"She said that while she was being interrogated by the Nazis, she was required to give the names of the members of the underground and had stood firm with courage and heroism and did not give any names": Shmuel Harel speaks of his mother's acts of courage, for which he will receive on her behalf a special award - Honor of the Jewish Rescuers Citation.
On Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day, Tuesday,) a special honor of the Jewish Rescuers Citation will be bestowed on a Holocaust survivors who not only lived through the unthinkable, but actively saved Jews from the horrors of the Holocaust, risking their own life in the process.
Every year, B'nai Brith World Center and KKL-JNF grant this special award to Jews who rescued other Jews in the Holocaust. This year Shmuel, the son of Rachel (Didi) Harel (Hertz)-Roos, will receive the honor on behalf of the heroism of his late mother who passed away in 1989.
Didi was born 1923 in Rotterdam to a Dutch Jewish family. She met her Marcel Hertz, an architect, in her twenties and they quickly got engaged, but by summer 1942, the Netherlands was already controlled by the Nazis, and the Hertz family was to be sent to Eastern Europe.
An employee of the family, Marta Nagtegaal, offered to hide them instead with her family. But Didi quickly grew tired of hiding, and she obtained forged identity cards in order to join the underground resistance.
Posing as a non-Jew, Didi and her husband both joined the Dutch underground and worked in the Aida region. Didi’s role was to establish contact between the underground commanders and the activists who were focused on finding hiding places for Jews and dissidents.
“She volunteered for the underground as a barmaid for the commander of the underground… and in her role as a barmaid she would pass on instructions and orders to the underground fighters far away, as well as take care of hiding places for the British paratroopers and Jews without a place to hide,” said Shmuel Harel, her son.
Captured by the Germans
In 1944, the resistance groups fighting against the Nazis united under the umbrella organization, enhancing their impact. As a result, Didi’s work expanded to other non-violent resistance acts including disrupting the instructions of the Germans, and in the Battle of Arnhem, Didi assisted injured Allied Forces by providing food, care, and assisting in their transit from behind German lines across the Rhine river.
1944 was also the year that Didi sadly was captured by the Germans after a fellow fighter was tortured and gave up her name. Despite the pressure, Didi managed to destroy the underground commander's letters that were with her and managed to convince the Germans to meet in a public place, allowing her to escape.
Sadly, she failed and was shot in the legs before being taken to Apeldoorn, the local headquarters of the German security service. There, she witnessed and suffered horrific torture and abuse at the hands of the Nazis. Yet even after this immense suffering, Didi never betrayed her fellow fighters.
Helped improve Israeli society
After three months in prison, she was transferred from Apeldoorn to the transit camp, and from there to the German border – where 107,000 Dutch Jews were sent by train to the death camps. By March 1945, there were almost no Jews left in the Netherlands, and Didi remained imprisoned with other political prisoners.
In April 1945, when the Allied forces entered, the Nazis organized a death march for the remaining prisoners on foot back to Germany. On the second night, Didi managed to escape and found shelter with a farmer. The very next day, the Netherlands was liberated.
She reunited with her husband and her mother, and immigrated to Israel in 1950, settling in Kibbutz Beit HaShita, before relocating to Holon and finally Herzliya. In Israel, she was active in the Women’s International Zionist Organization (WIZO) and multiple other social organizations to help improve Israeli society. For her heroism, Didi was awarded medals of honor from the Dutch, British, and US governments.
Sadly, she failed and was shot in the legs before being taken to Apeldoorn, the local headquarters of the German security service. There, she witnessed and suffered horrific torture
On receiving the prestigious award this Yom HaShoah, her son told Ynetnews, “the fact that her work is appreciated in Israel is very significant for her and for us family members,” adding that, “the Jewish Rescuers Citation highlights her actions in the war against the Germans and especially the fact that she did not betray the Jews who fought alongside her at that time.”
Didi was a lifelong zionist as Shmuel describes it, a critical one. “(Didi) always cared about the bridging of gaps and certainly did not like the division in Israel. She treated all citizens of Israel equally – not according to their origin or religion, and she always strove for unity… Rachel was a Zionist in all opinions, but she would not accept extremists…in her eyes, Israel is one nation!”
On April 18th, the ceremony honoring Didi will take place at the B'nai Brith Martyr’s Forest at 10:00 AM.