If you have read the book Jew Face or know of my family, you know that my father was one of five children. His oldest brother was Meijer (pronounced Meyer), he had an older brother David, an older sister Sofia, and a younger sister Elizabeth (aka Belia). Elizabeth was murdered by the Nazis, David died in a car accident in the mid 70s, and Sofia died of natural causes less than a year ago. The only one who was left was Meijer, until a few days ago. It is for this reason that I write this post.
My Uncle Meijer, my father’s oldest brother, passed away this week. With people living in different parts of the world, I cannot say that I knew my uncle well in my adult life. What I do know is the significance of his passing and my childhood memories.
To the best of my knowledge my uncle never spoke much English. As a child however there was one sentence I do remember him knowing, and as he has passed on, and I look back at my childhood, I would be remiss if I would not make mention of it. He would call me over, look straight at me with a smile and say, “We are friends for…” at which point I would reply “ever”. This was a well know interaction in the family and always gave me a wonderful feeling as a child towards my uncle. As a 50 year old man today, I still look back at it and smile.
The significance of the passing of my father’s brother Meijer is that it is the end of an era in many ways. The last of my father’s immediate family, Meijer Groen’s passing creates one more gap between our world today and the world of those who went through the Nazi occupation, persecution, and murder of the European Jewish community, specifically that of Holland.
As the son of Nardus Groen, it makes me feel like an entire chapter of my family’s heritage and history has closed or maybe more appropriately, been altered. If you do not believe that souls pass on to a different world when their bodies die here on earth I ask you to indulge me as you read this. I sit here and pray that in that world my father and brother have met once again, that they both have peace, and reach the high levels God can provide to both of them.
This is my wish and my prayer. Not just for today, but for…..ever.
The following is an excerpt from Jew Face: A story of love and heroism in Nazi-occupied Holland. It takes place soon after the end of the war
Suddenly, a motorbike pulled up to the house. On the bike were two young men. The man in front had a familiar look about him, but Sipora couldn’t place why right away. The man on the back of the bike spoke first.
“Are you Sipora Rodrigues?” he asked in a friendly tone, accompanied by a smile.
Sipora was somewhat startled but felt at ease with the man’s approach and confirmed with no reluctance that she was.
“I have a message for you from Nardus,” continued the man. “He said he got your letter and that you will be hearing from him again very soon.”
Sipora felt a warm feeling come over her. It would have been easy for Nardus to avoid the whole situation if he had so desired. In these postwar times, with thousands of miles separating them, even with a child on the way, it would have taken very little effort on Nardus’s part to have no involvement whatsoever with her or the child. She was not surprised, because everything he had done till now showed that the kind of man he was made this reaction more likely, but still, this extra effort meant a lot to her. She was curious about these men now.
“So I know Nardus told you how to find me,” said Sipora, “but may I ask, who are you?”
“I’m Meyer Groen,” said the man riding the bike. “Nardus’s older brother.”
Then the man on the back of the bike spoke again.
“I’m their brother-in-law,” he said, motioning to Meyer. “My name is Jacques Baruch. It was good to meet you.”
Somewhat in shock over having met two people so significant in Nardus’s life, Sipora just stood there, smiling.
Jacques got back on the bike, and after the two bid farewell to Sipora, she heard him say to Meyer, “Nardus did pretty well for himself.”
Sipora watched as the two rode away. In a world where so little good was happening, this was a day when she could at least smile and feel a little less alone.