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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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Marcel Groen’s words on the Effects of Immigration on Real Lives

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The following was written by my brother, Marcel Groen.  Marcel is the Chairman of the Democratic Party in Pennsylvania.  He is a son, a husband, a brother, a father, a grandfather, and friend and colleague of many.  In this short but poignant piece however, he represents himself, the son of Holocaust survivors, more than anything else, as an American.  It is my honor and pleasure to share my brother’s words.

 

In the winter of 1942 Marcel Rodrigues went to the embassy in the Hague, the Netherlands, to apply for a visa for himself and his son, Bram.  He applied for the visa because he felt that America was the only country in the world that could provide him with hope, safety and freedom.

He was right. His visa was denied, He chose not to try to come here as an illegal immigrant. Oh do I wish he had. Marcel and his son  were murdered in Auschwitz on August 13, 1943, ten months later.

If only he had tried to get here as an illegal immigrant-he might not have succeeded, but if he had been successful he would’ve lived. There was no one else or place to go.

Marcel was my grandfather and Bram my uncle.

Americans should never forget why people come here, sometimes legally, sometimes not, but millions have come. They came because America represented opportunity, safety and goodness,  in a world that was neither good nor safe. We represent that wonderful experiment called democracy, where we make room for all and provide safety and opportunity for all who come here. Without those immigrants we would be nothing.

We are not perfect as a society. We have a long way to go, but we can and must continue to work towards those lofty goals we believe in.

When we crush those dreams; when we close our borders to those in need; when we forget where we came from and where we want to go;  then we will lose our place in the world, than our experiment will have failed. We cannot let that happen. As a people we are too good for that.

There are times when good people must stand up regardless of the consequences. JFK’s Profile in Courage comes to mind.

This is one of those times.  

Marcel Groen

 

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Proud of my Brother

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I don’t care if you love Hillary or hate Hillary, this is my brother  Marcel Groen, Chairman of the Democratic Party in Pennsylvania and I am very proud of him.  Listen to the interview of him on CNN and see how he gives a shout out to our 94 year old mother who is a Holocaust survivor as well.  Great job Marcel.  Truly appropriate for Holland’s Heroes.CLICK THE LINK TO SEE THE INTERVIEW

http://www.cnn.com/videos/tv/2016/07/23/clinton-in-the-battleground-states.cnn

 

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Open Letter to Bill O’Reilly Regarding Media Involvement in Trump’s success

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Dear Bill,

I happen to be a fan of yours.  I watch your show often, find you engaging, informative and have a great admiration for your intelligence.  Normally I find you to be true to your word about being fair and balanced.  However in a recent discussion on your show in which you discussed the impact the media has had on the rise of Donald Trump I felt you did the one thing you normally do not do, you spun the story to benefit your position. Normally the manner in which you stay clear of that trap distinguishes you significantly from anyone else that comes close to your level of success.  In this matter however I fee that you failed tremendously, and here is why.

I find it unlikely you will read this, even less likely you will respond and next to impossible that my concerns will reach anyone beyond your organization or your show for that matter, but seeing as this is indeed a story I agree to be as significant as you maintain it to be, I felt it important to reach out to you.  You may indeed be entirely correct regarding some of your assertions of your lack of involvement in the promotion of Donald Trump.  I believe you when you say you have made unsuccessful attempts at getting other candidates on your show and I accept your argument that your job is to report the news and that Donald Trump makes news.  But what about the rest of the media, be it FOX ,CNN or others?  After last week’s primaries in Pennsylvania, my brother Marcel Groen, State Party Chairman of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party was scheduled to appear on FOX Business with Neil Cavuto.  He waited for about an hour before he had to go back to attend to his responsibilities and commitments.  Why? Because almost every single guest that came on, some that appeared to not be originally scheduled, came on to speak about Donald Trump, pushing Neil Cavuto way over his schedule.   I understand that FOX is a network far more in sync with the Republican Party, but there was more news that night than Donald Trump.   I realize in fairness that what happened the day of the Pennsylvania primaries can not be directly seen as helping the rise of Donald Trump to that point, but it certainly did represent what has been going on for quite some time.  Also let me make something clear.  This is not about me being disappointed that my brother did not appear on air that night.  I am quite certain he got over it immediately as did I and anyone else who wanted to see him. However, it does clearly show how the coverage is driven by the Trump phenomena over everything else.

And it is hardly just FOX who is to blame. CNN has their very own Trump surrogate, Kayleigh Mcenany at almost every political discussion.  What other candidate can we say that about?  It often seemed that when there were Trump surrogates at most of these discussions, they were countered more with anti-Trump voices than with surrogates for Cruz or Kasich.

The media may not want to accept responsibility, but it has a responsibility nonetheless. For months all we heard about John Kasich was how he was the most qualified of any candidate. Yet since he was not exciting enough, and therefore might not have generated the same ratings, the percentage of time he was covered compared to Donald Trump and even Ted Cruz was catastrophic to his candidacy.  And Bill, regardless of whether or not the other candidates accept your invitation to be on your show, did you not have some responsibility to cover their activities in a more proportionate manner?  Your answer may very well be that you did not have that responsibility and that would certainly be within your rights. After all, as you often say, it is your show, you have been number 1 for a long time and you know what you are doing.  I just think it would be have been more fair and balanced to an audience possibly making the most important choice of its lifetime if you had accepted that responsibility.  Most of all it would have been far more honest if you would have come clean and admit it’s all about ratings rather than say the media did not play a significant role.

I have heard the argument that has been made about how so much of the negative press about Donald Trump also comes from the media.  That immediately made me remember one of my best friends from my High School days in London who once told me, “I don’t really care if people love me or hate me, as long as they talk about me”. Donald Trump has benefited from this excessive coverage from the start, be it good or bad.  But Bill, I ask you to consider the following analogy.  When a fan rushes on to a baseball field, television no longer shows the fan in realization that in doing so the allure of rushing the field has been significantly diminished.  Who knows what might have happened for example if the media had reacted comparably to Donald Trump saying that John McCain was not a war hero because he got caught.  The Trump campaign may never have gotten to where it is today.

All this being said I will continue to watch because I do respect you and enjoy your show, even if I do feel that regarding this topic you have been much less truthful than you normally are, not just to your audience but possibly to yourself as well.

Sincerely,

David Groen

 

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Generations of Love and Family

generationsAs many of you reading this already know, the 
book Jew Face is the story of my parents 
journeys and survival during the Nazi 
occupation of Holland between 1940-1945.  
There are many reasons this story is 
important.  Some are general for a large 
group of people, while others are more 
pertinent to the individuals in the story.  
The most significant being the impact it has 
on all the family members involved and the 
generations that have followed.

My parents, Nardus and Sipora Groen, started a 
new world with the birth of their first son, 
and my oldest brother Marcel.  He would be 
followed by Leo, Ruben, my one sister Debby, 
and then me.  Between the children my parents 
would get 12 grandchildren, and as it stands now, 
8 great grandchildren.  It should be noted that the 8 great grandchildren 
come from only 3 of the grandchildren, the 3 oldest children of Marcel and 
his wife Bernice, so there is still plenty of opportunity for the remaining 
grandchildren to add to that number.  It is a story of survival in the 
greatest sense.  A world almost destroyed now stands at over 30 people and 
growing, and that is without counting extended family.

The reason for this post today is because some events and family 
members represent the glory and greatness that is the survival of a 
family.  This weekend my nephew Justin and his fiance Kim will be 
married.  Justin, who is the youngest of Marcel and Bernice's children 
is one of those people who is loved and respected by those who know him,
and has the great ability to show that love and respect in return on a 
regular basis.  Nothing symbolizes it more than the relationship he had 
with his "Opa" and still has with his "Oma".  Opa and Oma are the Dutch 
words for grandfather and grandmother and in this case represent my 
parents, Nardus and Sipora Groen.  I still remember when my father had 
his heart attack about 15 years ago on the 7th day of Passover, and 
walking up and finding Justin holding him in his arms in the back of a 
police car right outside Beth Shalom synagogue in Elkins Park, Pa. 
until the ambulance arrived.  Their relationship would always be 
close and even though my father passed away close to 6 years ago, 
Justin still wears the pin he gave him on the lapel of his suit in 
synagogue and intends to use his Opa's Talit (prayer shawl) at his 
upcoming wedding.   His relationship with his Oma may be even more 
special.  This is a relationship of mutual affection and respect rarely 
seen between 2 people separated by 58 years, be it relatives or not.  
They not only love and respect each other but they enjoy each other's
company in a very special way, and as a son and a uncle it always warms 
my heart to see.

As I write this piece, a few days prior to the wedding, the best news 
of all may be that Justin is marrying a woman with the same wonderful 
qualities he possesses and someone with the same values of goodness and 
love for family and friends we wish everyone possessed.

As Kim joins the family this weekend the family grows and the 
significance of what was saved so many years ago becomes even more 
significant and beautiful.  It is said that when you save one person 
you save an entire world.  As I write this I have joy in my heart for 
the world of my parents that was saved, and the world that it has 
become with the generations to follow.

How Saving a World Leads to Great Things

mlgscrlgWe never know how things will end up in life, but we do know that saving one person saves an entire world.  As I write this, I know I am part of the world that was saved when my parents made it through the Holocaust and started building a world in 1945.  Many wonderful things have come as a result of the world made from my parent’s survival.   It all began with the birth of my oldest brother Marcel as seen in this picture with my mother Sipora Groen soon after his birth.  Marcel is now the subject of well deserved accolades in Pennsylvania politics which I am linking with pride to this post.  Life is funny like that.  We never do know how things will end up years later.  Well done Marcel!

Click Here for link.


The President, My Brother, and The Book Jew Face

marcelObI sometimes think, if only my book would get into the hands of someone important, someone with some influence.  The benefit it would have to its exposure would potentially be tremendous.  How about……the President of the United State of America?

Thanks to my brother Marcel, President Barack Obama now owns a copy of Jew Face.  Marcel is the Chairman of the Democratic Party in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania and a member of the Democratic National Committee.  With Pittsburgh  traditionally voting Republican, and Philadelphia traditionally voting Democrat, Montgomery County, the third largest county in the state usually determines which candidate carries the state.  Having once again been instrumental in carrying Montgomery County for the Democratic Party, Marcel has met the President a number of times and this past Friday had the privilege of a personal meeting.  During this meeting he gave a copy of the book Jew Face to the president.  What happens now?  I certainly don’t know, but I do feel honored that the president now owns a copy of something I have written and a tremendous gratitude to my oldest brother for respecting and appreciating my work to the extent that he was comfortable giving a copy to the leader of the free world.

This is not a political post.  I am hopeful that no one reading this chooses to turn it into one.  And if you want to own a copy of the book that is now owned by the President of the United States, please CLICK HERE.  And to show my gratitude I present you with an excerpt from the book that speaks of the birth of my brother, Marcel Lubertus Groen.

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Excerpt from Jew Face:

 After the birth of her son, the miracle that so often looked like it would never ever happen, Sipora gave the little baby two names: Marcel, after her father, the man to give her life, and Lubertus, after Bertus te Kiefte, who, other than Nardus, was the man most instrumental in helping her to keep that life.  Marcel Lubertus had been created by Sipora and the man who empowered her, saved her from death’s grasp, and loved her even through times when love was so overshadowed by death and evil.

 The circumstances were less than ideal, and their lives were filled with questions yet to be answered, but as Sipora lay there with Marcel in her arms, it almost felt like God was making a statement, a statement that even with the forces of evil at their most powerful, good will survive, love will prevail, and life would go on.

When Thea had been born to David and Martha Groen, it was a symbol of life in the midst of horror and devastation; the symbol held a beauty and power that made it unique. When Marcel came into the world, he would be a symbol of even greater significance.  What was once the bright light of a great world of Dutch and European Jewry had been diminished to a mere glimmer, and a strong powerful fire of life had been reduced in so many places to mere ashes. And now despite all of that, there remained hope. The flickering light of what remained in Nardus Groen and Sipora Rodrigues’s life had now turned into this bright, new, and strong flame. The light that was their son Marcel.

 This significance would carry a burden, but it would carry an even greater importance and virtue. It would take an almost extinguished light, an almost destroyed world, and turn it into a strong flame, building not one but many new worlds in the years to come.  On this day, as Sipora looked at her son, it did not matter that Nardus was not here. It would not have even mattered anymore if she had been here. What only mattered today was that this baby was here. And whether she was right or wrong for feeling this way, Sipora felt like this was the reason she had survived, and this would now be her reason for wanting to survive.