Tag Archives: World War II

During the Coronavirus crisis, the lives of Holocaust survivors can offer us some much needed perspective

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Make no mistake.  The Coronavirus is a serious problem and one that the larger percentage of people recognize as being something that needs to be taken seriously.  Everyone reacts to things differently and everyone is frightened by different things.  Some more than others.  Fear or lack thereof in a situation such as this one is not what distinguishes cowards from heroes. It is the actions in light of those fears that speaks more to a person’s character.  Part of my reason for saying that is because despite my relative lack of concern for my own well-being, my behaviors are more out of a communal sense of responsibility and decency towards others, I say without any degree of false modesty that I am no hero.  But my lack of panic or fear has made me ask why I feel this way.  Although there are many others who share my approach for different reasons, I believe mine comes from an education I received at home from a young age from my parents.

There is a difference between scaring people and giving them perspective.  I attempt to do the latter.  To consciously try to sensationalize and scare people at a time like this is not only destructive, it is unethical.  So the lessons I learned I pass on in the hope that it helps people deal better with this situation moving forward.

As someone who has studied and written about what my parents experienced in Holland between 1940-1945, I’ve learned to look at things more as they are than how I think they could be or how I would like them to be.  Yes, it is great to dream.  The best line from the movie Flashdance, in my opinion, was the line, “if you lose your dreams, you die”.  That being said, looking at things as they truly are and understanding the reality, is critical at a time like this.  So first I look at the aspect of isolation and the true extent of the discomfort or inconvenience that it causes.  Once when I was about 16 years old, I found myself depressed over the silly nonsense that is likely to depress someone of that age.  And back then, as someone who was living in London away from my parents who were in Holland, much of my communication with my parents was through written letters.  In one letter my father wrote to me one of the most poignant and helpful things he would ever share with me.  He told me that even though I may see my problems as not that large compared to “real” problems, since they were my problems they were the most serious to me.  I share that because that comfort and understanding given to me by my father, someone who had survived the Holocaust, needs to be understood by those who might say to you, relax, it could be worse.  Whatever it is you are going through today, and I hope and pray it stops short of health issues for you or your loved ones, it is your most serious problem.  But that still doesn’t have to stop any of us from using the experiences of previous generations as a perspective check, one that might just make it easier for us to handle during these difficult time.

I live alone.  I am not saying that out of self-pity or in search of attention.  I say that because I consider myself fortunate.  I have electricity, heat, running water, enough food, contact with the outside world, and as long as my actions do not put others in jeopardy,  freedom of movement.  I also say that because the isolation people are asked to apply to their lives, is, assuming people respect it and with God’s help, a relatively temporary measure.  So I look to a 16 month period of my mother’s life for perspective.  The last 16 months in Holland, at the end of World War II. During this time my mother slept every night in a small room underground and probably in a space no bigger than many  people’s bathrooms.  She had a candle and a bucket, and when the weather turned bad, rising water that she had to walk through and a damp unpleasant room that she slept in.  Every night, Lubertus te Kiefte, the righteous man who together with his wonderful and equally righteous wife Geeske, gave my mother a relatively safe environment and food to survive, would take my mother to the back of his workplace where he had built her this room.  Once she was in the underground, he would put sandbags on top of the entrance to hide the room’s existence.  This was necessary because on any given day the possibility existed that the Nazis would raid people’s homes.

We all would love to go to work, go to gatherings, eat at restaurants, go to school or pray in our houses of worship. I get it. But perspective helps.  And considering what my mother dealt with for 16 months in cold, dark and unhealthy conditions, conditions that when relieved were replaced with the constant fear of being caught by the Nazis, maybe those us who need a perspective check and are miserable over having to stay home in conditions that offer us most of our basic needs over a time period that has not even hit 16 days, need to consider what my mother experienced during that time.  But maybe most importantly we all need to know that, even with the losses she suffered and the pain she experienced, she went on to live to be 95, build a family, and other than missing her husband, my father, died a happy woman.

The uncertainty we feel, the feeling we feel is so devastating, I put into perspective by understanding, to the best of my limited abilities, my father’s 5 years in Nazi-occupied Holland.  Before the war my father was on track to live a life as a Judaic scholar. His knowledge of Judaism and his involvement in the community were the core of his upbringing. Then came the war, and a 5 year period in which he was an active member of the Dutch resistance and someone constantly on the move, living through that time with a false identity, and, for lack of any other way of saying it, putting his Jewish life on complete hold.  For 5 years. Let’s use that as a perspective check before we panic about having to put our lives on hold for 5 weeks or even 5 months.  Why? Because when the war was over, my father married my mother, became a Rabbi and went on to live a rich and fulfilling life.

Everyone has their stories.  Some worse than others, some better.  This is not a competition.  This post is not designed to belittle anyone’s pain or fear.  What it is meant to do is offer some added perspective. Not just as to how much worse things can get in life, but more importantly as to how we can not only move on, but if we are fortunate enough and resilient enough, maybe even restart the lives that we have.

I have often said that the basis for my personal happiness is the teaching from Pirkei Avot, Ethics of our Fathers, about who is a happy person.  It is someone who is happy with their portion.  That lesson has never been a more important one than it is today.  When things are going the way you would like them to go it is easy to be happy with what you have.  But during times of struggle and hardship, that teaching becomes even more important.  Look to what you have in life and be grateful for it.  Let it make you happy.  If that doesn’t work, than hopefully some of these lessons on perspective will.  The reality is what the reality is.  Your way of looking at it is entirely up to you.

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The Model of Evolving Totalitarianism

triumph_of_the_will_stadium_shotIt’s a stroke of genius. Identify what hits a chord with the population, and whether your words and images are factual or not, pound them into the psyche of the masses.  It’s a model used throughout the ages with more devastating consequences in the 20th century than any other. Most notably Hitler’s Nazi party which preyed on the economic misfortunes of the populace to assign blame to anyone they felt would stand in the way of their agenda, or even worse, use a scapegoat to rally strong support.  By the time throngs of people were shouting Heil Hitler, most of them were just spewing out structured opinions and no longer thinking for themselves.  Which is in many ways what it is all about.

Many people, whether they wish to admit it or not, feel comfort and security in allowing leaders to choose their path.  It’s the draw of religion.  A friend of mine once told me, people buy with emotion and then justify it with logic. Tyrants and dictators are selling a product, and when people are downtrodden and desperate they’re buying that product.  People who like their life may protest, and may even have opinions laced with hate, but they hardly ever commit acts of violence in the name of civil disobedience.  What Hamas is doing is following a model, and doing so with precision tactics.

Their biggest advantage is also their biggest deception.  They are not in it alone.  Backed by Iran, a nation that was taken over in 1979 by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, a man who used the same model to rally enough of a nation behind him to take over a government and start a global revolution, Hamas is a microcosm of a much bigger threat.  That bigger threat is one the world needs to be aware of, but won’t be as long as those most threatened appear to be mostly from one group. That one group is the same group initially targeted by Hitler.  The Jewish people.   Yes there were others the Nazis hated and persecuted almost immediately.  Homosexuals, gypsies, Poles, were all hated by Hitler, but from the start the Jews were the cause of everything bad in Germany.  They were called subhuman, a word that popped into my head earlier when seeing how the United Nations Human Rights Council showed its usual disregard  for the human rights of the inhabitants of the Jewish State of Israel.  But maybe they see Jews as subhuman too.  It just doesn’t support their current agenda to admit it.

The lesson of previous models, specifically of World War II should be obvious.  To some it is and yet they choose to disregard it.  To others, those caught up in the fervor of Hamas propaganda, they have bought into the mass hysteria often created by evil dictators, and in doing so they are doing what was done before, go after the scapegoat, which once again is the Jewish people.  Although it seems to be easy to let others think for you, they are making the same tragic mistake.  They do not see that which has always been the case when following this model, that the goal is world dominance.  Ultimately that means there is no room for any major group of people with different ways of thinking, as already evident by the way Christians have been brutally murdered in places like Iraq and Nigeria .

If the right people with the right amount of power wake up to the true dangers facing civilization, a full-scale World War III may be averted.  If they don’t, and continue to get caught up in the hysteria of lies and deception, civilization as we know it is in danger.  It’s that horrifying, that deep, that simple, and yes, just a matter of time.  Let’s hope people study the model and learn from history.


These things happened….

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These things happened,

The publishing of Ulysses by James Joyce;  The first swimmer crossed the English Channel; Calvin Coolidge became president; the first Winter Olympics took place; Charles Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic Ocean; Walt Disney created Mickey Mouse; Herbert Hoover became president; the Stock Market crashed;Penicillin was discovered; the planet Pluto was discovered; Empire State Building was completed; Amelia Earhart crossed the Atlantic; Adolph Hitler’s Nazi Party became ruling party in Germany; Social security was established; Golden Gate Bridge was opened; Japan invaded China; Germany annexed Austria; World War II;  Japan attacked Pearl Harbor; Atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki; 60 million people killed in World War II;  6 million Jews were killed by the Nazis in the Holocaust; Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier; the State of Israel was founded; United Nations was formed;  NATO was formed; Korean War; Elvis Presley; Polio vaccine created;  Disneyland Opened; JFK became President; I was born; Cuban Missile Crisis; JFK assassinated; The Beatles; Vietnam War; Star Trek series; first Super Bowl; Apollo 11 landed on the moon; Terrorists Killed Israeli Athletes at Munich Olympics; Watergate scandal forced President Richard Nixon’s resignation; the movie Star Wars; John Paul II became Pope; Iranian Muslim revolution; CNN was formed; AIDS discovered; Personal Computers were invented; Soviet Union collapsed; Apartheid ended; Nelson Mandela became president of South Africa; 2 different Bush’s became Presidents; Bill Clinton became president; the Euro currency was formed; 3,000 killed in 9/11 attack in New York; Iraq War; the Internet was created; Holland lost 3 World cup finals; Justin and Kim got married.

These things happened, in the 92 years between the birth of these 2 people, my mother Sipora Groen and my youngest family member and great-niece Jara.

If this doesn’t give you hope nothing does.


A 92 Year Old Survivor’s Perspective

dutch flagIT IS MY GREAT HONOR TO POST THE FOLLOWING PARAGRAPH WRITTEN BY MY MOTHER SIPORA GROEN

My heart goes out to the Dutch people.  It is a country who did so much for people in World War II.  As a survivor of the Holocaust and born in Amsterdam and saved by Dutch people they are the last who deserve such heartbreak.

Sipora Groen


Europe 1940 to Euro 2012

Whenever possible, Holland’s Heroes attempts to take current events and link it to the story in Jew Face.  Sometimes it is an obvious connection, sometimes it is a stretch requiring imagination, and occasionally it is a connection that in its insignificance is mildly entertaining and sometimes even funny or ironic.  This particular post falls into that last category.

Over the next 5 days the champion for Euro 2012 International Football(soccer) tournament will be crowned.  The semifinal matches are as follows.  Today, Spain against Portugal.  Tomorrow, Germany against Italy.

The book Jew Face is the story of my parents Nardus and Sipora Groen, primarily surrounding the events taking place between 1940-1945.  My mother’s maiden name was Rodrigues-Lopes.  A Dutch Jew from Spanish-Portuguese descent, my mother spent 5 years either hiding or running from the Nazi killing machine with the help of my father Nardus Groen.  This book chronicles the events that took place as they lived through the time when Germany occupied Holland.  One of Germany’s allies during World War II; Italy.

I think the irony is obvious.  The not so obvious question, seeing as these countries are very different countries today is, who would I like to see win this thing.  I will keep that answer to myself.  At least for today.


Congressional Tribute to Nardus Groen


[Congressional Record Volume 153, Number 112 
(Friday, July 13, 2007)]
[Extensions of Remarks]
[Page E1512]
From the Congressional Record Online through the 
Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]

                     TRIBUTE TO 
                 RABBI NARDUS GROEN

                      ______

                            HON. JOE SESTAK

                            of pennsylvania

                    in the house of representatives

                        Thursday, July 12, 2007

  Mr. SESTAK. Madam Speaker, I rise today to recognize and honor the 
life of a husband, father, grandfather, great grandfather, brother, 
son, veteran, and community leader--Rabbi Nardus Groen, who passed away 
on Wednesday, June 13 after living a full life of community service.
  Rabbi Nardus Groen was born in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, on 
December 18, 1919 and grew to become a hero and a family man. As a 
member of the Dutch Underground during World War II, Rabbi Groen was 
captured by German soldiers multiple times and heroically managed to 
escape each time. One particular act of heroism occurred in 1940 when 
Groen was guarding a Jewish hospital in the Netherlands during its 
evacuation. Although the patients had escaped, Groen was protecting a 
group of Jewish nurses as the Nazis approached. Selflessly, he slipped 
on a Red Cross arm band and escorted the nurses into a room. When the 
Nazis asked who was in the room, Groen explained that he was caring for 
patients with Scarlet Fever. Fearing the illness, the Nazis spared the 
Jewish nurses, including Groen's future wife, the former Sipora 
Rodriguez-Lopes.
  After World War II, Rabbi Nardus Groen served at Camp Lejeune, North 
Carolina under the American Marine Corps. Following his stint with the 
Marines, Groen worked as a psychologist at a Jewish orphanage for 
Holocaust survivors. He helped countless youths cope with one of the 
greatest tragedies in human history. Two years later, he began to serve 
as a rabbi at the oldest congregation in the Western Hemisphere in 
Surinam. Groen led a mixed Sephardic Ashkenazic congregation in Surinam 
until 1952 when he served as a rabbi in Einhoven, the Netherlands. He 
became one of the foremost leaders of his community, uniting two 
different cultures in one synagogue.
  Nardus Groen moved to Lansdale, PA as a renowned rabbi in 1963 where 
he served as Beth Israel Synagogue's rabbi for 13 years. He provided 
guidance and spiritual leadership to Beth Israel's community, helping 
his community grow to the vibrant Jewish center it is today. Groen 
moved back to Europe and retired in 1986 as the chief rabbi for the 
eastern six provinces of the Netherlands. He lived what he preached and 
will be remembered across the Netherlands.
  After his retirement, Rabbi Groen and his loving wife Sipora lived in 
the Netherlands and Delray Beach, Florida after his retirement before 
permanently settling in Florida in 2005. Rabbi Groen spent his last 
years as a loving father to Marcel Groen, Leo Groen, Ruben Groen, David 
Groen, and Debra Groen; a loving brother to Meyers Groen and Sophia 
Groen; a loving grandfather and great grandfather to twelve 
grandchildren and six great grandchildren; and a loving husband to 
Sipora Groen.
  Madam Speaker, I ask you to join me in honoring and remembering Rabbi 
Nardus Groen. Through his hard work, Rabbi Groen has spread hope across 
three continents and will be remembered as a strong leader, a caring 
mentor, and a true mensch.

Richard Dawson’s connection to Holland’s Heroes

Yes I said Holland’s Heroes.  But to those thinking I meant Hogan’s Heroes, you already have some understanding of his relevance.  Growing up I remember shows such as All in the Family and Sanford and Son being watched and enjoyed, but nothing ever seemed more popular than the spoof of Nazi Germany’s war machine known as Hogan’s Heroes.  Hogan’s Heroes is set in what is supposed to be a German prisoner of war camp during World War II.  ‘Stalag 13’ is where Colonel Hogan and his men used the cover of their incarceration as a base for underground activities against the German war machine.  The camp is run by Colonel Klink, an easily influenced, small-minded fool who believes everything he is told, especially when it is presented as self-serving, and Sargent Schultz, a lovable fool who would be a lot happier eating strudel all day than disciplining prisoners.  Colonel Hogan is joined by 2 fellow American soldiers, a French soldier, and an English soldier, played by Richard Dawson, Hogan’s second in command.  The charm in the show, besides being extremely funny, was that it did a perfect job of walking that fine line between making humor out of the most sensitive of subjects without crossing a line that made the show either painful or inappropriate.  In blatantly making fun of the Germans while never making light of the horrors that took place, the show brought just the appropriate amount of comic relief where one would think it otherwise impossible to do so.  On his passing, we recognize Richard Dawson’s contribution and present you with this clip from the show.