Last week the Consulate General of Israel in New York in conjunction with the American Society of Yad Vashem presented the esteemed ‘Righteous Among the Nations’ award to five individuals for their courageous and selfless work in saving Jewish lives amidst the Holocaust.
The honor, bestowed at the Bronfman Center for Jewish Life in Manhattan, recognized those who in the face of death and danger upheld the morality that all too few failed to summon. The award is a statement conveying the sincere gratitude of the Jewish People and the State of Israel to those who did not sit idly by in a time of Jewish persecution. Those recognized were honored by speeches from a government representative of their home country, received a medal, and will have their names commemorated on the Mount of Remembrance in Jerusalem.
There are currently over twenty-two thousand people who have been recognized as “Righteous Among the Nations” spanning the religious spectrum and over forty countries. Yet each shares a common courage to stand for their moral principles. For a brief description of the stories of those honored at this year’s ceremony, please see below:
Gerda and Gerard Van Raan were newlyweds looking to begin a new life in Nazi occupied Holland. When a friend asked if the couple would shelter an eight year old Jewish boy, the couple didn’t hesitated and took young Rudy Klijnkramer into their home. Two months later they took in an eight month old Jewish baby. The van Raans cared for each these children as though they were their own. Van Raans daughter, Heleena, who represented her family at the ceremony is still in touch with Rudy who continues to live in the Netherlands.
Madame President, distinguished officials and guests who are here to confirm the importance of this day. Thank you for continuing to commemorate rescuers with this ceremony. It honors the righteous as well as the act of righteousness.
How can one ever thank for the gift of life enough or well enough? Many of us are here only because we have been given this precious gift – a second chance for life – by those individuals who put their ownlives at risk. Our rescuers may have been ordinary people but they became extraordinary because of their deeds, as they stood out among the many who participated in and accepted the horrors of the Holocaust. They proved that there can be goodness, there could be courage, selflessness and moral fortitude.
Bronja Budreikaite became one of these extraordinary individuals. She was the secretary at my father’s Paul Bagriansky firm, Ratner and Bagriansky, and the sister-in law of Jacob Gens, head of the Vilnius
Ghetto. Even though she is the last of my rescuers to be recognized, she was the first one to hide me. And it is her name that I carried throughout WWII. My wartime name was Irena Budreikaite. I was the
first of my family to escape the Kovno Ghetto. My parents timed the searchlights and the guards to dig a hole under the barbed wire risking their own lives to save mine. They again did so when they pushed me through that hole into the arms of Bronja who was on the other side of the barbed wire. I was 6 years old.
I reluctantly, fearfully crossed the bridge and Bronja took me to her apartment for at least one night. I am told that I cried nonstop and she then brought me to the Natalija Yegorova and Natalija Fugaleviciute, who then took me to her sister Lyda Goluboviene.in Kulautova. All these rescuers have been recognized here. In Kulautova, I was known as Bronja’s illegitimate child and she occasionally visited me to make it official. Margarete Holzman, anoter rescuer, recalls that when she joined Bronia on some of these visits, I would
call Bronja mother. So in addition to rescuing me in Kaunas, she also assumed the shame of an illegitimate child to save me. She also helped my mother Gerta to reunite with my father who was already at the apartment of Jacob Gens in Vilnius. She physically brought mother there and stayed with them until she was sure they were safe.
If it were not for Bronja, I may not be here today. I have come from far away to speak to you because Bronja was a giver of life when life was to be taken away from Jews and I want to honor her actions and memory as a witness in gratitude. I am also here today as a survivor who is of the last generation that is eyewitness to the experience of the horrors of the Holocaust and as such a symbol of how history should not be repeated. We need not bypass the past but learn from it to change the future, especially at a time when Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism are on the rise. Einstein said that “the world is dangerous not only because of people who do evil but because of the people who sit and let it happen”. Bronja did not stand by and let it happen. And that potential for good is in each and every one of us. Even if we act as a just drop in the ocean that ocean would be the less for that missing drop. And that drop can create ripples for a better world that go on in perpetuity. For ourselves, for our children, for our children’s children and all generations to come.
Growing up in the former USSR and in the USA, I was always interested in history. WWII and the Holocaust have always been main topics that interested me. I felt survivor experiences going through my blood and touching my very soul. However, our family’s history was never discussed openly. Now that the evidence and the story have been published and are public knowledge, I feel grateful to be a part of our unique and strong family. However, this story is not about me, it’s about an amazing person, Aleksey Yakovlevich, who saved our family and allowed life to continue. His selflessness and courage makes him more than a human, he is truly “righteous among nations”.
He met my great-grandmother, Maria, and grandmother, Sabina, before the war. He was always described as a kind and pleasant man, who was loved and respected by many. After, my grandmother’s family was sent to Balta’s ghetto in September of 1941, he risked his life to sneak them out of the ghetto and have my grandmother baptized. They walked 25 kilometers with the fear of being caught and killed. Then, when a neighbor gave my grandmother’s family away, and they were sent back to Balta’s ghetto, he continuously risked his life to bring them food and clothing. Before, the ghetto was disbursed and the area liberated, he bought them out from ghetto and brought them back to Kotovsk. Until the Soviet Army liberated the town, Sabina and Maria were in hiding, fearful that neighbors will tell Germans that some Jews are still hiding. After the war, Aleksey and Maria married and he legally adopted Sabina, giving her his last name. Throughout his difficult life, he was always questioned by authorities for his commiseration towards Jews, but being an important specialist for steam-engines, he was able to survive Romanian, German and Soviet governments. His life ended in 1969, but he will always live in the hearts of generations he saved.
Saving this family has changed history. My grandmother, Sabina, became a teacher and lived most of her life in Odessa, serving numerous students with her wisdom, kindness and understanding. Many of her students, already in their 40’s, still call her weekly to talk about their lives and to receive advice. She influenced their lives just as much as she has influenced ours. Proud mother of two, grandmother of three and great-grandmother of five, she still prepares family dinners and makes sure that every person in our family gets her attention and love.
My name is Rudolf Klijnkramer, and,as a child, I was hidden during the war at the House of Ger & Gerard van Raan-Lubach. Couple who will be honored with the Yad Vashem recognition on may 10th.
Unfortunately, I cannot be present at the occasion for medical reasons but I would be much obliged if you,In my name could and would express my gratitude for the assistance,love and education; risking their lives by hiding me I got from the van Raan family during my 2 years stay at their house in the Hague.
Several times during the war I had to be moved to other places when the risk of betrayal to the Germans became severe but luckily my parents ,elsewhere in hiding,myself and the van Raans and their newborn babygirl Heleen, now also present survived.
I am grateful to the State of Israel for the honour you betroth on my ,,war-parents,, (as so I always regarded them) and l think this ceremony is the right award for them
The vanRaans have had a great influence on me;imagine a boy in the age of 8 till 10;this is the time during which a lot of his being is formed,they did it,as my parents were absent in hiding (luckily they survived) I add that I regarded the vanRaans as my parents,more even when my own elders died,and I was happy that on many occasions,being helped by business-trips, I could visit them.
I hope you will be able to speak a few words on my behalf during the ceremony which,I repeat, I am sorry to be unable to join.
Rudolf Klijnkramer hidden and saved by the van Raan family in the Hague, Netherlands from 1942 till 1944
HELENA VAN RAAN
I want to thank the Israeli Consul General and his staff as well as the American Society for Yad Vashem for arranging this evening’s event.
Honored recipients, my family and my dear friends and colleagues.
It is fitting that this ceremony occurs in the month of Ma.
In May the war in Europe ended and the world had to acknowledge the true horror of what happened to the Jews.
It is hard to ignore the murder of 6 Million Jewish men, women and children.
There was a great silence during those years as Jews were taken from their homes -as villages and communities were emptied out- as trains carrying their human cargo rolled through the cities, towns and country side.
· world leaders stood by
· religious leaders stood by
· friends, co workers and neighbors stood by
Bystanders are those who see events unfolding around them and watch-
to do nothing is not a crime
no one was arrested or tried for doing nothing
For doing nothing no one was held to account they were bystanders—they were silent
Eli Wiesel said
“We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.
Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.
So, let me speak for a few minutes about Ger and Gerard van Raan.
My father grew up in working class neighborhood in The Hague in what he describes as a loving family. He was one of ten children and until he discarded all religion raised as a Catholic.
He loved to read, he was curious about everything, and although his formal education ended early, taught himself German so he could read the German classics in the original.
He was politically to the left of center, hated fascism, and was part of an anti fascist group that before Holland was occupied, routinely took on street corner Nazis.
My mother was raised in Breda surrounded by a group of strong minded, assertive women, ……she too loved to read, loved jazz and studied to be a psychiatric nurse.
My mother generally reacted with scorn to any kind of authority -most notably during the war years by refusing the orders of the German occupiers
she refused to give up her seat on a tram to a German soldier
she refused to hand over the radio as ordered
she refused to tell the German soldier who came to the door where my father was hiding
when my father was arrested she hid a hammer and file in the folds of her coat when she visited him ( I should note that at the time she was very pregnant with me)
She could be scathingly witty, always impatient but always honest
How would they react to tonights event?
They would be self effacing
My father might cry-
My mother in order to hide her feelings would appear somewhat annoyed at all this attention.
It wasn’t until the mid 1980’s that they spoke publicly about what they did…and then with some reluctance, I’m not sure why, too painful, stirs up to many memories, a reluctance to draw attention to themselves
Their sheltering of these two little boys is only a part of what they experienced during the occupation
They lost friends-they went hungry, -they were sick,
My father could not rescue a woman with whom he once had a relationship
She was killed in one of the camps
My mother’s best friend was sent to Germany to work in labor camp –
Another friend was shot by the Germans for his resistance activities
Ger and Gerard lived out their lives with painful memories that burdened them with a guilt that they did not deserve to carry
As they grew older they became more and more concerned about the one question they were always asked…why…why did they knowingly put their lives in danger for two children who they did not know.
My mother during the course of an interview finally blurted out,
“you are asking the wrong people the wrong question…ask those who did nothing why”
In one of the many conversations my father had with me about hiding Rudy and Peter
He said that although they spent most of their married life bickering this was the one decision they made together unanimously,
without any discussion,
without any second thoughts.
To me a hero is someone who rescues a person from a burning building, or keeps them from drowning– without regard for their own safety.
It is done quickly, without too much thought because if you stop to think you might not risk your own life for a stranger.
My parents sheltered two boys day in and day out, week after week, month after month
The danger was ever present, from the German soldiers who patrolled the city of The Hague,
To family members who could not be trusted
To the neighbors who were curious about the sudden presence of my father’s “nephews”….
The explanation was that they were my father’s nephews whose mother was in a Tuberculosis sanatorium and whose father was left behind in Indonesia, which was then occupied by the Japanese.
So, Rudy went to school even though they were ever alert to the possibility of danger for him.
Rudy and my father went fishing together.
In the midst of all this they were able to smuggle letters to Rudy’s parents who were in hiding on a farm outside of the Hague .
And they arranged for a professional photographer to take a picture of Peter to smuggle to his parents.
In order to offer the two boys as normal a life as possible they were not hidden away, unless it became absolutely necessary, which on occasion it did.
In this small country with its history of tolerance
75 % of its Jewish population perished
This small country hosted its own transit camps – it had its home grown Nazis.
And many, many bystanders
My parents were not bystanders, they gave a home to two little boys, and they clothed them, housed them, loved them and kept them safe.
A colleague when hearing about tonight’s event suggested that I should acknowledge my parents legacy of what she called intergenerational righteousness.
My siblings Sigmund, Sheila, Debbie and I are entrusted with my parents story.
But let me mention those who follow us and what they are doing
Our children and grandchildren the third and fourth generation
Among them is a student of the holocaust who spent 6 months in Israel as a volunteer, there is a Rabbinical student as well as a future social worker, a nurse –and two who want to be teachers
The Talmud states that “whoever saves one life, it is as if he [or she] has saved the whole world.”
Maurice and Hester Kleinkramer, Rudy’s parents lived to see the birth of Rudy’s children –Anique and Sharon.
Rudy has been blessed with six grandchildren.
Ger and Gerard van Raan should be remembered for their act of generosity
which took great courage
and for what they left to their children and grandchildren-
never to be silent, never to be a bystander
Ger and Gerard van Raan – my beloved parents
They are the righteous among the nations.
survival through the war.