Tag Archives: Sipora Rodrigues-Lopes

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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5 Passages to Bram: Passage 2:Marcel & Deborah Rodrigues-Lopes

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As a child growing up I knew different things about the families of both my mother and father.  Over the next 4 weeks as I write these brief posts in the series “5 Passages to Bram”, my intention is to keep it more personal than specific.  When it comes to my mother’s parents, Marcel and Deborah Rodrigues-Lopes, most of what I have to offer is personal.

My mother would always speak warmly and affectionately about the mother she lost when she was a child of only 13. She spoke of her mother Deborah as being a soft and gentle woman, loving and kind. That softness was passed on to both her children, but in many ways even more so to her son Bram, and the gentle kindness was passed on more to her daughter, my mother Sipora.  Although there is an undisputed sadness in her life being cut so short due to an illness very treatable in today’s world, some might say she was fortunate not to have to witness what would take place in Holland only 5 years after her death.  Her husband Marcel was very much in love with her, and my mother would often say that after her passing he was a different man.  A fact that would be easy to understand given the fact that she was taken from them at the young age of 35.    Her passing left a 13 year old Sipora with greater responsibilities than most see at that age, including a significant impact on the everyday life of her little brother Bram, a young boy of only 10.

Marcel Rodrigues was one of those men with a lot going for him.  He was youthful, athletic, handsome and accomplished in business.  I never once heard my mother challenge whether or not he loved his children, but it was clear that he was never the same after his wife Deborah passed away.  Even with that he was a man that by his very nature wanted to make the most of life, a quality I believe he passed on to his daughter Sipora.  An avid soccer player and traveller, he loved his children dearly, looking for ways to protect them when things were at their worst.  Willing to face the bitter reality, he wanted to do whatever necessary to get them to safety after the Nazi onslaught.  Sipora chose to stay in Amsterdam at the hospital where she worked and had the help and support of her relatively new friend and later to be husband and my father Nardus, while Bram would go with his father in an attempt to escape Holland through Belgium, only to picked up at the border and taken to their death in Auschwitz.

My mother honored her parents throughout her life.  May their memory be blessed.

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A correction has been made to the previous post in which I referred to my paternal grandmother as Marjan.  Frankly, I know I did not make up the spelling of Marjan, subsequently knowing I did get it from somewhere and or someone connected to her history, but in looking up the Yad Vashem archives she is referred to as Marianne.  I have made the correction in the post and thank my cousin Bettie for bringing it to my attention.

 


Yet Again, From the Ashes…..

In a day and age where the most popular stories tend to involve scandal, hate, and violence, I am happy to offer a positive story of renewal, hope, and the re-connection of a family.

For those of you who have read the book Jew Face, you will know of the story of my mother’s favorite childhood cousin David van Hasselt.  For those of you who have not yet read it,  when my mother, born Sipora Rodrigues-Lopes was 13 years old, her mother passed away of natural causes. With a father who was a young man and somewhat lost with the premature loss of his wife, and a younger brother in need of guidance and love, much of the weight of the world fell into Sipora’s lap.  The people who would provide love and support to the family would be critical to the household and in many ways would be the key to emotional survival.  One of the main people to provide this support to Sipora would be an energetic and personable young man, her cousin David van Hasselt.  It was during this important time in Sipora’s life that David would achieve that special status of favorite cousin.

With the brutal and vicious Nazi war machine occupying Holland in May of 1940, the future of the Jewish people quickly would become bleak.  The method used to eliminate the Jewish population and to instill terror and establish control however was gradual and methodical.  The first major activity against the Jewish people of Amsterdam would take place in February of 1941 when  the shooting of a Nazi official was made to look like the act of a Jewish male and would subsequently lead to the arrest of anywhere from 300-500 young Jewish men.  The men would all be deported to Mauthausen Concentration Camp in Austria where they would be murdered or made to work under the worst conditions until they died a horrific death.  One of the men was my mother Sipora’s cousin, David van Hasselt.  Although the memory of David would always live in Sipora’s heart, with his death and the subsequent Holocaust which took the lives of 104,000 Dutch Jews, an estimated 75% of the Dutch Jewish population, Sipora would be left with nothing but a memory of the cousin she loved so much.

Fast forward to April 2012 with the release of the book Jew Face, the book I had the great honor to write about my parents’ life primarily revolving around their experiences taking place from 1940-1945 in Nazi-occupied Holland.  In the beginning of October I received an email from a man in Holland named Ron van Hasselt.  Although in his own words there is some significant distance in the relationship to my mother and our family, he is nevertheless connected.   Ron, also an author of a book relating to experiences of his family during the Nazi’s occupation, has been active in finding family, be it close or distant.  His book, a Dutch language book entitled “De Oorlog Van Mijn Vader”, means “The war of my father”.  His website is in Dutch but with the use of Google translate can be read in English and found by going to the link http://www.deoorlogvanmijnvader.nl/.

Ron, being the tremendous researcher that I have now begun to learn that he is, googled David van Hasselt, found my book Jew Face, and subsequently located both me and my mother.  He went on to discover her close proximity to his relative Vincent and forwarded him the information.  Who exactly is Vincent van Hasselt?  Vincent is the son of Edward van Hasselt, who was David van Hasselt’s brother and another one of my mother’s cousins.  All this leads us to the picture you see in this post.  It is my mother Sipora Groen, standing next to Vincent, the nephew of her favorite childhood cousin David van Hasselt this past Sunday after they met each other for the very first time.  Although the surviving family members lost contact after the war, through Ron van Hasselt’s successful efforts, and the writing of the book Jew Face, I am happy and proud to say that long-lost family members have begun what will hopefully be a meaningful and joyous reunion.  Of all the possible achievements I hoped for in writing the book, none has been more special than this one.   Not only has it bought joy to a family reunited, but it has helped keep alive the memory of my mother’s lost cousin.

Yet again, from the ashes, the family grows.

 

 

The following is an excerpt from the book Jew Face.  It is titled “A lost cousin” and tells the story of David van Hasselt:

A Lost Cousin

 After her mother died, five years prior to the occupation, Sipora would find solace in whatever support she could from close friends and family. Everyone meant well, and there were people who came by the house often, but between the tough economic times and the fact that people had their own families to attend to, it was difficult for most to come see her, her brother, and her father on any consistent basis.

Sipora was always well mannered and gracious and always showed the appropriate appreciation toward anyone who helped her or her family. Like anyone else, though, Sipora had her favorites. These were the people whose visits brought genuine joy. One such person was her cousin David van Hasselt.

David wore that special mantle of favorite cousin. He had been a regular visitor in their household for years and had every intention of coming at least as often, if not more, after the untimely passing of Sipora’s mother. Sipora loved his visits. He would make her laugh; he would talk with her about music, art, ice skating; and he would even help her with her schoolwork from time to time. Whenever he would visit, it would be the highlight of her day.

After her mother died, Sipora needed anything that made the day a little special. At the young age of thirteen, Sipora had household responsibilities thrust upon her most often given to women at least five years older. Her life at a young age was not easy. Her cousin David was a special friend.

David van Hasselt was a bright, funny, strong young man, who at the outbreak of war in Europe had made the decision to join the Dutch army. On May 15, five days after the Germans attacked,the war was over in Holland. With the Nazis steamrolling through Holland and Belgium and bearing down on France, the Allies planned a defensive assault on Dunkirk, France. If nothing else, it was an attempt to slow down, if not halt, the German juggernaut. So it was on May 24, 1940, fourteen days after the war had begun and nine days after the war was over in Holland, that David van Hasselt was amongst the Allied troops confronting the Nazis in what would be a failed attempt at any sort of conquest.

Although the mission at Dunkirk was a failure, a total disaster was averted when Nazi leadership chose to delay any counterattack for three days in an effort to maintain solid control of its forces. This gave most of the Allied forces time to regroup and evacuate to England.

David, however, chose to go back to his hometown of Amsterdam rather than follow the other soldiers to England. Having all his family and friends in Holland, David felt that the only correct choice for him would be to go back home and be with the people he cared about.

Meanwhile, the Nazi occupiers of Holland, who until now had taken no action against the Jewish population, were getting geared up to make their first raid against what they saw as this inferior race. They planned to hit in the heart of the Jewish community of Amsterdam, sending troops to Rapenburg Street in the center of the Jewish ghetto. Their orders were to pick up between 300 and 500 young, healthy Jewish men for deportation. They wanted to create immediate fear and doubt in those who were most able or likely to oppose them in future attacks, while fabricating a claim of an imposing threat.

David was not a resident of the Jewish ghetto, but a number of people that he was close to did indeed live there. One such person was his sweetheart, who he would visit on a regular basis. The past few weeks had been better times for David than any he had seen since before the war. He had enjoyed the time with his parents, caught up with his best friends, and now was on his way to Rapenburg Street to see his girl. They had been discussing their plans for the future, and although things were not looking very good for Europe as a whole, life had to go on, and being with her was the only way David wanted it to be at this time. They had considered going to England together in the assumption that things on the Continent were going to get worse before they would get better. They had discussed it many times and hoped that if it was necessary, they would be able to leave together.

On February 22, 1941, as David was walking on Rapenburg Street, he heard what sounded like screaming and fighting. When he turned the corner, he saw a mob of what looked like a thousand people; the majority was the Grune Polizei (Green Police). He knew he could do nothing and was considering turning around or hiding. But it was too late. They had already seen him.

Sipora’s favorite cousin was one of those taken away to Mauthausen in the raid of February 1941. David did not make it out, and would spend the next 7 months in the concentration camp before a report came back saying that he had died. When Sipora’s uncle learned of his son’s demise, he knew he needed to let his daughter know about her brother’s fate. However, being that his wife was no longer with him, he would have to tell her alone. This was something he could not do. He needed the help of someone close to him, and he needed it to be a woman. So he asked Sipora to help him. Sipora, at the age of nineteen, was already experiencing more death than most people would by that age. The lessons she learned at a young age would help see her through even more difficult times and teach her in many ways how to transfer that strength to the people close to her. However, as the war broke out, the first feeling for her, as it was for so many, was terrifying despair. And to have to break the news of the death of someone she loved so much to another relative she was so close with was in itself a horror she had not yet experienced. Especially considering the circumstances, or at least as much as she knew about the circumstances surrounding his death.

David van Hasselt: Murdered September 16, 1941, Mauthausen.


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. 


August 13, 1943

69 years ago today was Friday August 13, 1943.  In Holland this was a time when as a Jew, if you were fortunate enough to still be alive, your life was in constant peril.  If you did not look Jewish you still needed to have a false identity and what was perceived as a benefit or purpose to the Nazi occupiers. The Jewish institutions were being systematically depleted and destroyed with the ultimate goal of total extermination.  The NIZ, the hospital where my mother lived and worked as a nurse, had reached that point where the final raid was upon them.  As a young pretty woman who was clearly Jewish and one who had seen her whole world turned upside down, Sipora Rodrigues-Lopes was on the verge of giving up.  She would find the strength and with the support of Nardus Groen would find her way out of the NIZ.

In many ways their story takes on its greatest significance on this day, August 13, 1943, a day when their connection became strong and their travels began.  The following is the books Prologue and shows the events of this fateful day.

PROLOGUE
The date was Friday, August 13, 1943, and it felt like the worst moment of Sipora’s young life. She knew that the Germans were in the building and getting closer to finding her. She had already been through so much and she knew that the situation was going to get a lot worse before it got better. Her will to live was being taken over by despair. She was not the type of woman who would ever do anything to speed up her own death, but she also did not feel like running or fighting. So she decided that she would just wait on the third floor and when the Nazi soldiers located her,
she would willingly leave with the rest of the patients and hospital staff . At least then she felt as though she could do some good by making the sick and elderly patients a little more comfortable.
Nardus, however, had no intention of allowing this to happen. As had been the case since the beginning of the Nazi invasion of Amsterdam, he instinctively knew that whatever Jews were not murdered instantly would instead suffer greatly through torture, experimentation, rape, or brutal slave labor. Since he found Sipora before the soldiers did, he knew he had to get her out. And to a man like Nardus, it did not matter what Sipora thought of this idea. It was going to happen his way. And that was that.

When Sipora saw Nardus, she had already sunk so deep into
hopelessness she wasn’t even able to feel any sense of relief. And she was determined to let him know. “I am just going to wait here and let them take me too,” she told Nardus.

“They will need a nurse for the trip. If nothing else, I can make
them feel more comfortable.”

Some moments define an individual, and other moments can define a relationship between two individuals. In many ways, what was about to take place would define much of Nardus and Sipora’s relationship. True to his nature, Nardus was not suggesting or asking what would happen next. What he was doing was telling Sipora what would happen next.

“I’ll tell you what,” he said in his straight-to-the-point manner, “since you are going to your death anyway, and that is your plan, I will throw you out the window right now myself. At least then you will die quickly. Either way you will die.”

Sipora was crying now. “What’s the point?” she said. “There’s no hope. My family is gone; your family is gone. They’re even taking sick and old patients from here and transporting them out of the city.”

Knowing that he needed to remain calm and in control, Nardus made it very clear to Sipora what was to happen next.

“Get up and let’s get out of here. We will find a way to survive this. All you have to do is trust me and listen to what I tell you to do.”
Although what she was experiencing felt like hell, Sipora was at least able to move now. What made the difference was that someone else, someone she was growing to trust more and more by the day, was taking control and leading her in what at least felt like a better direction.

Neither Nardus nor Sipora had any idea what was to come next, but it did not matter. The only thing that mattered now was that Nardus would never allow either one of them to just sit and wait to be killed. At this moment, which signified all the drama, horror, and significance of the times they were living through, these two people were thrust together in a way that set the tone for all that was yet to come.


More Tastes Of The Book

With the release of the book “Jew Face: A story of love and heroism in Nazi occupied Holland” imminent, I will be putting up photographs daily that pertain to important events and stories from the book. The book is the story  of my parents, Nardus and Sipora Groen mainly during the period between 1940-1945. Today’s pictures are of Nardus Groen in 1945 as a Dutch Marine attached to the US Marines in Camp Lejeune and then Sipora Rodrigues Lopes in 1943 when working as a nurse in Amsterdam.