Tag Archives: Nardus and Sipora Groen

What it means to me to be the child of Holocaust Survivors

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Not too long ago, a millennial of Asian descent asked me what it was like to be raised by Holocaust survivors.  The importance of indicating his background is to highlight the difference of his life from the life he was asking me about.  Although I think human beings are inherently the same when you break through all the superfluous crap, I recognize the impact environment and circumstance has on molding an individual.  So the question made me think about this topic more deeply than I had in quite some time, and in light of the events that have taken place in my life over the past 6 months I decided to share, in the hope that I help address issues of concern not just to people that fall into the same category that I do, but for people looking for answers about who they are and where they are going.

Since I am very aware that we live in a world where people often find sport in attacking the words that others share, let me make a few things very clear before you read on.  The information you are hopefully going to go on to read is not based on historically verified facts or scientific studies.  This is based entirely on my personal feelings and interpretations.  If your reaction is, “why should I care how he feels?”, that is fine with me.  Just like that same person can’t tell me I am right or wrong for how I feel, I can’t tell that same person what to care about.  But hopefully it is understood that at least part of my motivation is to help people that struggle with feelings they do not understand or even worse, understand but can’t deal with.

My initial response to the question was probably the most honest response I had ever given to any question regarding my parents and what it was like to be raised by people who lived through Nazi-occupation.  I called it 2 sides of the same coin.  On one side I recognized that there is an inevitable dysfunction to being raised by people who went through what my parents went through. On the other side of the coin, even before without addressing the special qualities my parents exhibited in their lifetime, being raised by Holocaust survivors almost forces you into seeing things that are more important than what is relatively superficial nonsense.

Coming out of the ashes of the war in 1945, it needs to be understood that not all Holocaust survivors had the same or even similar experience.  There seems to be a universal understanding among all decent people, whether they have a direct connection to Holocaust survivors or not, that degree of suffering is not a contest.  No one ever says to a Holocaust survivor that was not in a concentration camp that they were lucky in comparison to someone who survived the camps.  And while it is clear that had my father not helped my mother find places of refuge and do so much to keep her from being captured by the Nazis that she would have likely suffered horrors unimaginable likely followed by death, who is anyone to measure the devastation of seeing your world be decimated and the feelings associated with running for or fearing for your life for close to 5 years?  And who can understand seeing everything you know and believe in be wiped out as though it was a disease?  As soon as I was old enough to understand with some maturity what my parents went through, my value system was impacted by how I interpreted their life experiences.

I never felt guilt.  I was not made to feel that way.  Mostly because for as long as I can remember it was made very clear to me who the guilty parties were.  Nazi and Nazi collaborators were the mass murderers that murdered my ancestors, and living my life in a good and happy way would be more of a slap in the face to their efforts than it would be a disregard for what the Jewish people suffered through in my parents’ native Holland and the rest of Europe.  I have however always felt a responsibility.  It would probably take extensive therapy for me to understand to what extent I try to do good things and to what extents I follow Judaism based on the responsibility I feel, but I am honest enough to admit that it is certainly part of the equation.  I know that although in today’s very partisan political climate we can debate what is anti-Jewish sentiment or action, I do know that I have zero tolerance for those things I consider to fall into those categories.  This is about how I feel when I recognize that taking place in society or my environment.   I know that nothing feels more important to me than the survival of the Jewish people, but I also know I reconcile ethically by having the same intolerance for attacks on the survival of others, again, when I see it as taking place. This same factor explains why Israel is important to me.  Israel not only represents a safe haven for the Jewish people escaping persecution, but it also highlights the thoughts and ideas of those who have a disdain for the Jewish people.  That is not to say that any opposition to the positions of the Israeli government is anti-Jewish, but it does alert any honest individual to the fact that being anti-Israel is more often than not a code word for anti-Semitism.

So all of these viewpoints and philosophies are at least somewhat a result of being raised by Holocaust survivors.  But it would be hard to refute the idea that some of my flaws are not a result of that as well.  To know that for sure would be to know what degree of the imperfections of my parents were passed on to me are a result of their experience during the war was passed on to me.  I maintain that it may be close to impossible to identify that with any accuracy and I loved and respect my parents and their memory too much to pick apart whatever flaws they may have had, but I will offer up one fear I believe I inherited from my upbringing.  A fear, that to be brutally honest is very likely a contributing factor behind the time I have put into writing this piece and much of the other things I write.  It is the fear of not making a difference.  For my grandparents, my father’s parents who refused baptismal papers because they would only die the way they were born, as Jews, for my ancestors who were killed in the concentration camps, for the 6 million, and for my parents who felt the pain of that time until the day they died, I feel that I have a responsibility to do something that matters.  There is a fine line however between feeling a sense of responsibility and feeling a burden, and although I was not made to feel guilt, whenever that sense of responsibility has felt like a burden, a feeling of guilt sets in, because I know, that my “burden” is nothing compared to those that suffered during that time.  Nevertheless, it is a reality that sits with me and one I need to address from time to time.

I do leave you with two very important points.  First one being that one of the reasons I am writing this piece is to hopefully help any other children of Holocaust survivors with unresolved feelings they may have difficulty dealing with, and the second one is to accentuate the most important factor in this entire discussion.  The Holocaust was a reality.  The enormity of it was so significant that it not only resulted in the murder of 6 million Jews but it still impacts the world and generations in so many ways.  The specifics being a discussion for another time.  Reality, good or bad, does not disappear just because you want it to.  It does not disappear because of perverse and distorted ideologies.  It needs to be confronted, something I will continue to do that for as long as I am able.  Sometimes it is my burden, but I am thankful to God for the fact that usually it is my responsibility.  One I accept without issue.

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How being the son of Holocaust survivors made me who I am

Yom HaShoah

 

 

 

 

 

 

As we approach Yom HaShoah and remember the 6 million Jews murdered by the Nazis, I can’t help but think about how being the son of 2 survivors helped make me into the person I am today.

In comparison to so many, I am a very lucky man.  I enjoyed having both my parents around till I was 45 when my 87 year old father passed away almost 8 years ago, and still have the blessing of a wonderful relationship with my remarkable 93 year old mother. Although they experienced their own brand of hell between 1940-1945 in Holland, they were fortunate enough that it did not reach a level that prevented them from moving forward and enjoying their life after the war.  Even with that said, the experiences of my parents made them who they are, which subsequently made me who I am, both for good and for bad.  But more significantly as I write this today, a day in which we remember those who did not survive, the deep emotions transferred to me and my siblings impacted every one of us.

Even when I was more moderate than I am today, I’ve never had tolerance for anything that resembled a lack of respect for Jewish life.  Of course as a normal human being I value all life, but I am always on the alert for any indication that the Jewish people are being attacked.  I won’t listen to Pink Floyd or Bryan Adams anymore.  I don’t like Tony Parker of the San Antonio Spurs merely because he once did the quenelle, a modern-day reverse Nazi salute in France, in a picture with a well-known anti-Semite even though he insisted he didn’t mean it to be anti-Semitic, and I almost got into a fight with someone at work who did the Nazi salute because he thought he was being funny.  He said he didn’t realize what it meant till his girlfriend told him later in the day.  That didn’t stop me from standing in his face and saying “never do that S#%#%t in front of me again.”

Don’t get me wrong.  I make no claims to be a tough guy, but my Dad of Blessed Memory was as tough as anyone, and my mother is one of the strongest people I’ve ever known.  I was raised by strong people who brought me up to be proud to be Jewish, and most relevant in this discussion, they always honored the 6 million.  As long as I can remember and as long as I was able to have a conversation I always knew about the 6 million Jews murdered by Adolph Hitler and Nazi Germany.  And I have always tried my personal best to honor them.

Never Again, a phrase that often stems from or leads to political discussion may be 2 of the most important words in my life, as I am sure it is to many reading this as well.  However today is not about politics, it is about remembrance and honor. Something I learned from my parents, and thank them for from the bottom of my heart, for in the process they made me a better person, one that often stops and realizes the Jewish souls once sacrificed, and the importance of never forgetting them.

 

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A 92 Year Old Survivor’s Perspective

dutch flagIT IS MY GREAT HONOR TO POST THE FOLLOWING PARAGRAPH WRITTEN BY MY MOTHER SIPORA GROEN

My heart goes out to the Dutch people.  It is a country who did so much for people in World War II.  As a survivor of the Holocaust and born in Amsterdam and saved by Dutch people they are the last who deserve such heartbreak.

Sipora Groen


A Descendant’s Pride

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When I first came up with the idea for this post my intention was to title it “My pride as a son”.  To be a little less self-centered I was going to change it to “A son’s pride”, after all I am not my mother’s only son.  But then I had to consider any daughter involved, and I was all ready to change it to “A child’s pride”.  But as the series of events unfolded just a few days ago, and I was blessed with my 9th Great Nephew/Niece, which subsequently means the mother I am referring to was blessed with her 9th Great Grandchild, I realized that limiting it just wouldn’t do it justice.  Henceforth, 2 days after the birth of the newest descendant of my mother Sipora Groen and my late father Nardus Groen, and as my mother gets ready to share her story before a crowd of people, I present you with this small but hopefully meaningful piece.

Knowing my mother as I do, I know that at no point as my mother sat holding her oldest son Marcel in her arms soon after his birth, did she ever dream that one day she would experience a 9th Great Grandchild.    But as one person wrote when reviewing the book “Jew Face” in speaking about my parents,   “Not only did they survive but they reinvented themselves and contributed greatly to post Shoah Jewish life”.

All of us, be it a son, daughter, grandchild, great grandchild or even long lost cousin, take great pride in where we come from and who we have close within our inner circle.  God willing, this beautiful little baby girl born just a few days ago will feel this same sense of pride and connection to the great sacrifices and strength shown by her ancestors, manifest so wonderfully in a 92 year old woman, my mother Sipora Groen, with an amazing desire and determination to let the world know her story.

Sometimes all you need to do to have pride is to look and to listen.

 

 


Do You Own the Book?

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The original purpose of Holland’s Heroes was to make people aware of the book “Jew Face: A story of love and heroism in Nazi-occupied Holland”.   The website has developed into a place designed to increase Holocaust awareness, address important issues of the day, and show the connection between the past and the present.

If you appreciate my writing, feel a connection to the Jewish people, or both, I urge you to read the book “Jew Face”.  Here is why.  In this book, the story of the experiences of my parents, Nardus and Sipora Groen in Holland between 1940-1945, I make every effort to convey a larger picture than that of what they experienced.  I was always taken by Steven Spielberg’s style in movies about eras in history.  In Amistad he tells the story of one trial as a basis to convey his take on slavery in America.  In Schlinder’s List he tells the story of Oscar Schindler as a basis to tell the story of the Holocaust.  What I attempt to do in the book “Jew Face” is use the story of my parents as a basis to tell the story of the Holocaust, specifically the story of what took place in Holland.

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What sets this book aside from many other Holocaust related stories is the positive and inspirational feeling one gets from reading about the strength and courage of a number of people, starting with my parents.  This book is without question a love story of two people who came together during the worst of times.   I am proud to say that my writing reveals the great love and respect I have for both my parents, my father of blessed memory who passed away on June 13, 2007, and my mother, who at 92 is Thank God, alive well, and someone who still provides love and support to so many, including me.

Are you inspired by courage and decency?  This book is for you.  Are you a romantic?  This book is for you.  Are you into history? This book is for you.  Are you Jewish?  This book is for you.  Are you reading this post? This book is for you.

I want people to know this story, and I can say with complete confidence that those who already have read it have been inspired and moved by the experiences of the people in the book.  If you like my writing style, thank you.  However the greatness of the book is in the people I was so honored to write about and would love to share with all of you.

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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.

Europe 1940 to Euro 2012

Whenever possible, Holland’s Heroes attempts to take current events and link it to the story in Jew Face.  Sometimes it is an obvious connection, sometimes it is a stretch requiring imagination, and occasionally it is a connection that in its insignificance is mildly entertaining and sometimes even funny or ironic.  This particular post falls into that last category.

Over the next 5 days the champion for Euro 2012 International Football(soccer) tournament will be crowned.  The semifinal matches are as follows.  Today, Spain against Portugal.  Tomorrow, Germany against Italy.

The book Jew Face is the story of my parents Nardus and Sipora Groen, primarily surrounding the events taking place between 1940-1945.  My mother’s maiden name was Rodrigues-Lopes.  A Dutch Jew from Spanish-Portuguese descent, my mother spent 5 years either hiding or running from the Nazi killing machine with the help of my father Nardus Groen.  This book chronicles the events that took place as they lived through the time when Germany occupied Holland.  One of Germany’s allies during World War II; Italy.

I think the irony is obvious.  The not so obvious question, seeing as these countries are very different countries today is, who would I like to see win this thing.  I will keep that answer to myself.  At least for today.