At Yad Vashem — The World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem, there’s a special section dedicated to “The Righteous Among the Nations,” non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. Among those honored are Franciscus and Hermina Wijnakker (known as Frans and Mien), a Christian couple in the Netherlands who saved the lives of more than two-dozen Jews.
Author Marty A. Brounstein has written a book, “Two Among the Righteous Few: A Story of Courage in the Holocaust,” about the Wijnakkers’ selfless acts, and will hold several lectures around the Valley (see details below). Brounstein has a meaningful personal connection to the story and its heroes, which he reveals in his talk.
To give the reader historical context, Brounstein details events leading up to Germany’s invasion of the Netherlands and what life was like during the occupation and control of the Nazis.
In 1943, with World War II well underway, Frans Wijnakker made his living traveling throughout Holland selling black market meat and eggs. While in Amsterdam, Frans called on a doctor he’d met during a prior visit, who asked if he would be willing to take a 14-year-old Jewish girl named Freetje (real name Shulamit Laub) into his home for a few weeks. Frans, who wasn’t fully aware of the Jews’ persecution in the Netherlands and other countries, said yes.
Hiding Freetje turned out to be just the beginning. Throughout the remainder of the war, the Wijnakkers saved many Jews from the Nazis, aided by a network of people willing to help.
Last May, Brounstein and his wife, Leah Ineke Baars, visited Freetje who now lives in Haifa, Israel. “We got to hand Shula a birthday card for her 88th birthday,” Brounstein says.
While researching the book, Brounstein met with the Wijnakkers’ children and grandchildren to glean information. The family provided audiotapes that Frans made a year before his death in 1994, in which he discusses his wartime activities. Through interviews, Brounstein also discovered that a family friend had put together a self-published book written in Dutch detailing the Wijnakkers’ experiences.
Missing from the Dutch book is an explanation of why the Wijnakkers risked their lives to save others. But there are certain qualities of character the Righteous Few share, including the willingness to help, compassion and caring beyond oneself, Brounstein says. “People who read my book can draw (their own) conclusions.”
Among their most selfless acts, the Wijnakkers took in a young couple who was expecting a baby. “They could have sent her away,” but they didn’t, Brounstein says. In order to protect the child from the Nazis, the Wijnakkers claimed the baby as their own. To pull off the charade, Mien went out in public “with a pillow tucked next to her stomach underneath her clothes so she appeared to be pregnant.” When it was time to deliver the baby, Frans found a sympathetic doctor willing to help.
“Two Among the Righteous Few: A Story of Courage in the Holocaust” continues to inspire audiences, Brounstein says. In fact, he’s exploring the possibility of making a feature film based on the book. “People say (this) is more than a Holocaust story. This is really a story of goodness, of people with values and ethics making a positive difference.”
Who: Marty A. Brounstein
What: “Two Among the Righteous Few: A Story of Courage in the Holocaust”
When: 11:30 a.m. Sunday, Jan. 29
Where: Co-hosted by Congregation Merkaz Ha-Iyr and Shadow Rock United Church of Christ at the church, 12861 N. Eighth Ave., Phoenix
Contact: Denise Kaye, 602-708-8626
When: Wednesday, 6:30 p.m. Feb. 22
Where: Temple Emanuel, 5801 S. Rural Road, Tempe
Contact: Rabbi Jason Bonder, 480-838-1414
When: 7 p.m., Thursday, March 9
Where: Arizona Jewish Historical Society at Cutler Plotkin Jewish Heritage Center, 122 E. Culver St. Phoenix
Contact: Larry Bell, 602-241-7870