Righteous among the Nations honoured

January 30, 2017 by J-Wire Staff
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One-month old Jewish baby Alter Heimann was separated from his parents in 1943 Nazi-controlled Amsterdam never to see them again..and yesterday he attended a ceremony at Sydney’s Jewish Museum when a descendant of the Dutch family which ultimately rescued him bringing him later to start a new life in Australia received named as Righteous as the Gentiles on his grandparents’ behalf.

Israeli ambassador Shmuel Ben-Shmuel presents the medal to Kyle Joustra as Maarten Joustra watches      Photo: Henry Benjamin/J-Wire

Maarten Joustra stood by the side of his foster nephew Kyle Joustra as he received the certificate and medal from Israeli ambassador Shmuel Ben-Shmuel honouring his parents as Righteous among Nations…one of the highest awards which the State of Israel can bestow upon those who saved Jews from the Holocaust.

Before presenting the certificate and the medal, Ambassador Shmuel Ben-Shmuel said: “While the mainstream watched as their former neighbors, friends and colleagues were rounded up and killed; some collaborated with the perpetrators; many benefited from the expropriation of the Jews property. In a world of total moral collapse there was a small minority who mustered extraordinary courage to uphold human values. These were the Righteous Among the Nations. ” He added: “They stand in stark contrast to the mainstream of indifference and hostility that prevailed during the Holocaust. Contrary to the general trend, these rescuers regarded the Jews as fellow human beings who came within the bounds of their universe of obligation.

One of my most inspiring and moving duties, in my capacity as Israel’s Ambassador to Australia, is the honour of awarding the state of Israel’s highest honor, Righteous Among Nations awards, to Australians who aided in the protection and saving the life of Jewish people during the Second World War.”

Briefly, the ambassador related the story of how Maarten Joustra was rescued by a member of a Dutch resistance group who later to his sister to foster him as there was imminent danger.

Ambassador Shmuel Ben-Shmuel said: “I am honoured and privileged to recognise Ids and Elizabeth Joustra as Righteous Among the Nations. It is fitting that MaartenJoustra, the Jewish baby they saved from certain death 74 years ago, and their grandson Kyle Joustra, are accepting the award on their behalf. On behalf of the State of Israel we thank Ids and Elizabeth Joustra for their great service to the Jewish people, and their unbelievable kindness and humanity.”

Maarten told his story before a hushed gathering of 250 attending the museum to commemorate the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

He started by naming his grandparents, his parents and his siblings who died at the hands of the Nazis mostly at Auschwitz. All told, Maarten Joustra believes that around 60 members of his family were murdered with only five surviving the war. Only two are alive today.

Maarten tells his story…

“Before I tell you the story of why my foster parents have received this honour I would like to thank the following people for helping us with this Process.

Firstly, my foster parents Ids and Elizabeth  who was known  as Bep for saving so many relevant documents they collect from the day I came into their lives

Kyle Joustra my nephew without his help I would not be standing here.  He has never stopped looking for more information.

My foster cousins in the Netherlands who were always there when help was needed

A very special thank you to Ruth Joaquin at Yad Vashem Israel for her patience and for gently guidance throughout this process.

Megan Churley from the Israeli Embassy you have been kind and have done an amazing Job in such a short time.

Maarten and Kyle Joustra

My wife Kerry and my daughter Kate .

Had my foster parents Ids and Bep been here today they would have been very embarrassed and upset with Kyle and I for starting the process to have them recognised as Righteous among the Nations

However, if we had explained  to them that we saw this as an opportunity to remind people of the horrors of the Holocaust and the hideous crimes committed by Nazi Germany, not just to Jewish people but to many other minority groups

They would have been happy and would have said “Go For It”.

Over the years, I have heard many stories from survivors. They are all very different however so many of their stories have one underlying element

That is they would not be here to tell their tale if it had not been for the help and courage of ordinary people.

Today I want to speak about three such people who saw the wrong in the crimes being carried out by the Nazis towards the Jewish people and felt that they needed to do something about it.

Within a month after my birth I was separated from my parents. The details are very sketchy.

However I ended up at a railway station along with about 100 Jewish babies and children who were to be deported to a death camp.

On that particular day, a woman by the name Mai van Seggelen Smits rode her bike to the station as she had been doing for some months.

For all intent and purpose, she looked pregnant and had been getting bigger every time she had come to the station.

However, on this day she came to do what she and a group of resistance workers had been planning for…and that was to save a Jewish child.

It was my lucky day.

She removed the padding that made her look pregnant and replaced it by hiding me under her clothing.  She then calmly walked out of the station put me in the basket on her bike and took me to her home in Harlem.

Mia named me Maarten…a very old Dutch name

Elizabeth, Rudolf, Maarten and Ids soon after liberation

She looked after until March 1944 when she received information that she and her family maybe betrayed for hiding Jewish child.

She spoke to her sisters about the situation and it was decided that her sister Bep  and Husband Ids Joustra were in the best position to continue to look after me.

Ids Joustra was an active resistance worker and was on a Nazi wanted list.

So, when the situation became dangerous either for him or myself there was always a network of hiding places for both of us.

To make things even more difficult I was a very sickly child and cried a lot,

And at one point had to be operated on. I could not be taken to a hospital as it was obvious that I was Jewish. So, a friendly doctor operated on me at home…and I still have the scar to remind me.

There were situations when the authorities would ask who I was as I was tiny and the family were tall.

Their answer was always that I was the son of a relation from Rotterdam who had been displaced after the bombing of Rotterdam and that they were looking after me while my parents were looking for somewhere to live.

Ids Joustra and his Wife Bep already had a son Rudolf who was 7 years older than me.  Bep and her sister would ride their bikes out into the country where they had some connections for food.  Bep cared for us both during the difficult times.

Ids, Rudolf, Elja, Maarten and Elizabeth (1950

In 1948 Elizabeth and Ids Joustra applied to become my guardians and though my official name was still Alter Heimann I was to be known as Maarten Joustra.

Although I was too young to actually realise at the time I had a whole new family grandparents mother, father, brother, sister, uncles, aunts and cousins. I have wonderful childhood memories.

To the credit of my adopted family I have always know who I am…a Jewish child who lost all his family in the war, I cannot remember ever being told, I  have just always known.

Mia van Seggelen-Smits and Maarten Joustra (2003)

The family decided to look for a better life and migrated to Australia in 1951. I was eight when we arrived in Australia where for all intent and  purposes I was Maarten Joustra except for official and legal documents. It was not until we all became Australia citizens that I officially changed my name in to Maarten Joustra. I still hold a Dutch passport in my birth name Alter Heimann. This is very precious to me.

When I was about 12 it was decided with the help of a Jewish friend, to send me to a Jewish home for displaced children so I could learn Hebrew and prepare for my Bar Mitzvah. That did not work for me as I missed the loving family environment and I returned home.

Both of my foster parents and my  foster-brother have passed away  but I have a foster-sister who was born soon after the war who lives in Victoria.

I talk to Kyle, my foster nephew, often he has helped me with all the research. His father my foster brother Rudolf who has passed away would be very proud of him as I know his mother Gail is.

It is important that I acknowledge three very special people

My father Ids Joustra and my mother Elizabeth Bep Joustra who have been honoured here today.

And my Tante Mai who will also be honoured as Righteous Among The Nations in den Haag at a date yet to be set.

There are no words to describe how grateful I am to these three courageous people.

I hope that what I have told you – in my own jumbled way – will explain to you why they are so deserving of the honour of The Righteous Among the Nations.

The commemoration of the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi concentration and death camp and the UN International Holocaust Remembrance Day was addressed at the Sydney Jewish Museum by MP Julian Leeser, survivor Olga Horak, Rachel Flitman and Christopher Woodthorpe Director United Nations Information Centre for Australia, New Zealand and South Pacific. Six candles were lit to remember of the 6,000,000 Jews who died at the hand of the Nazis and their collaborators.

The event was co-hosted by the Australian Association of Jewish Holocaust Survivors & Descendants and the Sydney Jewish Museum.

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