The B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem and Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael (KKL-JNF) held today, for the 15th consecutive year, a unique joint Holocaust commemoration ceremony on Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Day (Yom Hashoah). This is the only event dedicated annually to commemorating the heroism of Jews who rescued fellow Jews during the Holocaust. About 300 border patrol cadets—who provided an honor guard—and 300 students participated in the ceremony together with Jewish rescuers and survivors. The ceremony took place at the B’nai B’rith Martyr’s Forest “Scroll of Fire” Plaza at 10:00 a.m. Israel time.
This year, the ceremony was dedicated to the rescue efforts of Walter Suskind and the Jewish caregivers at the crèche (day care center) in Amsterdam. Suskind was one of the many Jews who escaped to Holland after the Nazis rose to power. He was hired as a manager at Unilever in Amsterdam, but lost his job because of the anti-Jewish laws the Nazis imposed after they occupied Holland in May 1940. He was appointed by the Jewish Council (established in 1941 by German orders), as director of the detention camp established in the former Hollandsche Schouwburg theater for Jews before deportation via the Westerbork transit camp to extermination in Sobibor and Auschwitz.
Conditions at the theater were inhumane and, in order to limit the commotion, the Nazis agreed to Suskind’s proposal that children under 13 be separated from their parents and placed in the children’s care center opposite the theater, which was operated by a team of Jewish caregivers. Taking great personal risks and exploiting his unique personality, talents and profound knowledge of German culture and mores, Suskind orchestrated a rescue effort of 600-1,000 children out of the crèche into the hands of four Dutch underground organizations. The care center administrator Henriette Henriques Pimentel, and a number of caregivers, Betty Oudkerk (18); Siney Kattenburg (19); Ines Cohn (18); and nurse Virgenia “Virri” Cohen (daughter of the Jewish council chairman) and Harry Cohen, utilized daring subterfuge to smuggle the children to members of the underground.
Most of the children were spirited out of Amsterdam and placed with Christian families in the north and south of Holland where they were kept safe until the war’s end. The children smuggled out of the crèche represent one quarter of the Jewish children who survived the Holocaust, but only about 10 percent of the 5,000-6,000 children who were confined at the care center over the course of its operation. The dangerous rescue operation was carried out in various ways, under the noses of the German guards. Children were hidden in backpacks and milk cans, and were taken from the center into the tram that passed between the center and the theater.
The escape was timed so that the exit from the care center was hidden by the tram and the smuggler boarded the tram to the central train station. Another successful method was to convince the Germans that the children needed some fresh air. Once they were outside, some children were removed in clever ways during the stroll. In all these cases, the meticulous records that were kept by the Germans had to be modified before the child was to be reunited with his parents at the theater prior to their deportation. Suskind ran the rescue operations during the two and a half years he was the manager of the theater. He, with four underground groups, and many of their operatives, received the title “Righteous Among the Nations” from Yad Vashem after the war. In addition to rescuing the children, Suskind facilitated the escape of adults from the theater itself, even though the place was more strictly guarded than the care center.
"We are gathered to take inspiration from a moving rescue story featuring Walter Suskind and the children’s home staff. The rescue episode at the crèche represents a unique example of cooperation between Jews and non-Jews in the face of the cynical Nazi murder machine. Like other episodes of Jewish self-rescue, this episode is characterized by courage, resourcefulness and dedication to the purpose of rescuing innocent lives. They wrote an admirable chapter in the annals of Jewish and human solidarity," said Haim V. Katz, chairman of the B’nai B’rith World Center.
At the beginning of 1943, the care center was extended to an adjoining house after the Jewish owners were deported to the camps. The expansion led to the fact that the care center was now adjacent to a Protestant seminar for teachers. Pimentel recruited the headmaster of the seminar, Johan van Hulst (later recognized as “Righteous Among the Nations,”) to assist in the rescue operations. The first transport left Amsterdam on July 15, 1942 to Westerbork from where 1,000 Jews were deported weekly to Sobibor and Auschwitz; 102,992 Jews were deported and only 5,200 survived. On July 26, 1943, Pimentel was deported along with 36 members of the staff to Westerbork. She was murdered in the gas chambers in Auschwitz. On Sept. 29, 1943, the Germans emptied the care center and on the following day—which happened to be Rosh Hashanah—the remainder of Dutch Jewry were deported to Westerbork including the members of the Jewish Council. Thanks to an early warning received from Suskind and the leader of the NV (Naamloze Vennootschap) underground organization, Joe Wartman, two of the largest smuggling attempts were undertaken. Although Suskind had the opportunity to go into hiding, he decided to join his wife and young daughter in Westerbork. They were transferred to Theresienstadt and then to Auschwitz, where they were all murdered.
Amsterdam was declared Judenrein (free of Jews) on Oct. 8, 1943. About 80 percent of Holland’s Jewry was murdered in the Holocaust; among them were Suskind and his family.
“The purpose of today’s ceremony is to stop, if only for a moment, our daily lives order to memorialize what these heroes did in the Second World War. We did not forget them. Their legacy must be kept in our hearts. This is a day of hope that there will always be people who will not be ready to watch from the sidelines as evil unfolds,” Dr. Racheli Kreisberg, innovation attaché at the Dutch Embassy in Israel and granddaughter of Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal said at the event.
Bert Jan Flim, grandson of Berend Jan and Gerarda Flim, son of Herman Flim (all “Righteous Among the Nations” recipients) and a Dutch historian focusing on the rescue of Jewish children in the Netherlands during the Holocaust attended the event.
At the end of 1942, a chance meeting took place in Amsterdam. A 17-year old German boy by the name of Hans Kinsbergen ran into an old acquaintance, 36-year old Walter Süskind. They knew each other from the German town of Giessen, where they both had lived during the 1930s. Kinsbergen now lived with his mother and stepfather in Amsterdam. Their house had become a center of the NV. Süskind was desperately looking for ways to let at least some of these children escape and hide them with foster families. Kinsbergen could provide just that, and other resistance groups joined in. The Amsterdam students regularly collected children from the nursery and brought them to hiding places in the north and south of the Netherlands. The Trouw-group took children from the nursery and hid them anywhere they could. In the end, about 600 Jewish children were smuggled out. The Jewish personnel in the nursery and the Hollandsche Schouwburg theater had to work under incredible strain. Very young nurses, like Sieny Kattenburg and Betty Oudkerk, hid babies under their skirts or in backpacks. Both are now in their nineties and are always ready to tell the tale. Süskind’s right hand man, Felix Halverstad, doctored the German administration while Süskind himself fed alcoholic drinks to the German command.
Benjamin Peleg (Flesschedrager), survivor of the crèche said: "I was born over 70 years ago, during the war, while Jews were being deported every day to Westerbork on their way to extermination in Nazi death camps. Only a relatively small number of Dutch non-Jews and Jews acutely resisted the extermination of the Jews was one of those children who was saved; when I was ten days old I was spirited out of the crèche into the hands of the Dutch underground. I was raised in the shadow of the Holocaust without knowing my parents where were murdered in the death camps. My memory begins when I was told on my 10th birthday that my biological parents had died."
“In addition to honoring those who were murdered, Holocaust Remembrance Day provides an opportunity to memorialize the actions of thousands of Jews who, under impossible conditions, endangered themselves to rescue other Jews during the Holocaust, in various unimaginably sophisticated and courageous ways. They took the chance—and in many cases succeeded—in upsetting the Nazi plan to exterminate all Jews on the European continent and ensured their survival. These activities serve as source of inspiration and price for all the Jewish people and a shining example of Jewish and human solidarity," said Danny Atar, KKL/JNF World chairman.
“The difficulty of understanding the essence of the Holocaust for those who were not present, led to the stories of Jewish rescue and their bearing on the Jewish future being ignored. The public learned to develop adoration for the Partisans and Ghetto Fighters and none considered that Jewish rescuers ensured the survival of many more Jews than those saved through armed struggle," said Daniel Brand.
During the ceremony, a “Jewish Rescuers Citation” was posthumously conferred by the Committee to Recognize the Heroism of Jewish Rescuers During the Holocaust (JRJ) and the B’nai B’rith World Center on 12 Jewish rescuers from Greece, Poland and Hungary. Since the establishment of the Jewish Rescuers Citation in 2011, 169 heroes have been honored for rescue activities in Germany, France, Hungary, Greece, Slovakia, Yugoslavia, Russia, Poland and Holland.
The Martyr’s Forest is the largest joint B’nai B’rith and KKL-JNF project, which memorializes the victims of the Holocaust with 6 million trees planted in the picturesque Jerusalem mountains near Moshav Kesalon. At the pinnacle of the forest stands the “Scroll of Fire,” created by renowned sculptor Nathan Rapoport, which invokes the destruction of the Jewish people in the Holocaust and their redemption in the State of Israel. The event will commence with personal testimonies by Holocaust survivors to classes of soldiers.
The phenomena of Jewish rescue and the instructive stories of thousands of Jews who labored to save their endangered brethren throughout Europe have yet to receive appropriate public recognition and resonance. Many who could have tried to flee preferred to stay and rescue others; some paid for it with their lives. With great heroism, Jews in every country in occupied Europe employed subterfuge, forgery, smuggling, concealment and other methods to ensure that Jews survived the Holocaust, or assisted them in escaping to a safe place, and in doing so foiled the Nazi goal of total genocide against the Jews. The organizers of the ceremony view it as especially important to expose Jewish youth to Jewish rescue during the Holocaust as a model for Jewish solidarity and courage.
For further details, please contact: B’nai B’rith World Center Director Alan Schneider at 052-5536441 or firstname.lastname@example.org