Tag Archives: Lubertus & Geeske te Kiefte

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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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.

CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THE BOOK.

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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Attention World: Jewish Life has Value

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Let me start by saying that I believe in the value of all human life.  I do not sit down with the intent of portraying Jewish life as being more valuable than other life, rather to defame those who do not, never have nor ever will see Jewish life as being equal in value.

I am blessed to have visiting in my home the daughter and son-in-law of Bertus and Geeske te-Kiefte, the couple that saved my mother’s life in Holland during Nazi occupation.  During the time we have spent together we have had conversations revealing our similarity in values and our respect for all that is decent and good in the world.  We recognize the value of all human life and speak with tremendous honor and respect for those who put their lives in danger to protect others.  We share a common value for human life.  As a Jew in today’s world it has become strikingly apparent that many people out there do not share the same value for Jewish life and even more worrisome is that it has become clear to me how the world allowed the Nazis to do what they did to the Jewish people.  It just didn’t care.  Or even worse, it approved.

I do not have a persecution complex by any means.  In fact I make the argument that there is no reason to go after those who do things that appear to be anti-Semitic if they make claim to not be anti-Semitic.  First case in point is Macklemore, who dressed up in a costume during one of his performances that was seen as being a stereotypical caricature of a Jewish man with a big nose.  Whether that was his intent or not, his strong claim that he did not mean it to be a portrayal of someone Jewish and that he was not at all anti-Semitic is enough for me to not see him as the problem.  Second case in point is the Nike commercial with evil clones taking over international soccer with images on their uniform that could be construed as Stars of David.  Nike issued a statement that the image was not intended to resemble a Star of David at all and that they were not trying to draw any connection to Israel or the Jewish people.  The Nike statement was also enough for me to not see them as the problem.

Is it possible that in both situations we are being lied to and that these are two instances where high-profile celebrities or corporations are subtly trying to demonize Israel and the Jewish people? Sure.  But sadly in a world where there are so many blatant, callous, disgraceful and violent attacks on Jews, the subtle attacks are not our problem.  The rise in anti-Semitic attacks in Europe, most notably in France, is our problem.   The BDS movement’s attempt to cripple the Israeli economy by spewing lies about Israel’s human rights record is our problem.  And the kidnapping of three young boys just because they are Jewish and living in Israel is our problem.

The kidnappings are telling in so many ways.  First of all it identifies the insincerity of the pigs committing the act.  They are not freedom fighters battling for the well-being of their people who are attacking enemy combatants.  They are cowards filled with hate and evil-looking to harm any Jewish person they come in contact with. The second telling fact is how once again this exposes the fraud that is the United Nations.  When a statement comes from the UN stating that it has no evidence that these boys were kidnapped, they sound no different from the standard anti-Semite denying the Holocaust ever happened. And the third and possibly the most telling fact, is the media campaign throughout the Arab world glorifying the kidnapping.  The three finger salute gaining traction and popularity, even being performed by Palestinian children, incidentally children looking happy not persecuted, might as well be accompanied by a resounding Heil Hitler, because it shows as little respect for Jewish life as the Nazis did when they terrorized Europe.

I am very careful and reluctant to compare anything to Nazi Germany, but when Jewish life is turned into something of no value, the comparison is dangerously justified.  For me to have this forum, a forum established to promote a book telling the story of my parents, survivors of that horror of the Nazis, and to not speak up and speak my mind at this scary time in Jewish history would make me remiss in my responsibility as a Jew and a human being.

Never Again means Never Again will we remain silent when we see anyone in the world act as though Jewish blood is cheap.  Too many people suffered and died in the past and we can’t allow the same to happen in the future. This is no longer the time to be silent.  This is the time to raise our voices and proclaim to the world in the name of all that is decent, Never Again!

 


On Holocaust Remembrance Day: The Lessons of my Parents

00000007As a child I always remember my parents speaking of what took place in Holland during the Nazi occupation.  The term ‘Holocaust’ was rarely if ever used.  Instead they would generally speak of it in terms of “40-45”, representing the years 1940 until 1945 when Nazi Germany occupied the Netherlands.

I always knew I had lost family, specifically the parents and younger sister of my father and the father and younger brother of my mother.  It was not until I was a bit older that the scope was understood to me, very possibly due to my parents shielding me from the reality at my young age.

I always knew of the greatness of the Lubertus and Geeske te Kiefte.  The people known to me from as far back as I can remember as Oom (Uncle) Bertus and Tante (Aunt) Geesje were the people who shielded my parents, specifically my mother, and gave her a welcome home at the risk of certain torture and death.  They would always remain to me as family, as would their children and grandchildren.

I always knew it was Germany.  What history was then and what it became was something I did not begin to comprehend until my teen years.  My first understanding of the contrast that existed was my awareness that Willie Brandt, who was German Chancellor from 1969-1974 was a “good German” who had not been part of the Nazi party.  As an ignorant child it was all just numbers and random information to me.  Of course it was sad.  I never had the experience of knowing my grandparents and knew that the world my parents were born into had been destroyed.  But the true scope was something that was next to impossible for a child to grasp.  Then I grew up and realized it had very little to do with age.

Soon after I finished writing the book “Jew Face” I was thinking about all that had taken place and my perception of the events of 40-45.  As a New Yorker, I know what it means to live in a city with a strong Jewish influence, not unlike Amsterdam prior to 1940.  I closed my eyes and tried to imagine most of my family gone and 75% of the Jews of New York wiped out.  After 10 seconds I opened my eyes because it was too painful to continue.  I had the option of opening my eyes and making it no longer a reality.  This is what makes Holocaust survivors such as my mother and late father and so many others the tremendous heroes that they are.  The very ability to go on with life in the face of such awful memories without the option of opening their eyes and making it go away.  It never did go away, yet they continued to live with the pain, often turning it into new worlds filled with joy and happiness.   We owe a debt of gratitude to all these heroes that we can best repay by always remembering and fighting to make sure it never happens again.  May God bless them all forever.