Yad Vashem is an institution established in 1953 in Jerusalem. It is the living memorial to the Holocaust, and it preserves the memory of the past and brings awareness to future generations. It is the world center for documentation, research, education and commemoration of the Holocaust.
This blog really begins in 1943, when the Netherlands was invaded by Nazi Germany, and the country of my birth (the Netherlands) was in the midst of the persecution of all Jews throughout occupied Europe.
August Goetmakers and his wife, Elisabeth, lived in Hoorn, North Holland and had two children, ages nine and twelve. August was a surveyor and an active member of the local Roman Catholic Church and the Westerweel Groep. Early in 1943, one of their acquaintances asked if they would be willing to hide a nine-month-old baby girl who could not join her parents, their Jewish friends, who were in hiding. August and Elisabeth agreed to take her in, and so Hadassah Elze was brought to the Goetmakers family by Harry Asscher, an active member of the Westerweel Groep. After only a few months, the Goetmakers’ home was unexpectedly searched by the Nazis, and by sheer luck the baby was not found. Shortly afterwards, August and Elisabeth managed to find a new hideout for Hadassah and they began to serve as correspondents between the new family and Hadassah’s parents.
In November 1943, the Elzes had a son. The Goetmakers’ immediately offered to shelter the baby if he could not remain with his parents. The offer was accepted and, after false papers were arranged, baby Joshua was taken to the Goetmakers, who represented him as their adopted child. The baby was well taken care of, in the full knowledge that their lives and the life of the baby, were endangered by his presence. The Goetmakers simply felt that they had to help. Towards the end of 1944, the hunger winter, the Goetmakers had to go to great lengths to obtain food and clothing for the baby, but they always managed. August and Elisabeth regularly updated Joshua’s parents about his progress, as they were also doing regarding Hadassah. August and Elisabeth also promised Mr. and Mrs. Elze that should they be caught, August and Elisabeth would ensure that the two children were taken to relatives in Israel.
However, they all survived the war and the family was reunited. The Elze family moved to Israel, but still kept in touch with the Goetmakers.
In 1965, August and Elisabeth were invited by Yad Vashem and were bestowed the title “Righteous Among the Nations”. Yad Vashem characterizes the Righteous Among the Nations as those who not only saved Jews, but risked their lives in doing so. As part of this ceremony, the Goetmakers planted an olive tree, and a plaque was placed with their names at the stem of the tree. The Avenue of the Righteous, as it is called, is lined by olive trees planted by or in name of the many people who risked their lives to save Jews. Oskar Schindler just to name one.
The Goetmakers were my great aunt and uncle. When I was a small child, their house was my second home as I spent so much time with them. They were very special people.
Mr. Elze did not live long after the war ended. Mrs. Elze died of natural causes in her later years in Israel. Joshua Elze died during open heart surgery when he was in his thirties. August Goetmakers died in 1976 and Elisabeth Goetmakers passed away at age 94. Hadassah Elze resides in Tel Aviv, Israel.