Tag Archives: Amsterdam

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

Mom2

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.

 

LIKE THIS POST? SHARE IT ON FACEBOOK OR TWITTER

HOW TO BUY THE BOOK

READ MORE OF WHAT I HAVE TO SAY IN THE COMMON SENSE LIBERAL

JOIN “THE GLOBAL COALITION FOR ISRAEL” ON FACEBOOK

GLOBAL COALITION FOR ISRAEL IS NOW ON TWITTER @gcimovement

IN CONJUNCTION WITH GLOBAL COALITION FOR ISRAEL

 


Open Letter to Shirley Maclaine

showbiz_shirley_maclaine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Shirley,

Your recent comments regarding the 6 million Jewish victims of the Holocaust in Europe were so ridiculous I originally chose to ignore them, but sadly like so many other idiots today you have an audience that actually cares what you say.  Therefore I am left with no other choice other than to address your most recent public display of insanity.

You asked the following question.  “What if most Holocaust victims were balancing their karma from ages before?”  I keep looking at this thinking I must be in some kind of twilight zone.  I won’t waste words asking you if you are out of your mind since the evidence supporting this is clear, but I will ask you this question. How dare you?  These weren’t 6 million fighting soldiers killed. These were regular people. Innocent people.  Not just young strong men but the elderly, the sick, women and children.  My mother worked as a nurse in a Jewish hospital in Amsterdam and watched as the Nazis took sick people on gurneys and transported them to gas chambers.  Do you honestly believe that any decent force in the universe would cause this to happen as a means of balancing out karma?

Would you like to hear my theory?  Besides the fact that you are just plain bat-shit crazy, you are so distressed over your own life, so angry over wrongs you felt done to you over the years, and so scared to go after the bad people, that you decided to do what all modern-day cowards with deep inner pain and an audience do.  You went after the Jews. Let’s be real here.  Despite the claims people like you might make about the barbarism of the Jews and the government of Israel, your life is not in danger even after you desecrated the memory of 6 million murdered Jewish souls.  It is this understanding that emboldens fools such as yourself.  The knowledge that you can say anything to the Jews and not put your life in danger is what makes you “brave”.  Quite frankly, I am proud that we are like that and hope it never changes.  I also hold no hope that people such as yourself will ever understand that very fact about our nature proves how wrong you are about your karma theory.

In closing I have this piece of advice.  Either seek mental help or change your therapist, for whatever you are doing now isn’t working and the more you speak the more all sane people realize how out of your mind you truly are. Either that or you are actually a reincarnation of a buffoon.  Regardless, in the meantime it would be great if you would just shut up.

Sincerely,
David Groen

 

LIKE THIS POST? SHARE IT ON FACEBOOK OR TWITTER

HOW TO BUY THE BOOK

CLICK TO JOIN “THE GLOBAL COALITION FOR ISRAEL” ON FACEBOOK

 


A 92 Year Old Survivor’s Perspective

dutch flagIT IS MY GREAT HONOR TO POST THE FOLLOWING PARAGRAPH WRITTEN BY MY MOTHER SIPORA GROEN

My heart goes out to the Dutch people.  It is a country who did so much for people in World War II.  As a survivor of the Holocaust and born in Amsterdam and saved by Dutch people they are the last who deserve such heartbreak.

Sipora Groen


Attention Netherlands Soccer Players:Win it for my Mother

9781468573909_COVER.inddLieve Nederland..Dear Dutch Soccer Team,

My mother is 92 years old, born and raised in Amsterdam, and a soccer (she only calls it football) fan.

She has expressed a strong desire to see you win the World Cup.  God willing she has many more World Cups left, but she is 92 and the window for this team is questionable.  Find something extra guys and win it for her!

Go Holland!


Freedom: Not a Religious Concept

mosesEvery year as Passover approaches I find myself intrigued by how many Jewish people, even those relatively uninvolved in religious observance, put importance on some form of celebration of the holiday.  Seeing as it is a holiday that begins with sitting around a table with friends and family, telling a story and eating, naturally it is partially due to how uncomplicated and potentially enjoyable this form of observance can actually be.  However, when thinking about it this year I came to an entirely different and much deeper explanation.  The attraction to Passover is that it has very little to do with religion.  Passover transcends religion, inasmuch as it about something not provided by religion.  That would be the basic theme of Passover, the importance of freedom.

We live in an increasingly complex society.  People consider freedom to manifest itself in issues once not even considered important to humankind.  In the United States, freedom now has become connected to lifestyle choices, possession of weapons, and how to treat your body.  In Muslim populations, as well as ultra-religious communities everywhere, levels of freedom are often gender based, men are often provided with freedoms women are not provided with, and when not are based on first accepting the basic rules of the community.    In more progressive, liberal environments, freedom is expressed by the decriminalization of things like drugs and prostitution.  And in some parts of the world, freedom is still about the basic right to survive and live as the person you were born to be, without restriction from governments or dictators.

Freedom has always been the ultimate weapon.  Take away someone’s freedom and the belief is that you have the ultimate control over what they do.  It is the primary and justified complaint against religious leadership.  The belief that impacting someone’s freedom because your belief system considers their personal choices to be wrong for society and the individual, sets up a scenario where people do exactly what is expected of them.  Ironically it takes away from the freedom given by God that is very possibly the most important freedom that exists. The freedom of choice.

The truth is that no one can take that freedom away from any man or woman ever.   The consequences may be dire, but the freedom remains.  My grandparents, when presented with the option to accept Baptismal papers in 1943 Amsterdam, refused to accept them.  Everyone, including them, knew their chances survival would be greater had they accepted them, but they made the ultimate sacrifice in choosing the freedom to live as Jews and subsequently die as Jews by refusing the papers.  They let no man take away their freedom to be Jews, even though it resulted in them being murdered in Auschwitz.

The lesson to be learned is that what makes Passover so attractive is that it is truly about freedom.  A freedom that no government, religious institution, or random individual can ever take from any of us.  That freedom is the freedom of choice.    And the reason no man can ever take it away from us is because it is a freedom given to us by God.  Where religions and governments have failed all over the world is in their unwillingness to take second place to man’s freedom to decide for how he wishes to live his life. A freedom no one can ever take away and a freedom and a concept far greater than religious observance, for it is a freedom given directly to man by God.  That is a freedom all men and women share equally, and the expression of that is part of what makes the celebration of Passover so attractive to so many.

Happy Passover to all who celebrate, and to those who do not, in the theme of the day I wish you a life filled with true freedom.


Yet Again, From the Ashes…..

In a day and age where the most popular stories tend to involve scandal, hate, and violence, I am happy to offer a positive story of renewal, hope, and the re-connection of a family.

For those of you who have read the book Jew Face, you will know of the story of my mother’s favorite childhood cousin David van Hasselt.  For those of you who have not yet read it,  when my mother, born Sipora Rodrigues-Lopes was 13 years old, her mother passed away of natural causes. With a father who was a young man and somewhat lost with the premature loss of his wife, and a younger brother in need of guidance and love, much of the weight of the world fell into Sipora’s lap.  The people who would provide love and support to the family would be critical to the household and in many ways would be the key to emotional survival.  One of the main people to provide this support to Sipora would be an energetic and personable young man, her cousin David van Hasselt.  It was during this important time in Sipora’s life that David would achieve that special status of favorite cousin.

With the brutal and vicious Nazi war machine occupying Holland in May of 1940, the future of the Jewish people quickly would become bleak.  The method used to eliminate the Jewish population and to instill terror and establish control however was gradual and methodical.  The first major activity against the Jewish people of Amsterdam would take place in February of 1941 when  the shooting of a Nazi official was made to look like the act of a Jewish male and would subsequently lead to the arrest of anywhere from 300-500 young Jewish men.  The men would all be deported to Mauthausen Concentration Camp in Austria where they would be murdered or made to work under the worst conditions until they died a horrific death.  One of the men was my mother Sipora’s cousin, David van Hasselt.  Although the memory of David would always live in Sipora’s heart, with his death and the subsequent Holocaust which took the lives of 104,000 Dutch Jews, an estimated 75% of the Dutch Jewish population, Sipora would be left with nothing but a memory of the cousin she loved so much.

Fast forward to April 2012 with the release of the book Jew Face, the book I had the great honor to write about my parents’ life primarily revolving around their experiences taking place from 1940-1945 in Nazi-occupied Holland.  In the beginning of October I received an email from a man in Holland named Ron van Hasselt.  Although in his own words there is some significant distance in the relationship to my mother and our family, he is nevertheless connected.   Ron, also an author of a book relating to experiences of his family during the Nazi’s occupation, has been active in finding family, be it close or distant.  His book, a Dutch language book entitled “De Oorlog Van Mijn Vader”, means “The war of my father”.  His website is in Dutch but with the use of Google translate can be read in English and found by going to the link http://www.deoorlogvanmijnvader.nl/.

Ron, being the tremendous researcher that I have now begun to learn that he is, googled David van Hasselt, found my book Jew Face, and subsequently located both me and my mother.  He went on to discover her close proximity to his relative Vincent and forwarded him the information.  Who exactly is Vincent van Hasselt?  Vincent is the son of Edward van Hasselt, who was David van Hasselt’s brother and another one of my mother’s cousins.  All this leads us to the picture you see in this post.  It is my mother Sipora Groen, standing next to Vincent, the nephew of her favorite childhood cousin David van Hasselt this past Sunday after they met each other for the very first time.  Although the surviving family members lost contact after the war, through Ron van Hasselt’s successful efforts, and the writing of the book Jew Face, I am happy and proud to say that long-lost family members have begun what will hopefully be a meaningful and joyous reunion.  Of all the possible achievements I hoped for in writing the book, none has been more special than this one.   Not only has it bought joy to a family reunited, but it has helped keep alive the memory of my mother’s lost cousin.

Yet again, from the ashes, the family grows.

 

 

The following is an excerpt from the book Jew Face.  It is titled “A lost cousin” and tells the story of David van Hasselt:

A Lost Cousin

 After her mother died, five years prior to the occupation, Sipora would find solace in whatever support she could from close friends and family. Everyone meant well, and there were people who came by the house often, but between the tough economic times and the fact that people had their own families to attend to, it was difficult for most to come see her, her brother, and her father on any consistent basis.

Sipora was always well mannered and gracious and always showed the appropriate appreciation toward anyone who helped her or her family. Like anyone else, though, Sipora had her favorites. These were the people whose visits brought genuine joy. One such person was her cousin David van Hasselt.

David wore that special mantle of favorite cousin. He had been a regular visitor in their household for years and had every intention of coming at least as often, if not more, after the untimely passing of Sipora’s mother. Sipora loved his visits. He would make her laugh; he would talk with her about music, art, ice skating; and he would even help her with her schoolwork from time to time. Whenever he would visit, it would be the highlight of her day.

After her mother died, Sipora needed anything that made the day a little special. At the young age of thirteen, Sipora had household responsibilities thrust upon her most often given to women at least five years older. Her life at a young age was not easy. Her cousin David was a special friend.

David van Hasselt was a bright, funny, strong young man, who at the outbreak of war in Europe had made the decision to join the Dutch army. On May 15, five days after the Germans attacked,the war was over in Holland. With the Nazis steamrolling through Holland and Belgium and bearing down on France, the Allies planned a defensive assault on Dunkirk, France. If nothing else, it was an attempt to slow down, if not halt, the German juggernaut. So it was on May 24, 1940, fourteen days after the war had begun and nine days after the war was over in Holland, that David van Hasselt was amongst the Allied troops confronting the Nazis in what would be a failed attempt at any sort of conquest.

Although the mission at Dunkirk was a failure, a total disaster was averted when Nazi leadership chose to delay any counterattack for three days in an effort to maintain solid control of its forces. This gave most of the Allied forces time to regroup and evacuate to England.

David, however, chose to go back to his hometown of Amsterdam rather than follow the other soldiers to England. Having all his family and friends in Holland, David felt that the only correct choice for him would be to go back home and be with the people he cared about.

Meanwhile, the Nazi occupiers of Holland, who until now had taken no action against the Jewish population, were getting geared up to make their first raid against what they saw as this inferior race. They planned to hit in the heart of the Jewish community of Amsterdam, sending troops to Rapenburg Street in the center of the Jewish ghetto. Their orders were to pick up between 300 and 500 young, healthy Jewish men for deportation. They wanted to create immediate fear and doubt in those who were most able or likely to oppose them in future attacks, while fabricating a claim of an imposing threat.

David was not a resident of the Jewish ghetto, but a number of people that he was close to did indeed live there. One such person was his sweetheart, who he would visit on a regular basis. The past few weeks had been better times for David than any he had seen since before the war. He had enjoyed the time with his parents, caught up with his best friends, and now was on his way to Rapenburg Street to see his girl. They had been discussing their plans for the future, and although things were not looking very good for Europe as a whole, life had to go on, and being with her was the only way David wanted it to be at this time. They had considered going to England together in the assumption that things on the Continent were going to get worse before they would get better. They had discussed it many times and hoped that if it was necessary, they would be able to leave together.

On February 22, 1941, as David was walking on Rapenburg Street, he heard what sounded like screaming and fighting. When he turned the corner, he saw a mob of what looked like a thousand people; the majority was the Grune Polizei (Green Police). He knew he could do nothing and was considering turning around or hiding. But it was too late. They had already seen him.

Sipora’s favorite cousin was one of those taken away to Mauthausen in the raid of February 1941. David did not make it out, and would spend the next 7 months in the concentration camp before a report came back saying that he had died. When Sipora’s uncle learned of his son’s demise, he knew he needed to let his daughter know about her brother’s fate. However, being that his wife was no longer with him, he would have to tell her alone. This was something he could not do. He needed the help of someone close to him, and he needed it to be a woman. So he asked Sipora to help him. Sipora, at the age of nineteen, was already experiencing more death than most people would by that age. The lessons she learned at a young age would help see her through even more difficult times and teach her in many ways how to transfer that strength to the people close to her. However, as the war broke out, the first feeling for her, as it was for so many, was terrifying despair. And to have to break the news of the death of someone she loved so much to another relative she was so close with was in itself a horror she had not yet experienced. Especially considering the circumstances, or at least as much as she knew about the circumstances surrounding his death.

David van Hasselt: Murdered September 16, 1941, Mauthausen.


The love story in Jew Face

In a random conversation a few weeks back, after mentioning my book, I jokingly suggested to a young woman that I should promote Jew Face as the perfect book to read upon completing Fifty Shades of Grey.  She grinned slightly and lifted up the book she was reading, Fifty Shades Darker, the second in the Fifty Shades trilogy.  I proceeded to ask her what would cause her to be drawn to my book.  She responded with the words, “if it was a love story”.

Well for those of you wondering, Jew Face is the story of a woman unable to move safely in her home town of Amsterdam due to what in those days in that city was her very Jewish face, and a Jewish man who looked like a regular Dutchman, who took it upon himself to see to her safety regardless of the danger involved.  His emerging love for the woman and her initial trust and faith that steadily turned into a deep and long lasting love is the foundation of the entire story.

So for those looking for a love story, there is a reason the subtitle is  ”A story of love and heroism in Nazi-occupied Holland.”  This story revolves around so many different aspects, with love very much in the forefront.