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WWII foster parents placed 123 Jewish children in hiding

Exhibit remembers the Van der Voorts

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

TIENRAY, the Netherlands - A current exhibit in the Resistance Museum in Amsterdam pays hommage to a Limburg nurse and to the 123 Jewish children she cared for before they were placed in hiding in the area.

The story of the 123 children from Amsterdam was recorded just after the Liberation when Hanna van der Voort’s sister Mien collected photographs of some 50 of the children, taken while in hiding or shortly after the Liberation. She also recorded the stories from the children themselves and from the foster parents, and put all of it together in a commemorative album which she then presented to Hanna.

The youngsters all had been spirited away from the Jewish day care centre opposite the Hollandsche Schouwburg in Amsterdam. That building soon after the German Occupation of the Netherlands in May 1940, was changed into a holding area for Jews to be ‘deported’ to the Nazi death camps. Responsible for the disappearance of the children was the resistance group led by Piet Meerburg.

All survived

In her home town of Tienray in northern Limburg close to the town of Venray, Van der Voort organized the transfer of the children, together with two people in hiding in the rural area close to the river Meuse, former student Nico Dohmen and Kurt Loewenstein, a Jew. For a few days, the children were hosted by the Van der Voort family to acclimatize and to get ‘accustomed’ to their new situation. From there, the youngsters were moved to nearby farm families, often to be re-peatedly moved because of a range of wartime difficulties, including dangers of infiltration and betrayal. The children were given new identities, covered by identity cards from the Bureau of Children Placement set up in Rotterdam after its inner city was laid to waste by German bombers on May 14, 1940.

The funds and the food rationing coupons for the host families originated with an underground organization. Dohmen was the liaison who maintained close contact with the children. The young man devoted much time and effort to counseling his wards, encouraging them to persevere. As part of their new identity and to avoid raising suspicions with outsiders, they also were given special courses on how to present themselves as Roman Catholic children. Almost all of the 123 survived the war, none were captured up by the Germans.

Yad Vashem

Hanna van der Voort eventually was arrested and tortured by the Germans, who failed to extract information from her. The treatment while incarcerated caused permanent damage to her health. She died in 1956.

For her wartime efforts Hanna van der Voort posthumously was awarded the Yad Vashem Medal in 1987. Nico Dohmen also received the honour. The Yad Vashem organization recognizes both as ‘righteous among the nations’.

The exibit was set up after a recent meeting between ninety of the children and their remaining wartime rescuers, the first such gathering since 1945.