Tag Archives: Sipora 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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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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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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A Holocaust Survivor’s view on the relationship between US and Cuba

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I have the wonderful blessing of hearing my mother’s views on world affairs, and whether I agree with all her sentiments or not, the one thing that is certain, is that I always learn something.  My mother has asked me to put into writing her opinion on the recent events regarding the relationship between the United States and Cuba.

The phrase she uttered 3 times in the discussion was, “Hate for the sake of Hate”.  She drew the comparison to the nation of Germany. Germany, the country responsible for the murder of 6 millions Jews and the evil protagonist in both WWI and WWII, is now a respected and civil democracy.  It is a nation where people can live freely and peacefully.  The Jewish people are able to live there happily and with a few exceptions no longer are exposed to anything resembling the hate once found there.  Whatever hate they do have to deal with is not sanctioned by the government.  On the contrary, it is condemned by the government.

It is my mother’s belief that if we can turn the page on Germany’s history, we can certainly do the same thing for Cuba.    Her feeling is by no means that Cuba is a perfect country without issues needing resolution, but the reaction people have had to the normalization of relations is nothing more that “hate for the sake of hate”.

There is much evil in the world today.  My mother recognizes that and often fears that we are headed for another global catastrophe. However, she also maintains that the world’s problems are not coming from Cuba, and that in reestablishing relations with the island only 90 miles from the United States, we have a lot more to gain than we have to lose.

Agree or disagree, it is hard to argue with the almost 93 years of experience of a clearheaded,  intelligent and lucid woman.

 

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HOLIDAY GIFT IDEA

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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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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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