On Holocaust Remembrance Day,
We Honour the Victims and the Righteous
Teach About the Righteous Among the Nations—Heroes and Role Models
Recently a reader of the CAEF Bulletin was in touch with the Executive Director to share her family story, both with pride and humbleness. Hannah Steynen, an Alberta resident, sent photos of her late parents, their story, and the ceremony that honoured them for their outstanding courage during the Holocaust.
As we remember the 6,000,000 who were murdered during the Holocaust, let us pay tribute to the brave souls who stood with the Jews, hid them, and did not betray them.
The Righteous Among the Nations (RATN) is the designation of the highest honour awarded by the State of Israel to non-Jewish individuals who risked their lives and the lives of their families to rescue Jews during the Holocaust.
In September 2019, Hannah Steynen, child of Netherlands RATNs Bart Rijpstra and Wytske Keverkamp, accepted the honour on behalf of her parents as Yad Vashem honored them in a Ceremony at the Israeli Consulate in Toronto, Canada.
This year, fulfilling a wish that Hannah had long nurtured, to know more about the people whom her family saved, she contacted Americans for a Safe Israel/AFSI. She told them she wanted to visit the homeland of the people who were saved and to see how the real people of Israel lived. Traveling with AFSI in November 2022, her yearning was fulfilled and she shared more information as her story was highlighted in the AFSI news bulletin. Here is an excerpt as relayed by Judy Freedman Kadish, Executive Director, AFSI.
“Part of the thank you that Israel gives RATN families, is a private tour of Yad Vashem.
The tour guide, Alice Marco, walked Hannah immediately to the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations. In this bucolic atmosphere, Hannah saw her parents’ names engraved on the wall. Holding back her full emotions, her tour host could see that the enormity of what her parents (and she as part of the household) had done for the cause of all humanity was sinking in.
As the tour continued in the remaining outdoor area of Yad Vashem, the valour of what Hannah’s family had done touched others deeply. Hannah had kept in touch with some of the families her family had rescued. Karel Fonteijn the youngest and the last survivor, passed away May 18, 2021, almost 96 years old.”
As Hannah tells it...
“May 14, 1948 father turned on the radio at lunch to listen to the news, it was just him and me downstairs. Let me tell you what happened upon hearing a loud male voice...father, the principal of a school and dressed in a suit, don't forget that he was 6'2” .... started dancing around the furniture in the living and dining room, arms up in the air, while shouting and dancing around!! Remember, that I was only 6 and this man looked larger than life behaving like that. After the news, he explained who this man was and that The State of Israel was now a fact.
This man created a new country in my child's mind, a home for Jewish people, I need to go there and see for myself. I just adored this man!
After high school I planned to go to Israel and work there for a couple of years, but it didn't pan out that way. I got a degree as a social worker/art therapist and worked in a small Orthodox Jewish mental facility, where most of the patients were Shoah survivors. I loved working there using a gentle new approach which was practiced there to deal with such overwhelmingly traumatized people.
During the COVID lockdown for over 2 years, I took in lots of webinars and read a lot of newscasts put out by AFSI in New York and CAEF and CILR both in Toronto. That is how I stayed informed about anti-Semitism and what was happening in the Middle East.
After the ceremony for my parents in Toronto, Consul General Galit Baram urged me to come to Israel to visit. Is it safe to do so, really? Of course, she said, it is a beautiful country, come!
Why travel with AFSI, I was asked. Because during my early years I was surrounded by Jewish people in my home, that was my comfort zone, and especially for the first visit I wanted to go with Jewish people and see Israel through their eyes. Also, because it was a mission tour and that is what attracted me.
Best choice I made. I had no idea what I would experience, the landscape, the people living there, the folks I would travel with and hoped to fit in quietly. Not. Judy and I had a good laugh when I told her that. Part of my heart stayed in Israel and I plan to return in the near future, I had such a wonderful time in that beautiful country, a trip of a lifetime indeed! Thanks to everybody who was involved in organizing this tour.
I am so grateful that Judy took time before the tour started to go with me to Yad Vashem to visit the "Wall of Honor." Our wonderful guide was Alice Marco, one of Dani Dayan's assistants. Dani is the Chairman of the Yad Vashem Directorate. To have the two women with me was a such a blessing. Getting out of the car, a very heavy feeling came over me as I walked up those zillions of steps to the wall. I was so overwhelmed with emotions and flashbacks that I was unable to see any names engraved on that wall and the floodgate of tears didn't help either. Alice had to point out the names of my parents so I could feel them with my fingertips before I could read them. I realized that Israelis and Jews from all over consider them as heroes.
I am their daughter, they are my parents, just my parents you know, the ones I had issues with, I was a teenager you know once upon a time. How well do we as children know our parents? At that moment I saw a glimpse of the enormity of what they did in WWII. I stood there in awe, my parents were good people and indeed, they are my heroes as well. And what a beautiful peaceful place for them to be remembered and honored.”