Posthumous honor for Dutch couple: Nicolaas and Hendrikje Plantinga received a posthumous Righteous Among the Nations award from Yad Vashem last week. The ceremony was attended by Aart Plantinga, the couple’s son, who received the posthumous honor on their behalf. He was accompanied by Elizabeth Alfarsi, who linked Yad Vashem with the Plantinga family.
The couple hid 10 Jews in their attic for two years. In 1944 they were exposed, and sent to the camps – only one woman survived. Their bravery cost them the life of the head of the family, who was also sent to the camps, where he died.
The couple's son Aart, 81, still remembers his parents' act of bravery. His family lived in Amsterdam, where they owned a boarding house, run by his mother. Nicolaas, his father delivered dairy products each day through a neighborhood where many Jewish families resided. In the summer of 1942, the deportations of Dutch Jews to the death camps began, and customers along Nicolaas' route began to ask if they could take refuge in the Plantinga family’s boarding house.
Nicolaas and Hendrikje took 10 Jews into hiding: Lehman and Fietje Lierens and their son Jacques, three members of the Goudsmid family, Elkan de Vries, two sisters from the Drukkr family and Wilhelmina Mathilda van Praag.
Aart Plantinga receiving award (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
Talking to Ynet, Aart recalls that "I didn't expect anything else from my parents. It was obvious that they would help the Jews. During the war my parents asked not to speak of the fact that there were people in the house. We were forbidden to speak to anyone. I was told not to discuss the people in the house, because before the Jews, they had offered sanctuary to other people for political reasons. I knew the Jews were being persecuted but I didn't know they were being murdered in the camps. My worst memory of the war was of a Jewish woman being thrown down the stairs. I stood at the bottom of the staircase and saw her falling".
Although the Jews hiding at the Plantinga lodgings paid for their own food, the danger and risk in providing food, medications and care for the group was monumental. Once a month, a member of the Underground would deliver food ration coupons, and in order not to raise suspicions, Nicolaas would make his purchases in a distant neighborhood.
In March 1944, the Plantinga’s contact person with the Underground was arrested, and their hiding place compromised. German and Dutch police surrounded the boarding house, arrested the Jews hiding there and deported them to concentration camps. Of the 10 Jews who hid at the Plantinga’s, only Wilhelmina survived. Hendrikje was sick at the time, and was not arrested.
Nicolaas, Hendrikje and Aart could no longer remain in their home and were forced to find shelter in a factory. When the factory owner discovered that Nicolaas was wanted by the police, he denounced the family in to the authorities.
Hendrikje was eventually released, but Nicolaas was deported to the Vught concentration camp and from there to Neuengamme where he died on January 18, 1945. When Hendrikje returned home with Aart, she discovered that the entire home had been looted and she was no longer able to rent out rooms to boarders. In order to support herself, she worked as a cleaner. Hendrikje died on December 6, 1989. Wilhelmina, the only one of the hidden group who survived, currently lives in Amsterdam.
Many of Holland's Jews perished in the holocaust, sent to concentration camps, never to return. "The holocaust decimated Holland's Jewish community. 104,000 of Holland's 140,000 Jews – were murdered. The Germans used Dutch manpower in their unflagging manhunt against the Jews. The danger of informants hanged over every man and woman who dared to offer sanctuary to a Jew. With this in mind, the bravery of those who refused to follow dictates, and sheltered their Jewish neighbors, is even more outstanding" Yad Vashem noted.
Irena Steinfeldt, director of the Righteous Department Yad Vashem said that only one of the women hidden in the couple's home survived: "the only survivor who is still alive is Wilhelmina Mathilda van Praag, she is old and feeble and lives in a Dutch nursing home.
She couldn't make it to the ceremony. This story was saved from oblivion just in time, before it disappeared to gether with the people who lived it. It is a difficult story. The family hid ten Jews and paid a heavy price for their actions.
If not for Alfarsi's determination, the couple would never have received the Yad Vashem honor. She heard from Aart of his parents' bravery and decided not to sit idle.
"I have known about this story since 1986", she said. "We were studying together in his mother's house, which was the exact spot where they hid people during the war. Each time he told me a few more details. Before her death, his mother wrote him a letter, telling him the story.
I understood from Aart that there was one survivor who was still alive, because after th war, she came to visit Aart's mother. He gave me a copy of the letter and asked me to search for more survivors. I contacted Yad Vashem and they asked that we find a witness; I searched in Israel and couldn't find anyone. "
Finally, in 2001, Alfarsi located the survivor, after speaking on a radio show. Less than half an hour later, someone called the program and said she knows the survivor", said Alfasi.
Within a short time she was speaking to the survivor: "She had stayed at the boarding house for a few months, but could hardly remember her saviors. I was very excited. The survivor had probably suppressed her memories of that time, and couldn't remember some of the details. Her whole family was killed in the holocaust, she was a lone survivor".
The survivor bore witness to the deeds of the Planting family and on November 29, 2009, the Commission for the Designation of the Righteous at Yad Vashem decided to recognize Nicolaas and Hendrikje Plantinga as Righteous Among the Nations.