Principal Marc Light looks at the camera, he is wearing a grey suit and smiling. The King David School's logo is behind him, silver on a wood background.

Honouring the righteous among nations

In 2014, my first day as Principal of The King David School coincided with Yom HaShoah. This meant that the first time I spoke to the student body was in the context of an important sombre commemoration. I wanted to share something personal with the school community so I decided to tell my late Grandmother, Adi Lippmann’s survival story.

The story had specific pertinency for me at that moment as I had just returned from a family ‘Roots’ trip which helped further develop the life-long bond of gratitude and friendship that exists between my wider family and the descendants of the heroic Zuidema family who risked their lives and future to save Adi.

The story has a renewed relevance now, as next week two of my children and my father will return to the Netherlands where they will stay with the descendants of the Zuidema family. I cannot quite articulate the pride and joy I feel in knowing that this legacy of extraordinary courage will continue to forge meaningful bonds through generations that could easily not have existed.

Sadly, I never met my grandmother, as she died before I was born, but it is not correct to say that I did not get the chance to know her. In fact, her essence was bequeathed to my cousins, sister and me through the myriad stories that I heard about her from my parents, uncle and grandfather.

Adi Van Engel grew up as a young girl in Germany, to a Dutch Jewish father and a German Jewish mother. Following the passage of the Nuremberg Laws they were stripped of their most basic human rights. They were prohibited from being involved in business and political lives. Their nationality was reclassified as “Jewish” and their German citizenship was revoked.

They fled to the Netherlands where they settled in East Amsterdam, however, upon the Nazi invasion in May 1940 they were relocated to a small section of Amsterdam and were forced to wear the yellow star.

Adi’s parents decided that their only chance at survival was to go into hiding. Their immense fortune was to be introduced to the network of members of the Dutch Reform Church who saw it as their religious obligation to strive to protect those in need.

Adi was able to obtain false papers that named her as Annechien van Bruijin. She was taken in by Mies and Wim Zuidema who allowed her to live in their house pretending she was a distant, Christian cousin. She grew to love her supposed cousins as if they were her siblings and in particular forged a lifelong connection with Minka Zuidema – whose children my children will be staying with.

Adi spent the war years under the care and compassion of this family. Her false papers gave her some level of autonomy, though every move she made was fraught with risk for both her and her saviours who would be shot as ‘collaborators’ if she were to be caught.

She was separated from her parents, brother and sister who lived under the protection of a few other brave families, the Smits and the Kersebooms. They were constantly fearful and were starved of opportunities for fresh air, exercise or any semblance of normality.

However, miraculously they each survived and in May 1945 after Holland’s liberation they were able to migrate to start a new life in Australia.

Adi’s family was determined for her heroes to be recognised as Righteous Amongst the Nations in Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. This occurred in 1978 and brings us genuine joy that they have been acknowledged in such a way.

I often reflect on the extraordinary courage of Mies and Wim Zuidema, the Smits and the Kersebooms. Without their placing at risk what most counted to them, the very lives of their families, it is unlikely that my grandmother could have survived the Shoah. Indeed, 75% of the Jews of the Netherlands were murdered.

I imagine the constant fear that Mies and Wim must have been under. They would have constantly worried that they would be caught, that one of their children might say the wrong thing at the wrong time to the wrong person about their new cousin from the country who suddenly came to live with them.

The Talmud teaches us that “whoever saves one life saves the world entire”. In 2014 when I sat and watched my children play with Mies and Wim’s descendants and get to know Minka, I felt that this was particularly true.

This will now be reemphasised as my family is once again welcomed into the Zuidema family’s homes. While I cannot join them this time, I want to honour this special and ongoing connection by once again sharing it with my precious King David community.

Shabbat Shalom,

Marc Light