A few months ago, I wrote a piece about my father-in- law’s miraculous story of survival during the Shoah.
Yesterday, along with my husband, father and mother-in-law and my husband’s uncle we were able to witness the posthumous awarding of one of Israel’s highest civilian honors Yad Vashem’s Righteous Among the Nations award to my father-in-law’s benefactors, Willem and Janke Kolff.
To say the ceremony was moving, couldn’t even begin to cover it.
Waterproof mascara, just saying.
The most amazing part was not the awarding of the medal but hearing my father-in-law and the children of his rescuers recount their memories. Memories of playing together in the sandbox and accidentally finding silverware which was buried deep in the sand to keep hidden from the Germans and shouting in the house for their mother (and the whole neighborhood) to come look at the buried treasure they had found. Hearing my father-in-law, who at the tender age of 4 was separated from his parents, in his voice, shaky with the effort of holding back tears, remember a hug he received from his host mother and how much that one act of kindness in such a terrible time meant to him. And how more than 30 years after the war ended, he received a call in his dental practice from his benefactor, who had emigrated with his family to America in 1950, explain that he and his wife were in Amsterdam and she had a toothache, and asking if he could help. My father-in-law is a very quiet man, who doesn’t like crowds and doesn’t like to speak in front of people, but there was genuine joy in his eyes as he explained how much it meant to him to be able to alleviate her pain.
As I watched my husband blink back tears, it occurred to me, that without the Kolff’s and what they did, my husband might not be sitting next to me and our beautiful daughter might not be here. The life that I have now, my family are here because of the sacrifices and the collective conscience of these two people who took in my father-in-law and that the debt of gratitude they owe is mine to pay as well.
As I looked toward my husband’s uncle, born after the war’s end, and named for my father-in-law’s rescuer, I thought again, that through our tortured history, through all the humiliations, murder and persecution we suffered during the Shoah, there were many ordinary people who risked their lives and their children’s lives to try and save Jews. Not enough, of course, but that fact should never overshadow those who offered us light in those darkest of times.
‘Never Forget’ not only means remembering what was done to us, and not letting it happen again, but, it also means we should never forget, that even in the face of such hate, that there truly are those who will swim against the tide.