Tag Archives: Sipora Rodrigues

5 Passages to Bram: Passage 5: Sipora Groen

20170318_211713 (1)Sipora Katarina Rodrigues-Lopes Groen is the last installment in 5 Passages to Bram and is about Bram’s older sister who in many ways has grown larger in stature since her passing.  Part of that is due to her children who have taken solace and joy in telling her story,  while part may be something far less easy to explain and significantly more spiritual.

Born on January 1, 1922, Sipora, my mother, had what might be looked at as a few different lives.  Part of that story can be told in looking at her name. Although never a large percentage of the Jewish population in Holland, the Sephardic community was a very strong and a significant part of Judaism in Holland since the influx of Spanish-Portuguese Jews. In fact to this day, when speaking about Dutch Jewry, many of the worlds Jews speak of the “Esnoga”, The beautiful Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam.

With all the names I mentioned to start this piece, the simplicity with which my mother felt comfortable living her life can almost be seen by the fact that in her early years she was Sipora Rodrigues, and her later years she was Sipora Groen.  But to clarify, simplicity is often a sign of depth that reflects the character of a person focused on things far more important than what people call you.  This was the case with my mother.

I make no apologies for the bias in this piece, partially because of the words I have heard spoken about my mother during and after her life on earth.  She was the oldest of 2 children, her brother Bram born when she was approaching 3 years of age.  She was very close to Bram, a closeness that only got stronger when they lost their mother when Sipora was 13 and Bram was 10.  Despite the pain of being without a mother at such an early age, this very powerful loss was a pivotal event in her life, shattering her innocence early and helping her to acquire a strength that saw her through the rest of her life, a life that saw loss and devastation most of us could not fathom.

Engaged to Hans de Jong before the war, she would survive the war losing her fiance, her father, her brother and countless friends and relatives to the murderous Nazi war machine.  She would however come out with what in many ways was a new and redefined family.  The te Kieftes who hid her for 16 months would be like family for the rest of their lives,  as would their descendants for the rest of hers, and the man who would take it on himself to see to her safety, Nardus Groen, my father, would become her husband for over 6 decades till his passing in 2012.

Besides being a loyal wife and nurturing mother, Sipora was also a person of deep character and kindness.  She would care for people living through their last days and give a caring ear for people who needed someone to listen to them and share a lifetime worth of experience.  She  would redefine herself after Nardus died in a way most people would never have been able to, finding new ways to enjoy life, sharing her story with audiences in schools, synagogues and even prisons.  But what may very well have made her more special than anything else was the pure joy she had in being alive, a joy she shared with others in an inspirational manner.

My brother Marcel who has met presidents and movie stars referred to our mother as a rock star. She truly was a wonderful person to be around and had a character as strong and kind as anyone you will ever meet.  Since her passing on April 19th, 2017 it has remained important for me to honor her memory and legacy.  She is number 5 in this series because, well, for those of you who don’t yet know, you will certainly know next week, when I tell you the story of how I have been blessed to honor her memory and the memory of her lost brother in a way I could have never imagined.








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.