Tag Archives: Hollandse Schouwburg

5 Passages to Bram: Passage 3: Nardus Groen

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This installment of 5 Passages to Bram is the brief story of my father, Rabbi Nardus Groen, of Blessed Memory.  The week picked to tell his story is not a random choice, as 2 days ago was his Yahrtzeit, the Jewish calendar day that commemorates his passing away 12 years ago at the age of 87.

Born December 18, 1919 in Rotterdam Holland, Nardus was one of 5 children. Of his 4  siblings, 2 brothers and 2 sisters, only his sister Elizabeth did not make it out of the war.When he was 6 years old his parents moved the family to Amsterdam where he thrived in the Jewish community.  Blessed with a photographic memory, Nardus would acquire immense Jewish knowledge at a very young age, learning much of the Siddur, the Jewish prayer book and the Chumash, the 5 books of Moses by heart before the age of 18. He loved being active in the Jewish community and gravitated to every opportunity to learn more and more at a young age.

But there was another side to my father. A side that was able to face reality no matter how harsh.  It was this character trait that allowed him to see the truth about the events unfolding in Europe long before most other people did.  This caused him to join the Dutch National Guard, something unheard of in his community, and caused him to join the resistance as soon as the Nazis occupied Holland.

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Although this would serve him well as a contributing factor in not only surviving the 5 years of occupation and brutality, but to save my mother Sipora, he would often say when speaking of his and other’s survival the Hebrew phrase, Hakohl Talooy B’Mazal, Everything depends on Fortune.

He would remarkably escape the Hollandse Schouwberg, the Dutch concert hall set up as a midway point for Jews and “troublemakers” scheduled for transportation to Auschwitz, and would find a way to sneak out of the Labor Camp known as Kamp Erika soon after digging what was earmarked as his own grave.  At the conclusion of the war in Europe he would join the Dutch Marines, as seen in the picture above.

Following the war he would receive Rabbinical ordination from what was left of the Dutch Rabbinate and would eventually be appointed Chief Rabbi in Surinam, Dutch Guiana.  After moving with the family to Cincinnati, Ohio in the mid 50’s he would study with the then head of Agudah for North America, Rabbi Eliezer Silver from whom he would receive his second Rabbinical ordination. He and his wife Sipora would go on to have 5 children, 12 grandchildren, and a still growing number of great grandchildren.

I was fortunate in life to have my 2 greatest heroes be the people I referred to as Mom and Dad.  My Dad would pass away on June 13, 2007 at the age of 87. May his memory be blessed.

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Why Holland’s Heroes?

9781468573909_COVER.inddSome of you already know the background, but for those of you that have only started reading my work recently I wanted to give you a brief explanation of why my blog is called “Holland’s Heroes”.  In short, I am here today because of Dutch heroes.  My parents, Rabbi Nardus Groen of blessed memory and my mother Sipora Groen, were both Holocaust survivors from Holland.  As I cover in the book “Jew Face: A story of Love and Heroism in Nazi-Occupied Holland”, their actions during the Nazi-occupation of Holland were nothing short of heroic.  Originally set up to promote the book, Holland’s Heroes has developed into something far more important, an avenue from which to promote the truth, defend Israel and the Jewish people, and a platform from which to join forces with all those of all faiths that want a safe and decent future.

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My mother showed incredible courage in some of the most dire situations including sleeping in an underground room for 16 months knowing at any time she could be discovered and killed.  My father was instrumental in saving the lives of many, including my mother.  He escaped the grasp of the Nazis four times including one remarkable escape from the Hollandse Schouwberg, Amsterdam’s equivalent at the time to Carnegie Hall in New York City.   The people who provided my mother a home for 16 months, Lubertus & Geeske te Kiefte, did so knowing that if they were to be caught, their entire family would be killed.  Despite the grave dangers, they not only gave my mother shelter, they gave her a warm and friendly home.  It hardly gets more heroic than that. And there were so many others, Jew and non-Jew alike that showed such bravery in such difficult times it is almost impossible to comprehend.

So very simply put, I am here today and able to write for you because of heroes from the small nation of Holland.  I’m aware of the problems facing the Jewish community of Holland today and knowing the rich history of Judaism in the country and my own personal connection it is even more heartbreaking for me than what is happening in other parts of Europe.  None of that negates the fact that Holland’s Heroes are the reason I am here today, and for that I will always be grateful and proudly call my blog Holland’s Heroes.

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Remembering a Friend

YCThe most important thing to me about the book “Jew Face” has always been the fact that it is about real people and real events.  There are real friendships in the book and friendships that developed amongst the generations that followed those people spoken of in the book.  Sadly, people pass on, and we only hope that the people they leave behind continue their life and legacy.

Today we mourn the loss of Ester Abram.  Ester was the wife of Sam Abram, a childhood friend of my father.  Following this post I will put up the excerpt from the book that speaks of the events that took place between my father, Sam, and Sam’s sister during the Nazi occupation of Holland.  But first we remember Ester Abram, who together with her husband Sam would end up being a lifelong and cherished friend of both my father and mother.  On behalf of my mother and our entire family we express our deepest sympathies on her loss and pray that she rests in peace.

 

 

 

 

Excerpt from Jew Face

Saving Nettie

 As the Germans were to come in on various occasions and raid neighborhoods, the Jewish community in Amsterdam became smaller and more dispersed. Those either not willing to accept the evidence or whose innate courage prevented them from leaving their home would ultimately find themselves shipped off to what we now know would ultimately be their cruel treatment in concentration camps, and in most cases, death.

Throughout 1941, Seys-Innquart, Aus der Funten, and his other henchmen were in the process of determining a location to use as a deportation center for the Jews of Holland. The two most logical places were the Esnoga, the Great Spanish-Portuguese Synagogue, and the Hollandse Schouwburg, the great concert hall of Amsterdam. After reviewing it carefully, the Nazis felt that the Schouwburg was the more logical choice. Because of the large amount of Jewish patronage over the years, the proximity to the Jewish ghetto, and the purpose in which it was now going to be used, the Nazis changed its name to the Joodse Schouwburg and prepared it for use as a deportation center.

The plan had in many ways already been put into action. The concentration camps of Westerbork and Vugt were set up in the north and south, respectively, and beginning in January of 1942, after mass roundups, Jews were no longer allowed to live anywhere in the Netherlands but Amsterdam or the two camps. When arriving in Amsterdam, these people would either live in the homes of others or would reside in public institutions such as schools or hospitals.

The Schouwburg had been set up and was used for Straf Gevaals (“S Cases”) and for whatever group of random Jews the Nazis chose to keep there until deportation.

Meanwhile, the death camps of Auschwitz and Sobibor were close to operating at full capacity. The Germans were taking the process of eliminating the Jewish population of Europe to a new level. Once they reached that stage, in July of 1942, the system in which they handled the Jews of Holland was cut and dry. Homes and institutions were raided, and if not emptied out in full, they were left devastated and in shambles. Most of the people picked up in these raids were brought to Westerbork, where they would stay for a short while, days at most, before being transported to the death camps. Those not sent to Westerbork went through Vugt. The majority of the remaining was first processed in the Schouwburg and then went through the same pattern of Auschwitz or Sobibor via Westerbork.

Even before the mass deportations of July of 1942, the Grune Polizei (“Green Police”), the Nazi police force patrolling Amsterdam, would make regular raids and roundups in Jewish neighborhoods. Many of the Jews who had an understanding of what was taking place went into hiding before they were forced to leave their homes. For many, this was the reason they survived, although, as was the case with everyone who hid, some were more fortunate than others.

The situation in Amsterdam was worsening from week to week. Thousands of people had already been taken from their homes, and it was becoming more and more clear that this was going to get a lot worse before it got better.  Most of the people being seized from their homes at this point were individuals. Families and couples appeared to be spared for a large part, but it was a tenuous situation at best, and the future had a very ominous feel to it.

 One day early in 1942, Nardus was approached by one of his good friends, Sam Abram. Sam lived close to Nardus, and they had attended Yeshiva together, frequented the same gatherings, and knew and liked each other very much. Sam had a younger sister, Nettie, and he was concerned that this young, attractive, single woman would be in danger of being sent to one of the camps. And his fears were justified. Many of the women in the neighborhood had disappeared, and with the incidents of brutality leaking out, no one wanted to spend too much time imagining what this meant. They just knew that is wasn’t good. So Sam asked Nardus if he had a way to help Nettie stay out of the camps and remain in Amsterdam.

There was really only one way Nardus could help her: He had to marry her. In so doing, he would at least be able to delay her capture. So Nardus and Nettie Abram were married in an effort to save her life, and for now it appeared to be working. As a married woman, she was able to remain in Amsterdam long enough to allow her to find a family where she could hide. And once the Nazis started taking everyone away, married or not, Nettie would need that hiding place.

Nardus and Nettie remained married through the entire war. Any resolution to the situation would not be able to take place before the war would end. Nardus knew this but did not care. Marital status meant nothing right now. What mattered was saving as many lives as possible. Right now, he had the chance to save the sister of a good friend, and he would do so. What he did wasn’t much, and it gave no assurances for the future, but it gave her a chance. Nettie would be safe, at least for now.

 


Jew Face: An excerpt connecting then and now

What has always been the most remarkable thing about the book Jew Face, in my opinion at least, has nothing to do with how the book was written.  The most remarkable thing has always been that the story is true.   As a writer, I could ask for no greater gift than to have at my disposal a story that is so rich with almost every human emotion imaginable, and of a subject matter not only important in history, but in this particular instance,  inspiring and hopeful.  Whenever possible in this blog I will try to draw the story to a real connection, be it through the date or through people involved in the book and the people close to them.  The following excerpt involves the story of Sam Abram and his sister Nettie.  Sam was a very close friend of my father, and his daughter Chelly recently had her birthday and on Monday will commemorate, according to the Jewish calendar, the anniversary of her father’s passing 14 years ago.   With her permission I am making this mention and posting this excerpt from the book Jew Face.

Saving Nettie

 As the Germans were to come in on various occasions and raid neighborhoods, the Jewish community in Amsterdam became smaller and more dispersed. Those either not willing to accept the evidence or whose innate courage prevented them from leaving their home would ultimately find themselves shipped off to what we now know would ultimately be their cruel treatment in concentration camps, and in most cases, death.

 Throughout 1941, Seys-Innquart, Aus der Funten, and his other henchmen were in the process of determining a location to use as a deportation center for the Jews of Holland. The two most logical places were the Esnoga, the Great Spanish-Portuguese Synagogue, and the Hollandse Schouwburg, the great concert hall of Amsterdam. After reviewing it carefully, the Nazis felt that the Schouwburg was the more logical choice. Because of the large amount of Jewish patronage over the years, the proximity to the Jewish ghetto, and the purpose in which it was now going to be used, the Nazis changed its name to the Joodse Schouwburg and prepared it for use as a deportation center.

 The plan had in many ways already been put into action. The concentration camps of Westerbork and Vugt were set up in the north and south, respectively, and beginning in January of 1942, after mass roundups, Jews were no longer allowed to live anywhere in the Netherlands but Amsterdam or the two camps. When arriving in Amsterdam, these people would either live in the homes of others or would reside in public institutions such as schools or hospitals.

 The Schouwburg had been set up and was used for Straf Gevaals (“S Cases”) and for whatever group of random Jews the Nazis chose to keep there until deportation.

 Meanwhile, the death camps of Auschwitz and Sobibor were close to operating at full capacity. The Germans were taking the process of eliminating the Jewish population of Europe to a new level. Once they reached that stage, in July of 1942, the system in which they handled the Jews of Holland was cut and dry. Homes and institutions were raided, and if not emptied out in full, they were left devastated and in shambles. Most of the people picked up in these raids were brought to Westerbork, where they would stay for a short while, days at most, before being transported to the death camps. Those not sent to Westerbork went through Vugt. The majority of the remaining was first processed in the Schouwburg and then went through the same pattern of Auschwitz or Sobibor via Westerbork.

 Even before the mass deportations of July of 1942, the Grune Polizei (“Green Police”), the Nazi police force patrolling Amsterdam, would make regular raids and roundups in Jewish neighborhoods. Many of the Jews who had an understanding of what was taking place went into hiding before they were forced to leave their homes. For many, this was the reason they survived, although, as was the case with everyone who hid, some were more fortunate than others.

 The situation in Amsterdam was worsening from week to week. Thousands of people had already been taken from their homes, and it was becoming more and more clear that this was going to get a lot worse before it got better.

 Most of the people being seized from their homes at this point were individuals. Families and couples appeared to be spared for a large part, but it was a tenuous situation at best, and the future had a very ominous feel to it.

 One day early in 1942, Nardus was approached by one of his good friends, Sam Abram. Sam lived close to Nardus, and they had attended Yeshiva together, frequented the same gatherings, and knew and liked each other very much. Sam had a younger sister, Nettie, and he was concerned that this young, attractive, single woman would be in danger of being sent to one of the camps. And his fears were justified. Many of the women in the neighborhood had disappeared, and with the incidents of brutality leaking out, no one wanted to spend too much time imagining what this meant. They just knew that is wasn’t good. So Sam asked Nardus if he had a way to help Nettie stay out of the camps and remain in Amsterdam.

 There was really only one way Nardus could help her: He had toMore


Response to article criticizing Holland

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you to one of my Facebook friends for posting this article about Holland in ynetnews.com.  It tackles the issue of Holocaust denial and in some of its categorizations of the Dutch made me feel compelled to respond.  I hope my response gets posted, but just in case, here is a link to the original post, followed by my response.

http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4226056,00.html

This article was of great interest to me, particularly since on Wednesday it will be 4 weeks since the release of my book, “Jew Face: A story of love and heroism in Nazi-0ccupied Holland.”

There is no condoning the activities Dr. Gerstenfeld spoke of in Vorden and Amsterdam, but I would like to offer a slightly broader perspective.  Holland is a nation of close to 17 million people, of which the majority is Catholic and Protestant.  There is a growing Muslim population and an almost non-existent Jewish population.  There is anti-Semitism taking place regularly in almost every nation on the planet.  The problem that exists in Holland is that in an attempt to be super liberal, some Dutch citizens may show a lapse in judgment and sensitivity.

I do not believe that labeling Holland as a nation that stands out in attempting to brush away the memory of the Holocaust is a fair categorization.  I also feel that some credit needs to be given to the Dutch for their overall treatment of the Jewish people.   The only time in modern history where living as a Jew was uncomfortable in Holland was when the nation was under Nazi occupation.  The righteousness of much of the non-Jewish Dutch population during World War II made it possible for many to survive that otherwise might not have.  I also speak of this in my book and it is the reason that the website I created to discuss issues surrounding the book is called Holland’s heroes https://hollandsheroes.com/.  So although I respect Dr. Gerstenfeld’s opinion and realize that he and I are likely on the same side as far as our ultimate concerns and goals, I differ strongly in his assessment of Holland.


ANOTHER TASTE OF THE BOOK

With the release of the book “Jew Face: A story of love and heroism in Nazi occupied Holland” scheduled for April 13, 2012, I will be putting up photographs daily that pertain to important events and stories from the book. The book is the story of my parents, Nardus and Sipora Groen mainly during the period between 1940-1945. Today’s picture is of the Hollandse Schouwburg, the main Concert Hall of Amsterdam that would be turned into a detention and transit center by the Nazis. Besides being a symbol of the devastation that befell the Jewish community at the hands of the German occupiers, one of the most defining moments in the book also takes place in the Hollandse Schouwburg.


Hollandse Schouwburg

The Hollandse Schouwburg was Amsterdam’s premier venue for concerts and shows before the Nazis occupied Holland in 1940.  By 1942 it was turned into a detention and deportation center for Amsterdam’s Jews.  Most who went through the Schouwburg would end being transported to Auschwitz and Sobibor.