Tag Archives: Nardus Groen

An Angel Departs

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I sit here today writing what is without  question the most difficult thing I have ever had to share with you. This morning, my beautiful and loving mother Sipora Groen passed away peacefully in her home in Florida.  She was the most remarkable person I’ve ever known.  Her love of life was inspirational to everyone who knew her. When my father died 10 years ago, my mother lost her partner in life of more than 60 years.  She mourned him when he left her and remembered her for the remainder of her life, but rather than let her life wither away she reinvented herself and lived a full life till the very end.

I started Holland’s Heroes to honor those whose strength and character helped keep the Jewish people alive after the devastation of the Holocaust. There were soldiers that fought the Germans, member of the resistance such as my father who battled the evil whenever possible, the martyrs murdered by the Nazis, and the survivors that rebuilt their world. No one exemplified that last group better than my mother.  With the loss of her father, brother, fiance and either running and hiding from the Nazis or witnessing their evil for close to 5 years, my mother, together with my father, the man who helped her through that awful time,  went on to build a new life rich with 5 children, 12 grandchildren and 10 great grandchildren.

My mother lost her mother when she was a young child of 13 and with the war and its horrors of 5 years lived a life filled with the saddest and most terrifying of memories. Despite all of that she was a woman filled with joy, enthusiasm, optimism, and most of all, love.  But she was also a woman who slept with nightmares.  She experienced everything life had to offer with the exception of one thing, and that was what she is finally experiencing today, as the nightmares end, and that is the peace she deserves so much.

Sipora Groen was loved by everyone who knew her, being called Mom and Oma by countless people who were thrilled to have her in their lives.  What I and my siblings have lost today can never be replaced, as God has opened up his doors for the angel that is my mother.  I have been so truly blessed to have the love and to have loved this wonderful woman, and today this world has lost a true hero.

In the past 10 years she has enjoyed most of what her life had to offer, always missing just one thing, and that was the man she loved, my father, Nardus Groen.  Today they are reunited and my Mom is finally at peace.  I love you Mom and always will.

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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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What would my Father have thought of the World today?

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Today my father would have been 96 years old.  He passed away on June 13, 2007.  Although many of the challenges we face today were already in place or developing back then, the world naturally changes over the course of time and I can’t help but wonder, and for the sake of this piece speculate, what he would have thought about what is taking place in our world today.

The hardest thing for me to speculate on is how he would have felt politically.  Although my father was staunchly supportive of Israel, I wonder to what extent it would have impacted his vote.  I don’t believe any supporter of Israel is entirely pleased with how President Obama has been towards Israel, but I do wonder if my father would have supported the candidates of today that support Israel while taking very conservative stances on other issues.  I am not saying my father was a Liberal per se, but he was remarkably open minded when it came to political issues and generally voted Democrat.  That being said he also formed many of his own viewpoints and was not influenced by the media in the way so many others are today.  If I had to guess, I think he would have waited to see who was running in the general election and then would have picked whomever he felt was the best of the 2, or maybe 3.

I believe he definitely would have been outspoken about the dangers facing us from Muslim extremism and would often have referenced the 5th Column, those who were Nazi collaborators living quietly in Holland before the war waiting patiently and helping the German war machine with deceptive infiltration.  I don’t think he would have supported Donald Trump’s views because he was not one for absolutes on issues like this, but I also know he would have had no trouble clearly stating the threat facing the world.  Just as my mother feels today, my father most likely would have seen similarities to Europe in the late 30s.

I am sure he would have been glued to CNN and FOX, just as he often was back then and would not have missed any of the debates.  I think he would have been more amused by Trump than concerned, but I also don’t believe he would have supported him.  I’m not sure how he would have felt about Hillary Clinton, but I am fairly certain he would have come up with an original thought and would not have merely repeated what the media feeds us, be it good or bad.

I believe he would have been very realistic and pragmatic about the seriousness of the problems facing us today, but I don’t think he would have had a doomsday attitude, instead an attitude that we needed to take a very different approach towards events unfolding or we would be in very big trouble.

Lastly, although I think he would have been disappointed in the direction the world is going, I think his approach towards history would have given him a certain degree of optimism not shared by everyone.  After all, if the world survived the evil of the Nazis, there is a reason to  believe it can survive the evil of today, maybe and  hopefully without the same degree of devastation and suffering as we saw during Hitler’s tyranny.

I wish I knew what he would have thought, and certainly he would have been proud of me in someone way, but instead today I just remember him and try to imagine what he would have thought.

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Inspirational Interview with 92 year old Holocaust Survivor, Sipora Groen

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For those of you looking for inspiration, hope, and valuable life lessons, the following is a radio interview with my mother, Sipora Groen discussing her experiences as a Dutch Jewish woman in Holland during the Nazi occupation together with my father, Rabbi Nardus Groen of Blessed Memory. I’m in the interview from time to time as well, but the show is worth listening to because of the stories and accounts given by my mother.  I would like to thank my good friend Richard Solomon for putting us on his show “Taking Care of Business”, Click here to learn more about TCBRadioWCWP, with honorable mention and thanks to Richard’s brother and my friend Paul Solomon.

CLICK HERE TO HEAR THE INTERVIEW WITH SIPORA GROEN.

 

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Happy Birthday to a Woman of Valor and My Mother

9781468573909_COVER.inddPICCSince my first post in Holland’s Heroes, my writings have included articles about the Holocaust, information about Dutch Jewry leading up to and during the time of Nazi occupation, essays of current events, videos, and tributes to special people, either living or passed on.  Till now my most important, meaningful, and emotional tribute was remembering my father on the anniversary of his passing in June.  What I write today holds a special meaning unlike any I have written till now, for it is about someone incredibly special, inspirational to so many, and thankfully still strong enough and healthy enough to be able to hopefully appreciate and enjoy what I am writing in her honor.  The tribute is to my mother, Sipora Groen, on her 91st birthday, today January 1, 2013.

To begin, making it to 91 with a strong and healthy body coupled with a mind sharper than many half the age, is in itself a remarkable accomplishment.  I learned many years ago that although it takes God’s blessing to live a long life, it is still to be seen as an accomplishment in and of itself.  The responsibilities of life, the heartbreak, the illness, and life’s various struggles, all take a toll on an individual as they reach this more advanced age.

Now let’s look at this particular individual, my mother, Sipora Groen.  Born on January 1, 1922, she lost her mother when she was a young child of 13.  She took care of her younger brother and held responsibilities around the house most women are not given till they are at least 5 years older.  When the war broke out she was engaged to be married and studying to be a nurse.  Little did she know her life would be turned upside down and go a different direction than she had ever dreamed.  The Nazi destruction of the Dutch Jewish community would claim the life of her father, her brother, her fiancé, and numerous friends and family.  It would also thrust her together with my father, Nardus Groen, who fell in love with her and took it on himself to do whatever possible to see her safely through these horrible times.  His bravery and resourcefulness would be part of what would save her life, but equally if not more important, her inherent strength and incredible courage over the 5 years of occupation, allowed her to live on and build a life together with the man who had fallen deeply in love with her, and she had learned to love and appreciate in the hardest of times.

I have often said that my father saved my mother’s life during the war, and that my mother saved my father’s life every day after the war.  Strength is impossible to measure, but it is possible to recognize different types of strength.  What makes my mother’s strength so remarkable is that it is natural.  So many of us access our most inner soul at the hardest of times and utilize whatever strength we are fortunate enough to find.  We need to be strong and we try to be strong, sometimes with greater success than others.  My mother is strong every day of her life.  It is what allowed her to not only survive the war, but to do so with her sanity.  It is what allowed her to be the matriarch and cornerstone of a new family now almost 30 strong, and it is what makes it possible for her to read this post, or as is my hope, have it read to her on her birthday.

If it is even the slightest bit of a mystery to someone reading this how much I love and respect my mother, you have not read the book  “Jew Face”.  My feelings for both my parents are extremely obvious in my writing, and for this I make no apology.  Instead I say today, on my mother’s 91st birthday, thank you Mom for being an inspiration, a pleasure to have around, a friend, a grandmother, a great-grandmother, but most of all for me, a wonderful mother.  I write this knowing that what I say is a sentiment I gladly share with everyone else who calls her Mom, and hope to be able to say this till she reaches the age of 120.

And for those on Facebook and any other social media reading this, I ask you to give my mother a special birthday gift by posting this article on your timeline so that the people you call friends are aware of this remarkable woman and have the opportunity, if they so wish, to learn about her remarkable life as I portrayed it in “Jew Face”.

Happy Birthday Mom.  I love you.


Remembering My Father

dadc193 years ago today in Rotterdam, Holland, my father Nardus Groen was born.  His life was one filled with substance, meaning, and love.  I remember him fondly and miss him often.  Despite what one might take from the book “Jew Face”, I was aware of my father’s faults.  Every human being is flawed and my father was no exception.  However, one of the things I witnessed from the time I was a child, was that he never spoke one bad word of his parents who were murdered in Auschwitz.

My father was a great man.  I say that with certainty and pride.  He was principled, strong, ethical, and loving.  I often wonder if he would have liked the book “Jew Face” and my portrayal of his life.  I have often said that the greatest joy for me in writing the book was that in writing it I felt as though I got to know my parents as young adults.  My father never was able to confirm if that feeling of mine was justified, but it is one that I keep with me and cherish.

To use more modern vernacular, when looking at my father in the most difficult of times, my father was a bad ass.  He claimed in later years that he often felt fear, but his actions during the worst of times showed a behavior that showed otherwise.  The hardest thing for me as his son has always been the feeling that I have never been close to being the man that he was.  But then again, many never will be.

He was proud of who he was, and as a Rabbi he tried to use his understanding and extensive knowledge of Judaism to help and teach others, Jew and non-Jew alike.  The debate on what makes one truly religious is an endless one, but in my eyes and the eyes of many others, my father was indeed very religious, even if somewhat unconventional in practice.

He loved my mother, his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren very much. No one has ever perfected the art of showing that love, my father being no exception, but to this day his love is never questioned.  Together with my mother, who God willing turns 91 in 2 weeks, a new world sprung forth of decent and loving people who do them both proud.

So today, on what would have been my father’s 93rd birthday, I remember my father, Rabbi Nardus Groen, with love and respect, and hope that some of what I have done this past year has helped part of the world know why.


Remembering an Uncle

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.