“Dutch Tzedakah” - Stories of righteous ones in the Netherlands - Saving Jews from the Nazis

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Part Two

Tzedakah in Action

“The Fruit of the Righteous is a Tree of Life”

In part One of this book we have considered the historical background to Jewish dispersion including their settlement in Amsterdam and the Netherlands, thus it is now appropriate to relate to the testimonies of those who without fear of their own lives, hid and rescued many innocent lives during the great time of horror, and they protected not only Jews, but as you will also discover in later chapters countless soldiers and other civilians. These heroic ones are known as “the Righteous Gentiles.” These were Dutch men and women who would not stand for Nazi oppression and anti-Semitism. Acting with conviction, they stood up and were counted among the righteous (Tzadik). Tragically, many of these precious ones paid the ultimate price, and gave their lives doing what was right.

This is their story, a story of true “Tzedakah” and Dutch Audacity."

May the following chapters challenge and encourage the reader. It contains a powerful message, one that is much needed in this self-centred, selfish world. The message is this. Should one of your family, friends, or a neighbour be in trouble, will you sit idly by and do nothing, or will you act and do something. Act on your conscience, do not be caught holding back. The LORD God, blessed be His holy Name, promises His favour to those who live a life of true “Tzedakah,” and to those that show favour to His people Israel.

Those who are content to sit back and do nothing to stem the tide of evil, or worse still, co-operate with the evildoers, as some did in the midst of Nazi oppression, stand condemned, and are in many cases as evil as the Nazis themselves. May they demonstrate an attitude of repentance and turn back to the LORD, blessed be He!

“Thus saith the LORD of hosts: RETURN (repent) unto Me, saith the LORD of Hosts, and I will return (forgive and come back) unto you” Zechariah 1: 3.

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Chapter 9

Mr. Bendien is Jewish

As we commence Part Two of “Dutch Tzedakah,” covering heroic stories of those that acted with “Dutch Audacity,” let us first meet a very special person, Mr. Pierre Janssen. He was thirteen years of age when the war commenced, and was almost nineteen at its conclusion. This chapter contains some of his memoirs, obtained whilst the author was in the Netherlands in February 1989. It is full of youthful and meaningful memories. He aptly describes the atmosphere of that horrific time, and of those that were forced to endure the madness of a man called Hitler.

This chapter is divided into three parts, each containing recollections of his personal experiences. The author has translated Pierre's statements from Dutch to English, hopefully, always remaining faithful to his almost childlike story telling.

Part One - The Fourth of May

“During the day, it is never quiet in the city. Cars, motorbikes, and trams travel in every direction making such a racket. People themselves contribute much to all this noise. They chat, call out, and laugh heartily. It is all so busy. Then, when school is out, children cheerfully add to all the noise. How they love to ring their bicycle bells as loud as they can, and all too often scream their lungs out.

In a noisy city one seldom hears the wind blow through the trees, or hear a sparrow sing, even though they sit right there on your windowsill. Trains can be heard arriving at the station, and ships blowing their steam whistles, as they sail down the river toward the great ocean. Noise engulfs our busy city. However, there is one special day each year, on the fourth of May, when for a few moments the whole nation stands in total silence. Every year on this day, at eight in the evening, all is quiet. Look at the people; their faces show pain and sorrow. Many are so sad they weep uncontrollably. Dutch flags hang limply in the still wind, not on the top of the pole, but at the bottom. Only on festivals do they fly at the top. However, The fourth of May is not a feast day. On this day, the people of the Netherlands remember those that died during that terrible war, which started on 10 May 1940 and lasted five long years.

The monuments inauguration May 4, 1956 by HRH the Queen and official party, as wee see, part of the monument remains covered up

 

On May 4 each year at the War Memorial monument on Amsterdam’s Dam Square, which is directly

located opposite the Royal Palace and at most time the Queen, but now the King will attend!

So many people, countless numbers of people, would never experience peace again, except in death. This war killed so many. Amongst them were soldiers that bravely fought the enemy. Men, women, and children perished as the bombs fell. Sailors who were unable to save themselves as their ships sank and the many in Holland that died of hunger in the latter part of the war. Then there were our Jewish brethren, our, countrymen, fathers, and mothers with their children, torn from their homes, torn from us by the Nazis to be brutally murdered in their concentration camps.

There were also those who were not soldiers but would go and fight the enemy in many different ways. They refused to be ordered around by these German warlords. They helped to free this nation, and were part of a highly secret underground movement. No one knew their names. Occasionally, some were betrayed by traitors, resulting in brutal punishment, usually ending in death. Often they would be shot on the spot in the street without a hearing or a trial. That was typical of German justice and honour of those days.

People remember all these loved ones on that night, the night of the fourth of May. Masses of flowers are laid at the feet of memorials and statues around the nation. They soon wilt, but the message of the memorial stays. If you look closely, you will understand what they are trying to say. Of course, statues do not speak. Are they not made of metal or stone? However, they do make a statement, not just on the fourth of May, but the every day of the year. What it their message?” - “Let us never forget those innocent lives that did not survive, in order that it will never happen again!”

Part Two - The Bombs Came

“On the morning of 10 May 1940, I was thirteen years of age. I lived in the city of Arnhem, and slept with my brother in the attic. Suddenly I awoke. I did not realise why I had woken so suddenly. I noticed it was four thirty in the morning. My brother was still asleep. Being spring, the sun already shone into the window. Then, I heard aeroplanes. I realised that there were many. I thought, “Could it be ten planes?” I had never seen so many. I ran to the window to look out. As I looked, at first I saw two, then a few more, then at least twenty, thirty, then even more black spots against the blue sky. I could not understand where they were coming from. “Surely, we don't have that many planes,” I thought to myself.

I called my brother, but he was not interested, and did not wish to get out of bed. “Go to sleep,” he retorted. “It must be an exercise.” We were used to soldiers exercising, as the Germans had been at war for over eight months. Germany had started this war, for they wanted to be the “master Race” of all Europe, if not the world. The German forces had already attacked Poland. In response, England and France declared war with Germany. But, Poland had already lost its fight. Soon Germany captured Denmark and Norway, but the Netherlands was still at peace. Holland did not wish to join the strife for it was a neutral nation.

Again, I looked at the planes, and I saw that black crosses were painted on them. Even as a boy, I knew that our planes had circles on them. I cried out, “They are not ours!” “Now, now,” my brother replied, “You wouldn't understand.” How could I make him understand? That very moment we heard a dreadful explosion. “They are bombing us.” I shouted. “It is war, it is war!” My brother calmly said, “No, it can't be.” Right then there was a deafening explosion so hard it shook our roof. Now my brother sprang to his feet and said, “that was a bomb!” A neighbour ran up the stairs to call us to say that our own soldiers had exploded the bridge over the Rhine, and that Holland was now at war with Germany. I was right after all; they were German planes with those black crosses.

The invasion of the Netherlands

That afternoon, mother wept as German cars drove down the street. Soldiers passed by, looking at us with contempt. Mother quickly closed the curtains, and instructed, “Don't look at the enemy, children.” Then she sadly said, “Thank God that your father will not have to endure this,” for Father had died just prior to the war.

Headlines on the 10th.of May “The Netherlands was at war with Germany

The Dutch army was run out of Arnhem. Let's face it, we did not have many soldiers or weapons, especially planes. On the 13th of May, Queen Wilhelmina sailed for England with the entire cabinet. They could no longer remain in Den Haag being the seat of government, as they would have been captured. Then, on 14 May, something horrific occurred. The Germans could not cross the bridges over the river Maas near Rotterdam. Dutch soldiers had fought fiercely. The Germans threatened to bomb and flatten the great Harbour City of Rotterdam. The generals could not allow this to happen, and ordered the army to stop fighting. However, the Germans did not keep their part of the bargain, and the bombers came anyway. Flying low over the city, they dropped their bombs of death and destruction, and destroyed everything in their path. Soon the entire centre of this once great city was ablaze. Fierce winds helped the flames to jump from one building and one city block to another. Over one thousand lives were lost that day, bodies crushed and charred amongst the rubble and flames. The “master race,” the Germans, were jubilant in their victory.

14 May 1940 – the Germans bombed and destroyed greater Rotterdam, it became a city that lost its heart!

Above the city, the sky was black with smoke for many days. It was not until weeks later that the last of the fires could be controlled. The city had been reduced to rubble, but here and there, as if by miracle, a building as still defiantly standing. The city centre was desolate as it was said, Rotterdam, the city that lost its heart.” Like the city, the spirit of the Dutch army was also flattened, as the fear of another attack was imminent. That same day Germany also threatened to destroy the ancient city of Utrecht. General Winkelman knew that the French and the British were unable to help, so he took a difficult decision, and surrendered. At seven p.m. it was announced on the radio “There is no alternative. We have laid down our weapons. Nothing else could be done.” Mother said softly “What will come of us? What will happen now?”

In 1946, the artist Ossip Zadkine travelled through the city of Rotterdam by train and he saw the tragic sight of what was the destoyed and the completely empty heart of what was once a bustling city, but by now it had been cleared of rubble, stretching down to the river with only a two buildings still standing. This sight made such an impression on him it gave him the inspiration to create a statue for the city, and he named it “De Verwoeste Stad” or “The Ravaged City.” You will note below that the chest has a big hole in it, as the heart of the worlds largerst harbour was completely destroyed!

Part Three - Freedom, what is it?

“As we lost our freedom that night on 14 May 1940, did we really understand what freedom really was? For we always lived in it. It was as it should have been. We were led by our own Queen and governed by our Parliament. Our parents had the freedom to say who run the government. This they did at free elections. They were able to freely state their viewpoint, be it in the newspaper, or in any other media. That is freedom! Of course, one must live according to the law, not steal, or murder. We have our own police to keep the law and order. As for us children, we must go to school on time! However, we ourselves made these rules, and that is freedom.

When the Germans completely conquered our land, we lost all our freedoms. Now they made the rules, and we had to obey their commands. We were not permitted to speak out against their oppression or anything we disagreed with. We were no longer permitted to write our own newspapers, speak out on the street corners, or parks. Those who did would be taken prisoner. Once prisons would only hold those that broke our laws, but now they were filled with good men and women who behaved with “Dutch Audacity.” They would not bow down to German pressure and oppression. These people knew that the Germans had a mighty weapon - Fear. “When you beat a person long enough he becomes fearful.” So thought the Nazis. “Beat them long and hard, and they will be too afraid to do anything. We will frighten them with our German soldiers, German police, German prisons, and German concentration camps. We will destroy their factories, even their homes. We will steal their food and machinery. Whosoever will withstand us we will take to prison and sentence them to death.”

Fear was even felt at school. Suddenly we had to hand in certain books, as some may have had something anti-German in them, or even a patriotic statement about Holland. This was not permitted. Occasionally a book was returned, but there were some pages ripped out. Most teachers were afraid to speak their minds, as there was a continuing fear of being betrayed by a Nazi sympathiser.

I remember one teacher who was never afraid. I remember it as if it was yesterday. One November day in 1940, he walked into the class and looked at us rather sadly, and said “Children, today I cannot teach you. I refuse to do so.” He then looked at us very seriously and with tears in his eyes said, “The Germans have sacked Mr. Bendien.” He simply turned and left the class. At first, we did not understand what was happening, but we did understand that this teacher was one of those Dutchmen that did not fear the Germans. Later it became known that he was a member of “Het Verzet,” the Dutch Resistance. These faithful men and women (like the Friesians so long ago) did not bend the knee to the evil invaders, but did something about remaining Dutch!

We did not understand why Mr. Bendien was sacked. Why could this kindly man no longer teach us? Then one of the boys said “I think it is because Mr. Bendien is Jewish.” We all had known that. It made no difference, to us he was a real Dutchman and proud to be so. Why did the Germans suddenly single out the Jews? I knew, even at my young age, things would become much worse.”

But, there was no doubt about it, Pierre was right, for life was about to explode in such a way that Jewish Amsterdam, and throughout the Netherlands would never be the same again. Tragically, some three hundred and forty years of peaceful Jewish settlement in the Netherlands and Amsterdam was about to come to an abrupt end.

The truth is that countless Jews had fled their persecutors from all over Europe and had come to the Netherlands because of it being a safe place with people who did not judge them, as well the country being a Neutral Kingdom! But now the Hunter by the satanic name of Hitler had already invaded this, free land, and thus followed them for he would do what Rev Martin Luther was never able to finish, to destroy the Jews, and here he was in search of his great conquest.

Much affliction and sorrow was about to fall on God's ancient people Israel, in that little land of Holland.

“Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Behold, and see if there be sorrow like any sorrow like unto my sorrow, which is done unto me” Lamentations 1: 12.

 

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