Righteous Among the Nations

October 23, 2020 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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The Israeli Embassy, in conjunction with Yad Vashem (the World Holocaust Remembrance Centre) and the Queensland Jewish Board of Deputies, has awarded the late Jacob and Klaasje van der Haar Righteous Among the Nations, the highest honour the State of Israel can bestow upon non-Jews.

The family of the late Jacob Klaasje van der Haar receive the award from Chargé d’Affaires Dr Tibor Shalev Schlosser        Photo: Michael Arenson

The van der Haars hid, protected, and cared for Jewish children Joseph Gokkes and Sonja Peters in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands during the Holocaust.

Righteous Among the Nations recognises the exceptional courage and bravery of non- Jews who risked their lives to protect and rescue Jews from the Holocaust during the Second World War. Without these people, the state of Israel as we know it might not exist today, so it is crucial that we recognise and honour their actions. The Embassy of Israel in Australia has been honoured to present several of these awards in recent years to Australians who rescued Jews in Europe during the Holocaust. Many of these awards, like that of the van der Haars, have been granted posthumously, as it often takes many years for their actions to become known and be brought to the attention of Yad Vashem.

Klaasje and Jacob van der Haare

Jacob and Klaasje van der Haar, in their thirties, lived in the town of Hoogeveen (prov. Drenthe) with their three young children. Jacob worked in a local metal factory. Soon after the German invasion, the van der Haars began to resist the new regime. When in the fall of 1942, a friend of the family who was active in a local resistance group, turned to the van der Haars for help in hiding a Jewish boy, they saw it their duty to open their home to him. In the summer of 1942, with the start of the deportations, Benjamin and Gila (née Meijer) Gokkes, from Groningen, had decided to seek a hiding place instead of heeding the order to report for “work in the East”.

They turned to members of the local underground, who took their two-year-old son Joseph to a number of addresses, all temporary ones, until in November 1942, he was brought to the van der Haars. Now called Joop, he was presented to the van der Haar children and the outside world as a child whose father was working in Germany and whose mother was too ill to care for him.

When a nosy neighbour commented that Joop’s father never came to visit him, the van der Haars asked a friend to pose as the father and pass by twice a year. Joseph was treated as their own child and soon he saw the van der Haars as his real parents, calling them ‘mamma’ and ‘pappa’ and the children as his brothers and sisters. As a preventive measure in case of imminent danger, the van der Haars arranged an escape plan with their immediate neighbours. A woman, active in the resistance, was able to forewarn the van der Haars a number of times of upcoming raids so that Joseph could be whisked away.

The van der Haar home was often a meeting place for resistance workers. Once, when collaborators came to the house looking for Jacob, daughter Truida hid Joseph in the attic until the coast was clear. In February 1945, a Jewish girl from Amsterdam, Sonja Peters, was also accepted into the van der Haar home. Both stayed until the liberation of the area in April 1945. After the war, Joseph was reunited with his biological parents. The separation from the van der Haars, however, was very traumatic for all.

Later that year, a fourth van der Haar baby was born, who was called Joop after Joseph Gokkes. They stayed in close touch, also after Joseph’s immigration to Israel and the van der Haars to Australia.

On May 7, 2001, Yad Vashem recognized Jacob van der Haar and Klaasje van der Haar-van der Weide, as Righteous Among the Nations.

Chargé d’Affaires Dr. Tibor Shalev Schlosser presented the Award to the couple’s Brisbane family at last night’s ceremony.

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