Elli meets the “family”

April 1, 2011 by J-Wire
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Elli Mantegari met the Wellington Jewish community this week…and thanked them for reuniting her with the family who saved her life as a baby in war-ravaged Amsterdam.

Elli, in red, meets the Hakkens and members of Israel's diplomatic staff pic: Wolf

The Holocaust Centre’s Vera Egermayer told J-Wire: “We hosted the visit of  Elli Mantegari, her sister Leni Radziner  and the Hakkens family,  descendents  of Frits and Jo Hakkens who had hidden Elli as  an 18 months old Jewish toddler in their apartment in Amsterdam for almost two years during the Nazi occupation. The Hakkens made many attempts over the years to find Elli and had almost given up when they saw a film the “ Power  of good” which the Holocaust Centre  had screened in Paekakariki  the previous  year as part of their  outreach educational programme.  Inspired by the story of Nicholas Winton who was reunited with the children he had saved for the first time 50 years later, they renewed their search and finally located Elli living in Brazil with her children and grandchildren. The families made contact and Elli made the journey with her sister Lea Radzinger to Wellington to say thank you.

Elli, her sister and the Haakens met other Dutch child survivors who had come to  New Zealand after the war at the Holocaust Centre  and discusses their haunting experiences as children. In his speech, the Dutch ambassador HE Arie Van der Wiel praised the Wellington Holocaust Centre for its work and  emphasised how important it is to keep such stories alive.”

Vera Egermayer, herself a child  survivor, organised the event  and spoke about the common aspects of  Nicholas Winton’s and Elli’s stories. Both are about what decent and determined individuals are capable of doing to help others if they are willing to act.

Egermayer explained the role she played….

“I am delighted that I was asked to organise today’s event  and I would like to tell you how I came to be  involved in this story.

Elli in red and Vera Egermayer left in green with Centre staff and family Pic: Wolf

A year ago a little boy and his grandfather came up to me after I had presented a film on behalf of our Holocaust Centre. They said they were very moved by the film and wanted advice on how to renew their search for a baby girl whom their family had sheltered in Amsterdam during the Nazi occupation.  The film was called the “Power of Good”.  It told a story which had almost been lost- that of Nicholas Winton who saved hundreds of Czechoslovakian Jewish children from the Nazis. For 50 years, he never knew what became of those children and they never knew who saved them.  And then miraculously the whole story came to light.

A similar story was coming to fruition within the Hakkens family in New Zealand- and over the last week it has burst forth and  gone right around the world. You will all be familiar with it.   Like the Nicholas Winton story it culminated in a happy end last week when the rescued child Elli Mantegari flew into Wellington airport from Brazil to meet the family of her rescuers.

Since then, this story has been told from different angles, with different protagonists taking centre-stage.  We have Elli the rescued child herself, her sister,Lea, the two sons of the rescuers,  Marcel and Richard, their great-grandson Caleb and their daughter-in-law, Gloria. And like all good stories it will go on being told and retold and new subplots and different characters will emerge. But what we must never forget is that the central figures- the heroes- those we are here to remember today even though they are no longer with us, are- Frits and Johanna  Hakkens- a  young couple – in their early twenties- who risked  their lives- who took in someone else’s baby, looked after it, shared what little food they had with it, hid it under the false floor of a  cupboard whenever danger loomed, and finally  gave  it back to its own family. The story is about what decent and determined individuals are capable of doing to help others  else if they are willing to act.  Underlying their deeds we see the values that they represent and the standard of behavior that they set for us all.

Several of us here today are child survivors- some were hidden, like Elli and her sister Lea, some got out in time and some, like me, did not get out in time and survived concentration camps or ghettos. Our experience has been diverse but there is a common bond that binds us all – an  unspoken understanding of what we lost and also what we gained. We lost our childhood.  We gained a deep appreciation of human kindness. None of us will ever forget those who helped us- our friends in need- and we will always do our utmost to pay that debt. That is why Elli made the long journey, over time and distance, to say thank you to the Hakkens family. That is why we showed the film the “Power of Good”. The good which both Nicholas Winton and Jo and Frits Hakkens demonstrated through their actions does have a power, transcending generations and continents, and it is the power of that good which has brought us together here, on this day, in our Centre.”

Read Elli’s amazing story here

Comments

One Response to “Elli meets the “family””
  1. Peter Rossler says:

    Thank you for telling it, a wonderful heart warming story. Being myself a child Holocaust survivor born in Prague in 81 years ago and now living in Sydney, Australia I can apreciate what Eli went thru’ and how wonderful that she found the Hakkens family to thank them.
    In case you are not aware of it, there is a follow-up film to Nicholas Winton’s “Power od Good” – a Czech re-enactment film that premiered earlier this year, the reviews of it are very positive. I am trying to get a copy of it to show it with at the Sydney Jewish Museum where I am a volunteer guide.
    Peter.

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