Israel honours a Righteous Among the Nations

May 18, 2021 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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The Chargé d’Affaires and acting ambassador for Israel to Australia Jonathan Peled has presented the certificate and medal of being Righteous Among the Nations to the daughters of Cornelia de Reuver whose family saved Bela van Praagh during the Second World War.

Cornelia   [courtesy of the de Reuver Family]

Cornelia’s parents Marinus and Marie Zwart were recognised as Righteous Among the Nations in 2019.

The ceremony was held at Sydney’s Emanuel Synagogue attended by Shadow Treasurer Walt Secord, diplomats and leaders of the Jewish community.

Jonathan Peled addressed Cornelia’s daughters Frouke de Reuver and Anke de Reuver saying: “We a re gathered here a long distance and time from Europe in the darkest hours of mankind. Thanks to the few glimmering lights of humanity that did not show indifference to what was transpiring. Cornelia and her parents gave shelter to Bela. Sometimes, they hid her Bela’s parents undertaking a heavy personal risk. You should be proud of the Zwart family and your heritage. On behalf of the State of Israel and the Jewish People I want to express our gratitude to the enormous courage and selfishness of Cornelia de Reveur.”

Addresses were given by Rabbi Jacqi Ninio and the CEO of The New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies Vic Alhadeff who told the story of his family in Rhodes and the transports carried by the Nazis decimating the Jewish community of the island.

On a large screen, a video was shown of Bela offering her heartfelt thanks. Bela is now 93 and lives in Israel.

Cornelia’s daughters said Cornelia was never bitter and never hated the Germans saying she ‘pointed to us that there were goo Germans as well as bad Germans’. They said Cornelia’s family was poor but they shared their food with Jews who they were protecting.

Cornelia and Bela’s story

Maurits (Mau) van Praagh and his wife Judith (Jet) and their four children, Rosa, Bela (13), Leo (10) and Bob (5) lived in Scheveningen district of the Netherlands when the Nazi Army invaded the country in May 1940. Mau van Praagh quickly understood that the Jews are in grave danger and sought ways to save his family.

Ambassador Jonathan Peled with Frouke de Reuver and Anke de Reuver

After an unsuccessful attempt to flee to England by boat, the family went into hiding in separate locations with the help of a neighbour. All four children went to different families. Bela reached Laren where she was taken in by ‘Aunt’ Mieke Brinkman and her husband, ‘Uncle’ Paul, who were active in the resistance. This presented a great risk for Bela as the Nazis constantly raided and searched homes for resistance members. Cornelia (Cockie) Zwart was working as an au-pair for the Brinkmans’ five children and decided to take Bela to her family home in Blaricum. Bela joined Cornelia’s 11 siblings and was raised by their parents, Marinus and Maria Josepha Zwart. The family also took in young Bea Hartogs, a friend of Cornelia’s sister, Emmie.

Bela and Bea slept in the loft under a slanted roof behind a hidden door in the back of a cupboard. At times the Zwarts even hid Bela’s parents, despite the risk of being caught. During one of the Nazi raids, Bela and Bea were moved from their usual hiding place and laid under the wooden floors for 12 hours.

As the situation became more and more dangerous, especially with Bob Zwart (Cornelia’s older brother) being active in the resistance, the Zwarts ensured Bela’s safety by moving her to different locations. One time, Bela was brought to friends of the Zwart family, Gerardus Martinus Maria (Gertje) and Elisabeth Id Ephemia (Beppie) van Houten. Unfortunately, during that time Bela contracted hepatitis and once back with the Zwarts, she had to isolate for six weeks. On another occasion, Bela spent over a month at Suzanna Oldeman-Met (also recognised as Righteous Among the Nations in 1982).

After the war, Bela returned to Meern and reunited with her family, but remained in contact with the Zwart family, in particular with Guus and Loes. She also kept in close contact with Mieke Brinkman, who attended Bela’s wedding and other family events.

Bela now lives in Herzliya and has seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

The ceremony was Mc’d by embassy spokesperson Eman Amasha.



One Response to “Israel honours a Righteous Among the Nations”
  1. Lynne Newington says:

    Another remnant of those worthy Righteous Among Nations.

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