March 31, 2005

Dutch women named ‘Righteous Among Nations’

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Staring certain death straight in the face, the 18-year-old Dutch teen did not flinch. It was 1943 in Nazi-occupied Holland, with the Nazi deportation of Dutch Jews in full swing.

In a rural farm in south-central of the country, Hilde van Straten-Duizer stood facing a group of German soldiers who were searching her mother’s home for any Jews who were in hiding.

After completing a thorough search of the entire house, the teen knew where the ever-so-thorough- German soldiers would undoubtedly go next: the storage loft above the family barn.

What van Straten-Duizer also knew was among some bundles of hay in the storage loft was exactly where a 22 year old Jewish friend of the family was being sheltered, having recently escaped a Nazi deportation to a concentration camp.

With only seconds separating her whole family from certain death for giving refuge to a Jew, the country teen and her sister engaged the Germans in conversation, overtly flirting with them. Distracted by the clever ruse, the Germans would leave the house a quarter hour later without ever checking the storage area.

Until the end of the war, Van Straten-Duizer and her mother Gijsbertje Duizer would continue to give refuge to the young Jewish man — whose own parents, like the vast majority of Dutch Jews, had been deported and murdered at Auschwitz — despite the risk to their own lives and their frighteningly close encounter with the Germans.

By the war’s end, Hilde Van Straten-Duizer had fallen in love with her family’s hidden guest, and, after the liberation of Holland would convert to Judaism and marry him.

Joop and Hilde Van Straten immigrated to Israel in 1951, and had four children.

For the next five decades, the Van-Stratens maintained close ties with the family back in Holland, who were supportive of the move, and the marriage.

Hilde Van Straten’s mother passed away in 1968, while her husband died in 1988. Now nearing 80, van-Straten-Duizer and her late mother were recognized Thursday at Yad Vashem as a ‘Righteous Among the Nations,’ Israel’s Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority’s highest honor. [An impressive 70 percent of the 20,760 recognized 'Righteous Among the Nations' are from Holland.]

Her 83 year old sister, Cor Duizer, who flew in from Switzerland accepted the award on their mother’s behalf.

More than sixty years after the event, the two white-haired ladies continually think back to that fateful day with the German soldiers,van-Straten-Duizer said after the ceremony, her face aglow with emotion. ”We always speak about it among ourselves,” she said.

She and her sister were too moved to speak at the ceremony itself, where more than a hundred friends and family members had gathered, to give honor to their heroism and courage. But, speaking on her behalf, her son Shalom van-Straten said that the Bible-believing Dutch family to whom he owes his very existence, never felt they did something out of the ordinary.

”They never saw in their behavior anything special, certainly not something to talk on about; it was their nature, and their way of life,” he said.