been for them it’s very possible she would not have survived the war. The 4 of them, my parents and the te Keiftes, not only kept in touch after the war, they became close to the point of being family. The picture attached to this post is that of their only surviving daughter Nina sitting with my mother in Florida this past March, and the attached writing in Dutch is the article submitted by Nina and her husband Harm in loving memory of the woman they called Tante(Aunt) Sip to Lemerlerveld’s media outlet the Lemerlervelder.  With the help of an online translation and a little bit of cleaning up on my part you can read the article in English.  You can also click the link and see how the article appears in the newspaper.  My warmest thanks to Harm for his efforts in getting this done. It is visual evidence of the miracle that was Lemerlerveld and the te Kieftes.

CLICK THIS LINK TO SEE HOW ARTICLE APPEARS IN THE PAPER ON PAGE 7

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Copy for the Lemelervelder.

“Lemelerveld was the best”
Commemorating Sipora Green – Rodrigues Lopes 01-01-1923 – 19-04-2017

On the 10th of  April it is 72 years ago that Lemelerveld was liberated by the Canadian Army. During the war Lemelerveld was a welcoming village for many people who were persecuted by the Nazis or for those with a shortage of food the long journey toward the east.

Sipora Groen – Rodrigues Lopes came as a young Jewish woman of 22 through her many wanderings to Lubertus and Geeske te Kiefte at the Kerkstraat, where she used the pseudonym “Tini” for the almost one and a half years that the family took her in.
In these war years she learned to know her future husband Nardus Groen (Alias Jan Henraat) which together with Bertus te Kiefte was closely linked with the local resistance in Lemelerveld.

On 19 April, Sipora Groen at the age 95, died after a short illness in Florida.
Until shortly before her death she was still active in life and shared her story through lectures in American schools and drove her car daily on the busy highways.
The friendship between the Groens and the Kieftes continued after the war and will always remain as the families have regularly visited each other over and over again.
During the last visit in March this year Sipora said again how she was impressed by the hospitality of the Lemelerveldse population in hiding her. “Lemelerveld was the best” she repeated a few times. “Everyone was good, with one exception. But he was warned! If he would open his mouth he would be finished and he took it to heart.”

The photo is of Sipora Groen and Dientje Kuijper-te Kiefte, 13 March 2017 during this visit.

“Lemelerveld was the best”
photo taken by: Harm Kuijper

in 2012 has David Groen, the youngest son of Sipora, wrote a book about the adventures of his parents during the war called “Jew Face” (Jodenkop) also has much to read about Lemelerveld.

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An Angel Departs

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I sit here today writing what is without  question the most difficult thing I have ever had to share with you. This morning, my beautiful and loving mother Sipora Groen passed away peacefully in her home in Florida.  She was the most remarkable person I’ve ever known.  Her love of life was inspirational to everyone who knew her. When my father died 10 years ago, my mother lost her partner in life of more than 60 years.  She mourned him when he left her and remembered her for the remainder of her life, but rather than let her life wither away she reinvented herself and lived a full life till the very end.

I started Holland’s Heroes to honor those whose strength and character helped keep the Jewish people alive after the devastation of the Holocaust. There were soldiers that fought the Germans, member of the resistance such as my father who battled the evil whenever possible, the martyrs murdered by the Nazis, and the survivors that rebuilt their world. No one exemplified that last group better than my mother.  With the loss of her father, brother, fiance and either running and hiding from the Nazis or witnessing their evil for close to 5 years, my mother, together with my father, the man who helped her through that awful time,  went on to build a new life rich with 5 children, 12 grandchildren and 10 great grandchildren.

My mother lost her mother when she was a young child of 13 and with the war and its horrors of 5 years lived a life filled with the saddest and most terrifying of memories. Despite all of that she was a woman filled with joy, enthusiasm, optimism, and most of all, love.  But she was also a woman who slept with nightmares.  She experienced everything life had to offer with the exception of one thing, and that was what she is finally experiencing today, as the nightmares end, and that is the peace she deserves so much.

Sipora Groen was loved by everyone who knew her, being called Mom and Oma by countless people who were thrilled to have her in their lives.  What I and my siblings have lost today can never be replaced, as God has opened up his doors for the angel that is my mother.  I have been so truly blessed to have the love and to have loved this wonderful woman, and today this world has lost a true hero.

In the past 10 years she has enjoyed most of what her life had to offer, always missing just one thing, and that was the man she loved, my father, Nardus Groen.  Today they are reunited and my Mom is finally at peace.  I love you Mom and always will.

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Open Letter to Sean Spicer Regarding his Comments made about Hitler and the Holocaust

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Dear Mr. Spicer,

I am the son of Holocaust survivors and I am writing to you in regard to the comments you made, of all days, on Passover.   Maybe I am not as forgiving as some, but to be blunt, your apology is not accepted. At least not by me.  And here’s why.

You started off by saying the following:

“You had someone as despicable as Hitler, who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons.”

In an attempt to fix your error you went on to say:

I think when you come to sarin gas, [Hitler] was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing. . . . He brought them into, um, the Holocaust center  —  I understand that. But I’m saying in the way Assad used them where he went into towns, dropped them down into the middle of towns, it was brought  —  the use of it  —  and I appreciate the clarification.

Mr. Spicer, I do not believe you to be an anti-Semite, nor do I believe you made your comments out of any desire to hurt or offend any member of the Jewish community.  That being said, sometimes the words are so despicable, an adjective you yourself used, and the actions are so disgraceful, that neither an apology nor lack of malicious intent is enough to move on.  In addition, the nature of an apology tells a lot about how a person feels.  So when the apology seems more motivated by how bad you look and how much you let your boss down than it does the pain and anger you caused significant parts of an entire community, then apologizing is just not enough to make it all better.

The problem I have with this Mr. Spicer, is that your words revealed a deeper and more dangerous perception of the Jewish people and the horrors of what took place in the Holocaust.  To your credit, I do believe your apology tour makes clear you did not want to hurt anyone, but with your clear lack of understanding of where you went wrong you have a lot of work to do before I and many people who think as I do are willing to put this incident behind us.  Ironically I suspect my greatest opposition to the views I am stating here will come from my fellow Jews who are in your camp and feel I am some sort of traitor to my people for wanting Hillary Clinton as president over Donald Trump. They will come back to me with responses like, “Everyone is allowed to makes a mistake” or “Hillary would have done a lot worse for the Jewish people”.  To which I respond as follows. The seriousness of the mistake dictates how easily or soon it is forgiven, and this is not about Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.  This is about Sean Spicer.

You see Mr. Spicer, you revealed a subconscious and critical perception, one likely ingrained in you for a long time, and that is the perception that Jews in Germany were not really Germans.  This perception is in line with how the Nazis perceived their Jewish population and the Jewish population throughout Europe.  They referred to them as sub-human. So from the perspective of the Nazis, Hitler didn’t use gas on his people because Jews were not really people.  I know you did not mean to infer this, but if you are to apologize, you might want to understand the deep-rooted problem in your comments.

I also felt part of your apology to be somewhat patronizing inasmuch as it came across as though you were sorry you even made a reference to Hitler, as though mentioning his name is enough to offend us Jews.  Jews don’t necessarily mind the reference being done appropriately, but when the President’s detractors compare him to Hitler I find myself protesting that as well, because as much as I am not a fan of your boss, calling him another Hitler is inappropriate on many levels.  To refer to Bashar al-Assad as being like Hitler in regard to his penchant for murder is appropriate enough that had your comments not gone further than that, I doubt many people would have protested, despite some glaring holes in the comparison.  One such hole being that Assad has never exhibited an ambition towards global domination, and the other being that his brutality is based more on controlling with an iron tyrannical fist than it is on wiping out an entire segment of the population. But inasmuch as Assad has shown himself to be an evil murderer , he is similar to Hitler.

I guess what bothers me most Mr. Spicer, is that although I believe you when you say you are sorry, I am not convinced you really understand enough for your apology to really count.  Until you know that places like Auschwitz and Dachau were Concentration Camps or Death Camps, not Holocaust Centers, and until you understand the problem with your words is not just the use of Hitler’s name but the lack of understanding of what it does to a people to have 6 million members of their kind murdered, I will see your apology more as an ‘oops I messed up’ than a deep feeling of regret.  When this is more about an understanding for the sadness of the Jewish people and less about a feeling of letting your boss down, only then will I personally accept your apology.  Who am I you might ask?  I am someone representative of how a significant segment of the Jewish population feels, I am an American, and I am a Jew. These factors all give me the right to speak my mind.

Mr. Spicer, if you take the time to learn more about what happened in Europe under Nazi occupation and truly understand the devastation, I am sure you will not only express openly a new mindset, but you may even be a better person for it as well.

Sincerely,

David Groen

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Purim 2017 as it might have been reported on FOX or MSNBC

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So there was King Achasveirosh, definitely not known as a righteous man but entirely evil per se, being influenced by his evil adviser Haman, a man who wanted to eliminate the Jewish people.  If not for Esther, a woman who had tremendous influence over the king, and Mordechai, the Jew in the highest of positions and the man closest to Esther, Ahashverush would have listened to Haman and awful things would have happened.

So does that mean as long as Donald Trump doesn’t listen to Steve Bannon because he is infuenced otherwise by his daughter Ivanka and her Jewish husband Jared Kushner everything will be alright?  I guess it depends on whether you read out of a Red Megillah (FOX) or a Blue one(MSNBC).

SPOILER ALERT: Bannon isn’t calling for the anihilation of the Jews or any other group, Ivanka is the daughter not the wife, Jared is the husband not the  Uncle, and Donald Trump is no King.

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On International Woman’s Day: A Tribute to the Famous Woman I admire most. My mother

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Today is International Woman’s Day and one of my social media friends posted the question, “Which famous woman do you admire most?”  Although my initial reaction was to say Golda Meir, I chose to change my answer to Sipora Groen.  Sipora Groen is my mother, and although my book about my parents and how they survived the 4 years of Nazi occupation in Holland isn’t the bestseller I naturally hoped it would be, I think enough people know about my mother to classify her as famous.  If that’s not enough, let me tell you why how admirable she is makes up for where you may not consider her famous enough for this discussion.

Sipora Rodrigues-Lopes was born in Amsterdam on January 1, 1922.  Sipora lost her mother when she was a young girl of only 13 and  was left with a large share of the responsibility in raising her younger brother Bram.  Prior to the war Sipora fell in love and got engaged to a young man named Hans.  At the outbreak of the war in Holland she was studying to be a nurse, and when the Nazis occupied Amsterdam and began the process of rounding up the Jews and transporting them to the death camps, Sipora was living in the nurse’s quarters of the Jewish hospital.  Her personal life was turned upside down seemingly forever when not only her father and brother fled Amsterdam to ultimately be captured and murdered by the Nazis, but the love of her life and fiance Hans was taken away to Auschwitz.  Alone and feeling hopeless, all she had was the work she had taking care of the sick patients.  If not for Nardus Groen, my father of blessed memory,  the man she would later spend her life with, she likely would have been transported to her death along with the majority of the patients.  Instead she began a journey with Nardus through the Dutch countryside that took her from place to place, through homes of righteous Dutch people who put the value of life over religious belief or personal danger.  Ultimately she ended up in the home of Lubertus & Geeske te Kiefte, the righteous and courageous couple that risked sacrificing everything in order to give her a safe home in the small town of Lemerlerveld for almost a year and a half until the war ended.

As the war ended in Europe, Nardus joined the Dutch Marines to help in the fight against the Japanese, not knowing till later that Sipora was pregnant with his child.  Part of the reason Nardus didn’t know was because originally Sipora didn’t know.  She took a job in a local hospital when upon feeling tired and worn down she was told by the Director of the hospital that she was indeed with child.  She moved back to Amsterdam only to find her home now occupied by the housekeeper who was with the family before the war.  The housekeeper pushed Sipora to leave the house despite her now advanced pregnancy, forcing her to take a very small apartment with very little heat in winter. If not for the help of her father’s childhood friend who gave money for her new home, Sipora might have found herself pregnant and homeless right right after spending 5 years running and hiding from the Nazis and losing so many of the people closest to her.  Just a few months after the birth of her son Marcel, Sipora would contract the lung disease known as pleurisy and would spend months in the hospital away from what felt like the one hope she had in life, her newborn son.

With his love for Sipora and a now a son, Nardus chose to leave the military and return to Holland where he would try to help rebuild the now decimated Jewish community.  He would be ordained as a Rabbi and start the process of building a family with Sipora who was now his wife.

Nardus and Sipora would have 5 children and would move often from place to place.  They ended up in America in the late 1950’s where they would live till 1976.  In 1976 they would move back to Holland where Nardus would take over a synagogue in the town of Arnhem while taking on responsibilities of the Jewish communities in 6 provinces throughout the country.  At the same time Sipora would become Director of the Jewish old age home in Arhem where she would be loved and respected by residents and employees alike.   After years of hard work between the 2 of the them, and setting themselves up for their senior years, Nardus and Sipora would retire, first to the Dutch seaside town of Zandvoort and later to Boynton Beach, Florida.

On June 13 of this year it will be 10 years since my father Nardus Groen passed away.  I’ve learned this about my mother during the time since his death.  This is in many ways my mother Sipora’s 5th life.  The first life, the most innocent and peaceful was the one she lived till the age of 13 when she lost her mother.  The second was the next 5 years, a time of peace in Europe but a time of both love and difficulty for Sipora.   The 3rd, and unquestionably the hardest was the 5 years of the war, a time we can try to comprehend but never fully understand.  The 4th were the relatively normal but still often very difficult years following the war, where she and Nardus worked hard and sacrificed to raise 5 children, experiencing all the trials and tribulations any family would during decades of normal life.  This was the longest of her lives to date as it would last till the death of Nardus over 60 years later.

The 5th life, and in some ways the most remarkable one is the one she is living now.  It is the life she has lived since my father’s death 10 years ago.  On January 1st Sipora Groen turned 95 years old.  This is a woman who reinvented herself upon becoming a widow while simultaneously honoring the memory of the man she still loves today.  She drives, she shops, she host Mahjong games, threw her own 95th birthday party on her own insistence, takes plane and train rides alone, is an active member of her synagogue and even has her own Facebook account. But what is most remarkable is the love of life she displays and the warmth she shows for family and friends, a warmth that can only be credited to a strength of will and character unimaginable to most of us.

In those moments when I would feel unreasonable self-pity I would sometimes ask myself, why can’t I be that guy?  The guy born into money with no worries, or the guy with incredible talent recognized by millions, or that person living the charmed life where very little ever goes wrong.  But not so long ago I realized I am that guy, because I am the son of a 95 year old mother who you just read about and who not only has gone through and achieved everything I wrote about, but has the incredible state of mind to enjoy it and share her joys with those around her.   You want to recognize someone admirable on International Woman’s Day, you need go no further than my mother, Sipora Groen.

 

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Open Letter to the Jewish community: It’s time to unite

 

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

We have an important choice to make.  Do we continue to battle each other over differences in political ideology or do we move forward and work towards our mutual safety and survival?  I have no doubt that most people reading this letter will choose to work towards our collective well-being, the question is whether or not we are willing and able to put our differences aside.  I am hopeful the answer is yes.  I realize that many believe it is impossible to make that distinction,  but the threats we face today are far more serious than political philosophies.  They are a matter of life and death.

With graves being desecrated in St. Louis and Philadelphia, and bomb threats against JCCs throughout the country becoming far too frequent, the threat to American Jewry appears to be coordinated and organized.  That would make it significantly more dangerous.  From the time of the first round of bomb scares I was concerned that it was a test run to see how the Jewish community and law enforcement would respond.  The gamble that these will only remain threats is a gamble no one can or should be willing to take, for it is a gamble with lives.

Whether we support or oppose our new administration, it is now time to make a concerted effort to make sure we help our government protect us. Regardless of whether we are staunch Liberals or Conservatives, blaming the other side for the threats and atrocities of today is neither the answer nor is it fair to either side.  Jewish Democrats and Republicans need to stop attacking each other over differences in political ideology.  That doesn’t mean we need to agree, and it doesn’t mean we need to cease our opposition of the other side’s political platform, but it does mean we need to stop the opposition towards each other. We need to cease with the personal attacks and unite against the enemy.We need to realize and accept that most of us want the same thing, a peaceful existence for our people and community.  That means it’s time for both sides to stop seeing the other side as culpable for the dangers facing us, no matter how much we oppose the other’s politics.  If we fight among ourselves we are aiding and abetting the the true enemy.  An enemy who at best wants to terrorize us, at worst wants to kill us.  I guarantee each and every one of you, no matter how far you may lean to the left or the right of the political aisle, the vast majority of Jewish people do not want to see their fellows Jews terrorized or physically harmed.  In most cases the intensity and in some cases extremism is actually motivated by a powerful desire to see our people live safe and happy lives.

It is OK that we disagree on certain policies, even if those policies impact the lives of the Jewish community in Israel and abroad, but that disagreement must stop taking the place of unity, because if it does the enemy has won a very key element of the war, and I know that most of us do not want that.

All discussions can easily descend into criticism of Liberals and Conservatives, but we need to step back and ask ourselves if by doing so we are allowing ourselves to be dangerously distracted.  If we need to mobilize and organize in defense of each other we need to put politics aside.  We need to spend our energies being vigilant in identifying and exposing dangers to the community and we need to provide each other with critical support when needed.

Our next steps need to work with law enforcement and each other in finding out who is doing this and stopping it from not only continuing, but developing into something worse. Our next step is not to bash the other for his or her political choices but to openly discuss and study what’s happening in the hope we find important answers that will help keep our communities safe.

I extend this challenge to all of you, but no less than I extend it to myself.  Let’s work together.

Sincerely,

David Groen

 

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Heads up:A Jewish Resident of Philadelphia gives a First Hand Account

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Today we cancelled a lock down drill.

Today we cancelled a lock down drill at school that was scheduled for a little before noon. Earlier this morning, we got a call from our sister school, the elementary Jewish Day School which lovingly prepares the majority of our incoming middle schoolers. There was a bomb threat and they were evacuating. Everyone was safe. The police were there. The teachers and children, ages 5-10, were cooperating.

Heads up.

We were already on alert. Earlier this month we had learned of the threats to JCCs and other Jewish institutions. Just the day before, I went with my mother and my daughter to the Mt. Carmel cemetery in Philadelphia minutes after I learned that it had been vandalized, terrorized, dehumanized. Scores of tombstones were thrown from their bases. Sheets of carved rock with Hebrew names and dates of past souls were broken. A man there tried to comfort me “it was probably some drunk kids having fun”.

Sigh.

I was not comforted. I was shaken by the images, by the souls, by the disregard for human decency. This could not have been a couple of drunk kids. These memorials were heavy stones, intentionally rocked from their core. This took effort. A couple of drunk kids would’ve given up after 8 or nine. They would have had their dose of adrenaline, worked up a sweat and leaned back on a still intact tombstone, grateful for it’s upright support.

No. These acts took stamina and determination.

Today we cancelled a lock down drill at school because 17 Jewish organizations were responding to actual bomb threats on this very day.

Babies were pulled from their cribs and evacuated from day cares. Elderly men and women hurriedly climbed out of JCC aqua aerobics classes, rushing to cover their wet bodies. Parents at work and in the market and at the doctor answered the call they dread.

We live in a world where lock down drills are cancelled because so many Jewish institutions are actually reacting to genuine threats of terror.

Today, February 27, 2017, at least 20 Jewish community facilities in 12 states received bomb threats. In the two months since Jan. 1, 2017 there have been over 70 bomb threats in

26 states and one Canadian province. No this is not a couple of drunk kids.

Who, then? Who is dialing, terrorizing, pushing over tombstones? Who is halting us in our tracks? Come out, come out, wherever you are.

Because we are 5000 years strong. We are in every state, in every city and we will not be scared away. We will stand with the good people of the world and our love and light will finally reach you in your hidden, dark, secret, pitiful, shameful corners of hate.

Never again” is a promise we made. It will take all of us, everywhere, every day, until forever.

Heads up.

 

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