Tag Archives: Lemerlerveld

Holland’s Heroes

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In the 7 years since I started the website Holland’s Heroes this will be the first time I have chosen to use the name of the website as a title for a post.  Why now?  It’s because in light of recent events it has become clear to me that I am in a family that has had the benefit of the actions of some remarkable and righteous Dutch people. People who clearly are Holland’s Heroes.

Although time and the world’s natural order of things has caused the number of Holocaust survivors to steadily diminish, in many cases, even if the survivors are no longer here, there are still the families remaining of these survivors.  Many of these families only exist today because of the righteous and heroic actions of people that endangered themselves and the lives of their families in order to save those they descended from.  It’s been my experience that anyone who  knows of a hero or family that did something to help save the life, offer support or preserve the memory of someone in their family  feels tremendously blessed and grateful that these heroes were there for their ancestors in the worst of times.  So imagine how blessed I feel to be able to tell you of 3 families that had such an impact on my family.

Ranking the actions of great people is something that would potentially diminish how special their actions were, so I’ve determined that the most fair order in which to mention these people is in the order in which I learned of them in my lifetime.

Lubertus & Geeske te Kiefte

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Since the time I began telling the story of my parents’ survival of the Holocaust I’ve also been telling the story of the te Kieftes.  That’s also because since the time I was old enough to know anything about my family I knew about the people we lovingly refer to as Oom Bertus and Tante Geesje.  In Nazi-occupied Holland, going from contact to contact established through the resistance, my father would ultimately help my mother find the place she would spend the last 16 months of the war.  Here she would be treated like a member of the family while more importantly she would be protected from the Nazis.  Oom Bertus, a builder, would build her a special secret room under his workplace where she would sleep, hidden from Nazi soldiers in the event of a surprise raid.  Other than one man, the entire town of Lemerlerveld would be on board with the te Kieftes in making sure this young, very Jewish looking woman would remain safe.  The one man in question would have it made very clear by Bertus and other active members of the resistance what would happen to him should something happen to their Jewish guest.  Post war the relationship between our families has been like family, and I can say without  pause that even without the actions of Bertus and Geeske this family is as special a group of people as any I have ever known.

Jan Van den Berg

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The best friend of my grandfather Marcel Rodrigues, Jan Van den Berg had more opportunities to prove this friendship than most would ever expect.  The depth of his friendship went beyond his relationship with my grandfather, as he would be there for his friend’s daughter, my mother Sipora, any time it was needed.  As my mother was preparing to escape Amsterdam with my father, an escape as dangerous as any one could ever imagine, their one and only welcomed stop was in the Van den Berg home.  This was because this was the last true safe place they could rest and get some nourishment before their trip.  As time would bare out, Oom Jan as we knew him, would not only never say no to his best friend’s daughter, he would go above and beyond in ways one should never forget.  When the war ended and Sipora would return to Amsterdam, had it not been for the emotional and practical assistance of the Van den Berg’s, she might not have survived the post-war travails.  Returning to Amsterdam pregnant where she would later give birth to her oldest son Marcel, Sipora would take ill only months into her young child’s life.  Suspected of contracting Tuberculosis, later to be confirmed as Pleurisy, Sipora would be put into quarantine.  Unable to care for her child, Oom Jan and Tante Toos would care for Marcel while Sipora was in quarantine.  He would be cared for as one of their own.  My brother Marcel and sister-in-law Bernice would name their oldest daughter Jennifer, the “J” being in honor of Oom Jan.  On July 21st of this year I had the great pleasure and honor of meeting their great grandson Jelmer and his family on my trip to Holland.

Johnny de Haan

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Besides being something incredibly special for my family, recent events are also a lesson for anyone whose family survived the Holocaust.  Not everyone and not everything has been revealed or discovered.  We tend to think that all the stories have been told and that there is very little new and important information we can share with the world.  Besides being factually inaccurate, in today’s global climate it has become even more important to continue to share these important stories.  Naturally I tell this story with personal bias, but I can also tell you that in sharing it with people of all ages and all walks of life, I have found that the one word most often used when responding to the story, is “Wow”.

With the Nazis occupying and controlling Amsterdam, in the summer of 1943 my grandfather Marcel Rodrigues and my uncle Bram Rodrigues chose to make an attempt to escape to Switzerland.  Before they left Bram went to his close friend and band mate Johnny de Haan to ask him to look after his violin till he returned home.  As was the case with 6 million European Jews, my Oom Bram never returned.  However, Johnny de Haan safeguarded the violin till his death 7 years ago. When he passed away his son Wim, understanding the importance the violin always had to his father,  continued what his father had started.  Until a recent examination of his father’s diary and subsequently finding more information online because of the book Jew Face, Wim, who till now thought Bram left no living relatives, would find me.  Upon making this discovery he contact me and we would set up the July 21st event in which he gave the violin to me and my siblings.  The rest as they say, is history.

But is’t not JUST history.  It’s present day as well.  Wim gave value to the violin, a desire to return it to the family of his father’s friend, and a warmth and friendship that has drawn a connection to the friendship taken away from 2 young men 76 years ago.  Wim’s mother, an unsung hero in this story, and someone I had the honor to meet, would dust off the violin on a regular basis.  All of this is why I say this is more than the actions of one good man.  It is a family that helped keep the memory alive and is directly responsible for creating the legacy for one of the 6 million murdered souls of the Holocaust.  That soul belongs to my uncle, Bram Rodrigues.

We live in a day and age where negativity sells, so if the positive nature of this post doesn’t appeal to you that is you personal choice.  But I urge you all to realize that in telling these stories we not only help keep the story alive, but maybe we bring more stories such as these to the surface.  We must not only never forget, but we must always continue to remind the rest of the world.

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5 Passages to Bram: Passage 2: Lubertus & Geeske te Kiefte

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Jewish teachings say that the very existence of our world rests on the righteousness of 36 individuals. It is believed that these 36 are hidden, inasmuch as there is no public declaration by them or any public organization or group mentioning who these people may be.  All we know is that the belief is that without them the world loses its very foundation of decency and kindness.  Although these are teachings no one can ever prove, as I got older and acquired a greater understanding, I had all the proof I needed in the people I referred to as Oom Bertus & Tante Geisje.

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In the waning months of the year 1944, Lubertus & Geeske te Kiefte were the parents of a 7 year old boy and expecting parents of what would turn out to be their first of 2 daughters.  They lived a quiet life in the Dutch countryside.  Although the war was hard on the entire country, had they chosen not to be involved in the consequences of the Nazi occupation, they could have lived a risk free life without concern of any retribution.  But the te Keiftes were not wired that way.  Bertus’s activities in the resistance lead to the fateful day when a short, pretty, dark-haired and dark complexioned woman showed up at their door soaking wet in the middle of the night.   Bertus took one look at this woman and his heart melted with compassion. Geeske immediately saw to her well-being, providing her with dry clothing and a warm meal   For the next 16 months the woman would live with them in Lemerlerved, sleeping every night in a room Bertus built under his workplace so that she would not be detected had the Nazis showed up unexpectedly to do a random search.  For the 16 months that the woman stayed with the te Keiftes she was fed, cared for and treated like a member of the family.  The one man in town known for being sympathetic to the Nazi cause was warned of the consequences should any harm come to the woman.

Those 16 months would be the foundation of a friendship so special it would go beyond the woman, Bertus and Geeske.  It would carry on for generations, making 2 entirely different families see each other as one family, no matter the distance, time or religious belief.  The woman they hid and whose life they saved was my mother Sipora Groen, born Sipora Rodrigues-Lopes.  The relationship was so strong that to this day descendants on both sides refer to each other as family.  I loved going to visit them as a kid, enjoying it so much that I miss them till today and truly believe that if not for Oom Bertus and Tante Geisje, I would not be here to share this story.

I remember Lubertus & Geeske te Kiefte with love and honor always.

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“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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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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Being Jewish on Christmas

jewishchThe most intriguing thing for me as I sit and write this is the question continuously going through my mind.  Although I write this for everyone, is this piece more important for those close to me who are Jewish, or those close to me who are not?  Maybe I’ll have my answer by the time I finish it, but for now let me first begin by wishing all those who celebrate the holiday a very Merry Christmas.

Now that I may have lost the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish and Atheists among the readers let me continue.

Let me begin by stating the obvious.  Jesus, as we all know, was Jewish.  So being Jewish on Christmas is a complicated concept to begin with.  This past week I had a mini debate with someone who insisted that Jesus converted to Christianity.  I insisted that was not true.  This person insisted they were told that in school, while I assured them they were never told any such thing.  Now of course I can’t be sure what the teachers actually said, but to the best of my understanding Jesus lived as a Jew and died as a Jew.  Christianity was the religion formed from those who followed him and believed him to be the Messiah as understood by Jewish teachings.  To the best of my understanding Jesus never turned away from Judaism, he just created a following of those who felt he was the Messiah, or Savior which subsequently caused him to be seen as a problem by many in the Jewish hierarchy, an issue that causes some to accuse the Jews of killing Jesus, even though in reality it was the Romans.

Now that I may have lost the ignorant and anti-Semitic among the readers let me continue further.

I was very fortunate to grow up in a household that was, in many ways open-minded.  Christmas decorations, movies, and music were all appreciated for their beauty and not seen as a threat to our religious makeup.  The result of this is me being an adult Jewish male capable of enjoying the atmosphere in households with Christmas trees, decorations and Christmas music and lights.  It’s all very nice and uncomplicated and allows me to enjoy whatever situation I am thrown into, or dare I say even pursue this time of year.  What all this does not do is answer the one question.  What does it mean to be Jewish on Christmas?

Well the first answer is very simply, it depends on the person.  I know that to some Jewish people it means nothing.  Although some do find it diametrically opposed to all they believe in, for many of those that fall into this category it is not something negative, merely something insignificant.  I understand this point of view because to those who focus entirely on the religious aspect, Christmas is something to be celebrated only by those who believe in Jesus being more than a man.  I remember a trip I took to London that included me being there on December 25th.  The majority of my friends, people who I went to an Orthodox Jewish day school with, were getting together with their families for “Christmas dinner”.  In fact I was told that in the days leading up to Christmas the Kosher butchers sold turkeys by the dozens and ended up selling out of them completely.  To these friends of mine this was clearly not a religious pursuit, rather it was an opportunity to get together with their family and have good food and some fun.  Not unlike Thanksgiving Day in the United States.

I dare say that to some Jews there may even exist a phenomenon that could be called Christmas envy.  It is why sometimes we say Merry Christmas first, just to get a “same to you” response.  After all, who wants to be excluded from “good will to all men”? I sure as hell know I don’t.

Now that I may have lost those who feel the use of the word “hell” is inappropriate and not Godly let me conclude.

I like Christmas.  It is a nice holiday, filled with good food, pretty sights and the best of intentions.  If you believe as I do, that the major difference between Jews and Catholics is really only whether or not the next coming is the first one or the second, you have no trouble with any of the religious significance.  When no religiously motivated hatred exists on either side, all that really matters is the fact that people are getting together with those they care about, or at the very least like enough to be at a party with.  For many Catholics who indeed celebrate Christmas, the religious significance is not what is even important to them about the holiday. Instead it’s the decorations, food, and family, making it not at all complicated for me to justify my enjoying it as well.

So to all of you who celebrate, or to those of you like me who have a good time any time I am invited to be part of the celebration, Merry Christmas.

And should there be any out there who I lost at this point because they felt that as a Jew I should not be so comfortable in speaking of the beauty that can surround Christmas, I urge you to read the following excerpt from the book “Jew Face”.  It is indeed one of my personal favorite excerpts and speaks of my parents and their experience on Christmas Eve 1944 in what was then Nazi-occupied Holland.

 

 

Excerpt from “Jew Face”:

Christmas Eve

It had been close to a year now since Sipora had arrived in Lemerlerveld, and although she hoped and prayed that she would not have to live out her days in the conditions in which she currently found herself, the te Kieftes had been extraordinary in their treatment of her and Nardus, and the people of the village had made her feel as much at home as they were able to under the circumstances.

There was no hatred toward the Jewish people in Lemerlerveld. However, being that the population of the town was mainly Protestant, Jewish practices, customs, and holidays were not part of the life here, and living there meant that Nardus and Sipora could not practice their faith. With the positive treatment they received, they were welcomed by Bertus and Geeske, as well as their family and friends, to celebrate their events and holidays.

So on December 24, 1944, as the German forces had fallen in the south, and the Allies moved closer to what they all hoped would be the end of the brutal occupation of Europe, Nardus and Sipora were invited to join the Christmas Eve dinner and celebration at the Oosterwegels household.

For one night, it felt like all the horror, sadness, and tragedy was frozen in time. The night was a special one. The atmosphere was wonderful. The home was filled with the warm glow of candles and the aroma of a special meal. The guest list was a mix of people from town, Bertus and Geeske with their two children, Bertus’s brother with his family, underground activists, Communists, and Nardus and Sipora. Maybe the specter of an impending Allied victory made the evening more special, but the warmth and joy present on this night was something neither Nardus nor Sipora would ever forget.

There are days, events, and situations when the world feels like one place, when people who come from different backgrounds and different beliefs come together under God’s watchful eye and show that even with all the force and determination of evil forces, good still survives and, on occasion, even thrives. When the manner in which you worship takes a back seat to the basic fact that you do worship. And all that has happened and will happen doesn’t matter for those moments that get frozen in time, bring joy to many, and give everyone the hope that there will be a reason to continue on with life’s efforts.

Christmas Eve 1944 in Lemerlerveld, in the Oosterwegel household, was one of those nights, and Sipora and Nardus were glad to be part of it.


Bevrijdingsdag-Dutch Liberation Day: The Canadians liberate Holland

The book Jew Face gives an account of the Canadians liberating the town of Lemerlerveld.  More videos to follow.


Bevrijdingsdag-Dutch Liberation Day: Lemerlerveld

The small Dutch town of Lemerlerveld was an important location for the Dutch resistance during the second World War.  The courage and kindness of the citizens of this town is a symbol of what made the people of Holland great in the midst of some of the greatest evil the world has ever known.  On this Bevrijdingsdag, Dutch Liberation Day, we honor this small town and all the good it did for so many people, including my parents, Nardus and Sipora Groen as chronicled in the book Jew Face.