Tag Archives: Nazi occupation

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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A Letter to my Mother, A Survivor, on Holocaust Remembrance Day

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Dear Mom,

Normally I keep our most meaningful and personal interactions private.  After all, you are my mother and our conversations are not meant for the ears or eyes of others.  However, today as we remember those who perished in the Holocaust, in light of our most recent conversation I write this letter, a letter I will first read to you and then with your permission share with others.

There are some emotions so personal that there is nothing constructive nor appropriate in sharing them with others.  But when these emotions are generated by something so universally understood and accepted, sharing them is not only appropriate, it’s positive and even beneficial to make them known.  I write this only a few minutes after having spoken with you and having heard the deep sadness and emotion in your voice. As someone who lived in Holland through those horrific years of Nazi occupation, and being someone who lost loved ones, it is not only normal for you to feel as you do, it reflects a balance and sanity I dare say is partially responsible for the fact that you are still alive and well at 94.  I write this however to relay something positive that is most certainly lost on you as you partially relive and acknowledge the tragedy of 1940-1945.

You are not only important to those who love you.  You are important to the Jewish people and to all of civilization.  You, my mother who I love dearly are the symbol of strength, courage, decency, but most importantly on this day, survival.  You look at the book of names of the Dutch Jewish victims, more than 100,000 of what was once more than 140,000, many of them children, and ask why?  Why did they have to be killed? Why did you survive?  No one can ever answer the question of why they were killed, but I will venture to give an answer as to why you survived.

The life you have lived is a life that has been representative of hope and continuation. None of this has anything to do with with merit.  There are many who died who did not deserve it, as there were Nazis that survived who did not deserve life.  However, you have lived and thankfully continue to live a life in which you not only have given honor and respect to those who were lost, you also have made your days count. You together with Dad, of blessed memory brought a wonderful family into this world that continues to not only grow, but to contribute positively.  Your life and your actions are more of a sacred testimony and remembrance to the victims than any prayer you will say tomorrow in synagogue.

No one can ever change what happened, but your life as it has been and continues to be is everything it should be from someone who was fortunate enough to survive the Holocaust. I am honored to be your son and love you very much.

David

 

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Written by David Groen

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Holiday Gift Idea

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Anyone who reads my posts knows that at the bottom of all of them is a link on “How to Buy the Book”. I will not deny that although I do my writing for the love of the craft, I also use this opportunity as a means to subtly promote the book I wrote about the experiences of my parents.  As the holidays approach I am throwing any subtlety out the window.  Simply put, the book “Jew Face: A story of love and heroism in Nazi-occupied Holland”, is a great gift for both Hanukkah and Christmas.  And here is why.

First of all and somewhat unfortunately, the book has a greater relevance today than it would have had in previous years.  The importance of telling an inspirational story of Holocaust survivors has always been there, particularly with the existence of denial and hate all over the world, but with the significant growth of evil and anti-Seimitism in today’s world, being aware of what took place has never been more important.

That being said, this is not your typical Holocaust era book.  This is very much a love story, despite the seriousness of the subject an easy read, and a book that acknowledges in style and substance the fact that my parents were, in many ways, 2 of the lucky ones.  I always put it this way when I talk about it to others.  No one should ever have to go through what my parents did over the 5 year period between 1940 and 1945, but compared to so many others, they were very fortunate.  For the record, certainly by the time I was old enough to hear the story, they were very much aware of their good fortune.

My father, Rabbi Nardus Groen of Blessed Memory, was a great man.  He was not a perfect man, but he was a great man.  The courage and strength he exhibited during the Nazi terror was unlike that of most men. In the book I do my very best to tell the stories of his remarkable actions during this time as well as the astounding bravery and strength of my mother, Sipora Groen, who, less than a month from her 93rd birthday is still an inspiration and joy to all those who know her.  I often say that it seemed to me that the only thing that ever scared my father was being without my mother.

In the book I make a clear distinction between the good guys and the bad guys. The bad guys were the Nazis and anyone who cooperated or worked with them.  The good guys were everyone else.  Therefore the character flaws and occasional strained relationships existing among normal decent people are not on display in this book.  This is not a book about the good and bad qualities of decent people.  It is a book about the good and bad in humanity, and how despite the awful price our people and our world had to pay, how good ultimately won.

If you want to learn more or purchase an inspirational and relatively inexpensive gift for someone this holiday season, CLICK HERE.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!!!!!!!!

 

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The Letter I wish Robin Williams could have read

robin williams 660 1 reutersDear Robin,

It’s been a little over  3 weeks since our collective hearts were broken by your passing, and I feel there are things I would have loved to have told you if  I only had the chance.  I sat down to write this with so much appreciation for what you gave us that I was not even sure how to address the letter. Mr. Williams shows respect but I have the feeling no one was allowed to call you that.  I wanted to address it to the funny man up in heaven, but since I believe you want to be remembered as so much more than that, I ultimately decided on merely going with Robin.

It’s important that I begin by addressing your death.  Although most of those I speak with loved what you gave the world and feel sadness at your loss, there are some who are not as kind or tolerant, calling you a coward or showing anger at what they see as the lack of morality in suicide.  It is because of this that I wish to relay to you a story.  In the late 70s in the Dutch city of Arnhem there was a man, with a lovely wife and young teenage daughter who was so scarred from the events that took place during the Nazi occupation of Holland that he had lived much of his adult life with often debilitating mental illness. Although he was a man who was gentle and loving to his wife and daughter, his inner torment was so severe that he would occasionally explode in a verbal rage in public forums, most notably the local synagogue.  The Rabbi leading the congregation would see this on a regular basis, get to know the man and his family well, and rather than address something that could not be fixed, worked around it, making the man and his daughter as welcome as possible. Sadly the man’s inner rage caught up with him and one day the Rabbi received the horrifying call that was tragically somewhat inevitable. The man had taken a gun and shot himself dead.  In the Jewish religion, suicides takes away the rights to a proper burial and the proper etiquette of mourning.  However, fully aware of the mental condition of the man, and at least somewhat aware of the cause, the Rabbi made a decree that the man was not actually a victim of suicide but a victim of mental illness caused by the horrors of war.  The Rabbi, in my opinion admirably, made the distinction between someone who was escaping problems in his life or running from shame, from one finding freedom of an inescapable torment. As a result of this decree the man received the respect and honor anyone else would have received upon their death. Personally I always felt great admiration for the Rabbi’s decision on this matter.  It taught me so much about how to apply compassion when compassion is due, and it made me see suicide as something that is not ever a black and white issue.   I was always grateful for what the Rabbi taught me from his actions, especially since the Rabbi was my late father.

I know there are those who will argue that there is no comparison with what someone went through between 1940-45 in Holland and what you went through in your life.  Of course that is true and I am sure you would be the first person to say that.  The point I am making is not to compare the cause of the demons, but the actual demons themselves.  We can easily make a judgment as to whose life was worse, but we can’t make a judgment to who felt worse.  Your torment brought your life to a similar conclusion and although everyone is entitled to their opinion, that is the source of my personal compassion.

As far as who you were for so many of us I wish to tell you the following.  You made us happier.  As a fan of yours I go all the way back to the Mork & Mindy days.  I will never forget a classic scene, one I unfortunately can’t find anywhere online, in which “Mork”, played by you of course,  was holding a jar of ants, and someone, I believe Mindy said, “those ants are revolting”, in which Mork replied, “actually they’re quite happy with their present form of government. Look! They’re even dancing.”  It was not till later that I learned this wasn’t even a scripted scene. Apparently this scene, like many others on the show was ad-libbed by you.

When it came to your movies my 2 favorites were “The Fisher King”, a remarkable movie, one  I believe to be highly underrated, in which you play a vagrant whose life was tragically altered by a tragic loss.  And the second movie ironically is the beautiful movie, “What dreams may come”.  I say ironically, because this movie not only deals with the matter of suicide, but forgiveness for suicide as well.  I can’t imagine what impact it has on someone’s psyche to get into character for movies like these, but in both of these movies your performances were brilliantly moving and I suspect impacted you emotionally in one way or another.

I spoke with someone just yesterday who agreed that part of what made you so special was that so many of us felt a connection to you.  Everyone has those favorite entertainers they feel a connection with. What set you apart is the fact that millions felt that with you.  For what you were to us and the service you provided to us, you were admired and loved.  Unfortunately that love is a very superficial love and not nearly enough to chase away the demons that destroyed you.

I did not know your personal life, but by all accounts you had people close to you that loved you dearly as well. This makes what happened even more baffling and complicated.  I don’t dare to say I know why the pain you felt was so great, but I will share the theory I proposed to the person I was speaking about you to yesterday.  There are occasions when I am really on.  When that happens I am funny, sharp and personable.  I can draw on some of those qualities on command to some extent, some of the time, but to draw on all of those qualities at once I need the stars to align and to feel just right. Subsequently I can’t predict if and when it will happen.  It is my  guess that you were able to access all those qualities at a moment’s notice, and that therefore you never achieved the high regular people like I get when we do hit that peak.  You always hit that peak, which in an odd way may have given you less to look forward to.  Again, I don’t know this, but in knowing a little bit about who you were, I can’t help but wonder if that was a factor.

Then again maybe it is something as simple as wanting to be seen as more than the funny man or entertainer, maybe you wanted something deeper you could never find.  If that is the case the pain and suffering that ultimately took you from us is even more tragic.  Because in your professional brilliance, be it in comedy or drama, you brought so much to so many people that we all feel you deserved better.  And the personal attachments you had, so many of which seem to have been loving and close connections also didn’t succeed in bringing you the peace to go on any further.

In the past few months I’ve put out letters to a number of celebrities over the events taking place in the world today.  Events that are concerning at best, terrifying at worst.  The day you died I said, “at a time when we needed humor the most we lost the funniest man on the planet.”  Maybe that was a burden too hard for you to bear.  If that is the case I for one am sorry for the pressure that put on you.

I end this letter with an interesting and mystical thought.  As of yet I don’t know who if any of the celebrities I’ve written to have read my letters. However, somehow I feel that you will see this letter.  If you do I leave you with this.  Thank you, rest in peace, and please, when you get the chance, tell my Dad a joke.

Sincerely,

David Groen

 

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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.


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.