One of the most vivid memories I have from my first visit to Israel, was walking through Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem. Every visit since has been impacting, but the first visit was heart-wrenching. One of the most shocking revelations was just how few non-Jewish people or nations around the world, were willing to help save the Jewish people from the murderous intentions of the Nazis. In fact, non-Jews helping save Jews is such a rare event, that when it does happen, the Jewish nation makes a really big deal about it.
At Yad Vashem, they have a long walkway, lined by trees, and each tree has a plaque at its base with the names of non-Jewish people who risked their own lives to save Jews…even if it was just one. This walkway is called the Avenue of the Righteous Among the Nations.
On October 22, Ian and I were extremely honoured to attend a ‘Righteous Among the Nations Ceremony’ in Brisbane to honour the memory of Jacob and Klaasje van der Haar, of Hoogeveen, Netherlands. I’d like to tell you about their story.
Jacob and Klaasje were just a young couple with three small children when Germany invaded their country in WWII and very shortly after they became part of the resistance. In 1942, they were asked to care for and hide a 2yr old Jewish boy named Joseph. His parents, along with all other Jews, were supposed to report for ‘work duty’, which meant deportation and most likely death in a concentration camp. They decided hiding would be better, but they couldn’t hide with a toddler and still remain safe. Jacob and Klaasje believed it was their duty to bring Joseph into their home and do their best to keep him safe. And they did.
They called him Joop and informed their friends and neighbours that little Joop was a child whose father was working in Germany and whose mother was too ill to care for him herself. They treated Joseph as one of their own children, he loved them like they were his real parents and even called them ‘mamma’ and ‘papa’ and he considered their three children his siblings.
There were a few close calls when collaborators came to their home looking for little Joseph, but one of his ‘sisters’, Trudy, hid him in the attic until it was safe to come out. The war dragged on for far too many years, and a nosy neighbour made the comment that it was strange Joop’s father had not returned for him, so they arranged for a ‘friend’ to pose as his father and come to visit him twice a year.
In February 1945, a young Jewish girl from Amsterdam—Sonja Peters—also went to live with Jacob and Klaasje, and together with young Joseph, they stayed with their family until the liberation of the area in April 1945.
After the war, young Joseph was reunited with his real parents and remained in close contact with the van der Haar family, even after Joseph immigrated to Israel and the van der Haar’s immigrated to Australia. Jacob and Klaasje had a fourth child in 1945, a son, and they named him Joop in honour of young Joseph.
On May 7, 2001, Yad Vashem recognised Jacob and Klaasje van der Haar as Righteous Among the Nations, which is an official honorary title awarded on behalf of the State of Israel and the Jewish people, to non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.
Jacob and Klaasje have both passed away, and Joseph has also passed away, but Jacob and Klaasje’s family were in attendance at the ceremony in Brisbane, to see their parents and grandparents honoured for their willing sacrifice to save young Joseph and also young Sonja. Also, Joseph’s granddaughter in Israel attends remotely via video link to share her thoughts on behalf of their entire family, their gratitude and love for what Jacob and Klaasje did in saving their father and grandfather from murder at the hands of the Nazis.
WWII may have ended in 1945, but the memory of loss, murder, hatred and attempted genocide will never end for the Jewish people. The Jewish people have a mantra…”Never Again!” As a people they’ve lost so much, they’ve suffered so much and they’ve fought tenaciously for their right to have a place among the nations of the world.
We who claim the name of Jesus Christ, the Jewish Messiah, have a duty, just as Jacob and Klaasje did, to stand in solidarity with the Jewish people as well.
Jacob and Klaasje have their place now as Righteous Among the Nations, we honour their memory and their sacrifice and we thank God for their willingness to save young Joseph, for his reunion with his parents, and that his family and future generations are thriving today in the reborn State of Israel.
We often wonder how the most advanced, enlightened and educated nation in Europe could be so deceived and embrace such evil, that they willingly attempted the genocide of a specific ethnic group, considering them sub-human, and committing unspeakable atrocities against them? Shockingly, there are still people in the world today who dream of exterminating the Jewish people and who attack and persecute them wherever they find them.
As Christians, it is our duty to stand with Israel, and even if we don’t have an official acknowledgement, we should take our own stand as the Righteous Among the Nations and do all we can for the Jewish people around the world, and for the nation of Israel.