Part VI: When the Money Runs Out
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Margriet Bogaards was a very religious woman in her mid-forties who had once been engaged, but the engagement had been broken off, and she lived alone. When Abraham Rodrigues called upon his customer to help his children survive, she responded,
“‘Jesus was a Jew. If he was walking the streets of Amsterdam the Nazis would be looking for him too. I might not be able to save my Jesus, but I will save your Elly’” (qtd. in Stewart).
Although this was an incredibly dangerous endeavor, Margriet was happy to have the company and welcomed Elly into her home with open arms. At around the same time, Margriet’s sister Aartje Bogaards took Elly’s brother Henry into her home, as well. Through the extensive Dutch resistance network, Abe was able to funnel money to Margriet, who was earning a rather meager schoolteacher’s salary, in order to help support his daughter. As the resistance network was a covert underground effort, the flow of funds was often sporadic and could frequently be interrupted. Using her resourcefulness, Margriet went to extraordinary and imaginative lengths to support her new charge, even taking her curtains down and sewing them into clothing for Elly until more funds arrived (Stewart).
When Abraham and Lea Rodrigues were arrested in Utrecht in December of 1943 and eventually deported, the support money stopped (“Bogaards Family”). After the arrest, Margriet moved Elly temporarily to another foster family, “but once the coast was clear, Elly came back, even though Margriet received no more money towards her upkeep” (“Bogaards Family”). Elly was terrified that Margriet would no longer be willing or able to continue to keep her in her home. Elly, barely 12 years old, had no idea what the future held for her, or how much longer she would survive.
She was often fearful that Margriet, although always incredibly kind to her, would have no choice but to cast her out of her home and from under her protective care. For Margriet, however, money was never the issue; she “was driven solely by humanitarian and religious motives” (“Bogaards Family”). Margriet responded to the concerns of the clearly frightened and orphaned young girl in a manner that Elly would never forget: “‘You are now mine,’” Margriet said to her.
“‘If all I have is half a sandwich, I will cut it into quarters and share it with you’” (qtd. in Stewart).
This beautifully illustrates Margriet’s selflessness and devotion and reveals her deepening affection for the young Elly. Growing out of a favor to a friend that initially involved financial support, the bond between Elly and Margriet eventually blossomed into a mutually loving relationship that would run deep and last a lifetime.
Part VII: Elly Rodrigues Becomes Elly van Tol
Upon returning to Margriet’s home, Elly underwent a complete identity change. Elisabeth Rodrigues Lopez de la Peña, a girl who had come from a very observant Jewish family, who had gone to religious school, and whose grandfather was a rabbi, was now living as Elly van Tol, a
Christian niece of Margriet’s. She had to learn chapter and verse of the New Testament, as well as a large assortment of church hymns. In addition, Elly had to be particularly mindful of how she pronounced certain names found in the Bible, as well as many other words, which differed from the teachings of her extensive Hebrew education. She took what amounted to a “crash course” in Christianity, being awakened by Margriet at 5:00 AM every day (including weekends) in order to learn the New Testament (Stewart). Carolyn Stewart explained that Elly would later remember thinking, “All that Jesus business! I will forget that as soon as the war is over and I am back with my parents!” Elly began attending the small private school where Margriet taught home economics. All was proceeding smoothly until the day that Elly committed one slip of the tongue that could have easily proven fatal.
One day, while in class at school, Elly pronounced the name of one of the Hebrew prophets in a distinctly Jewish way because this was the pronunciation she had been taught and had always used with her family. Her teacher immediately realized that this girl had to be Jewish and went to the Dean, saying to him, “We have a problem. Go speak with Margriet and ask her what she is doing” (qtd. in Stewart). The Dean pulled Margriet into an office for a private conversation and confronted her, explaining what had happened. Margriet was petrified—her superiors at the school now clearly suspected Elly’s true identity as a Jew in hiding. In that instant, everything important to her was placed in jeopardy, including her livelihood and her own and her young house guest’s freedom and lives.
The interrogation continued, and then, in amazing turn of events, the Dean said, “‘Margriet, we aren’t going to do anything. Continue to bring Elly to school. Your secret is safe with us’” (qtd. in Stewart). Almost more shockingly, none of the other students in the school, nor any of the other teachers (including the one who had initially reported Elly to the Dean), ever said a word to anyone.
Margriet was so shaken by what had transpired, however, that she decided to take a six-week leave of absence from the school and flee with Elly to hide more deeply in the countryside. By this time Elly was in possession of forged papers under the name Elly van Tol.
When Elly and Margriet were on a train making their escape. It just so happened that a pair of German officers were on the same train, and they came face to face with Margriet and Elly. The officers, thinking it peculiar that this young, dark-haired (and, therefore, possibly Jewish) girl was traveling alone with a woman who appeared too old to be her mother, demanded to see their papers. Elly, frightened once again, held tightly onto Margriet’s hand for dear life and began to pray:
“‘Jesus, if you are really who my auntie said you are, please spare us this one time not to get caught’” (qtd. in Stewart).
The officers looked at the identity papers, and, satisfied with the forgeries, continued on their way—as Elly’s daughter Carolyn now explains, this experience “was the seed that was planted for my mother’s acceptance of the person of Jesus.”
One problem with hiding out in the countryside, however, was that Margriet’s neighbors began wondering where she and Elly were. The pair became conspicuous by their absence, and some of Margriet’s close friends got word to her that she was raising more suspicion by being gone than she would have if she and Elly were at home.
They let her know that everything was quiet, and that it was safe for them to return, which they did. From then on, Elly returned to the school and “continued to move freely around the village” (“Bogaards Family”). Thus, Margriet’s friends and neighbors who were in on the secret also played a significant role in Elly’s survival.
As if the recent months were not eventful enough, however, shortly after Margriet and Elly returned to Hazerswoude, there would be yet another close call.
As bad luck would have it, an American paratrooper had parachuted out of his airplane and just happened to land near Margriet’s house. German occupation forces were scouring the countryside, trying to find him and, thinking he was nearby, knocked on Margriet’s door. Elly opened the door and looked straight into the eyes of two German soldiers. She was speechless and paralyzed with panic and terror. Margriet then came to the door herself and, seeing who was there, quickly pushed Elly back into the house, saying harshly to her, “‘Get away!’” (qtd. in Stewart).
The Germans asked Margriet whether she knew or had seen anything concerning the American paratrooper, and she replied, “‘I don’t know anything. I am a woman alone here with my niece. Get away, and don’t bother me again’” (qtd. in Stewart).
The two German soldiers had not counted on running up against a middle-aged schoolteacher who had no problem standing up to armed Nazis, a woman who was fully capable of chasing them away from her door in order to protect a girl she had always treated as her own daughter.
Whenever Elly was feeling insecure or expressed her fears of being captured or put out into the street, Margriet would always reassure her, stating with certitude, “‘No. That is not going to happen’” (qtd. in Stewart).
It was due in large part to Margriet’s selfless actions, inner strength, and confidence that Elly survived the war years as a young child when so many others, so tragically, did not.
Part VIII: Post-War Years and a Spiritual Awakening
With the defeat of the Axis powers in 1945, World War II, one of the bloodiest chapters in the history of humanity, finally and mercifully came to an end. Millions of lives were changed forever. In addition to the countless deaths and physical casualties, families were torn apart, and the emotional toll was high on survivors like Elly and her brother Henry, as well. Margriet felt that, as hostilities had ended, and the danger had passed, the right thing to do would be to return
Elly to her family. Unfortunately, Elly’s parents had both been murdered at Auschwitz, so the search for yet another new home for Elly had to begin among the extended members of the Rodrigues family. There was, however, a serious and unforeseen complication.
That complication was religion. Elisabeth Rodrigues, at around the age of twelve, had been through an incredible amount of trauma. Anyone who has read Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young
Girl is familiar with Anne’s detailed account of what it was like to live in hiding for an extended period of time, unable to move around freely for many hours on a daily basis, incapable of enjoying the beauties of nature and fresh air, and to be denied any number of other small pleasures that are far too often taken for granted by those who live in freedom. Elly existed under similar, and at times even more gruesome circumstances, for eleven months.
Unlike Anne Frank, Elly was separated from her family for much of the time she was in hiding—unbeknownst to her, once she left for Margriet’s home, she would, in fact, never see her beloved parents again. She then had to take on an assumed identity and change her name, and above all, she had to always remember that she was supposed to be Margriet’s niece.
As if all of this were not enough, the 12 year-old girl who was raised in a very religious Jewish family, and whose grandfather was in fact a rabbi, had to convince everyone she interacted with on a daily basis that she was a Christian. Taking on a Christian identity was a fairly common strategy and was often a choice made by “the great majority of children who were ‘in hiding’” (Dwork 102).
These children, by and large, “had false names and fictive histories” (102). Young people who were innocent of any real crime, but who were forced by an evil regime to live as fugitives, “had to be constantly vigilant to avoid disclosure. For years they lived a dual reality as internal Jews and external Christians” (103). Although “the adoption of a Christian faith was not rare,” all of the subterfuge took its toll on young Elisabeth (105).
Another very important factor influencing these hidden children’s spirituality was the hiding place itself: “The circumstances of the hiding environment also played an important role in directing a child’s interest in Christianity,” and “young people who found refuge in … pious Christian families had greater opportunities to become absorbed than children who hid in … unobservant homes” (105). Also influential was “the duration of the hiding period [because] the longer a child lived as a gentile among gentiles, the easier it was to become incorporated into that way of life” (105).
Sara Spier, a Jewish girl whose experience seems to have been quite similar to Elly’s, shared the following reflections about her own rescuers:
‘They were Christians and very good Christians. It was something natural. They told me they could never do work which was so dangerous if they didn’t have their belief. I was very impressed by this because I had the feeling that it as something true, something that’s no game … [and] they also told me, ‘We always pray and that gives us lots of strength. We just want to tell you that.’ Every time I saw them (and this was also due to the fact that my parents were away) I thought of them as a kind of parents. I think I became Christian because I had the feeling, well, I’d like to be one of them. I’ve been a Christian I think nine years , a long time. Gereformeerd [Calvinist]. Well, anyhow, I had quite a belief in the war and it gave me some rest. It also gave me the feeling, as most people I came to were Gereformeerd, it gave me a bit of feeling of assimilation, I think.’ (qtd. in Dwork 107)
Therefore, Margriet’s own religious devotion influenced Elly to a large degree. Add to this the daily instruction in the New Testament that Elly received, without which she would not have been able to convincingly pass as a Christian (although another interesting aspect to consider is that some Jewish survivors who were rescued by Christians felt that it was divine intervention that had saved them, whereas others suffered from a religious identity crisis for years afterward)
(“Between Two Religions”). All of these factors combined to shape Elly’s spiritual consciousness, and, one day, she said to Margriet, “‘I want what you have’” (qtd. in Stewart). Elly became what is known as a Messianic Jew, never relinquishing her Jewish roots, while accepting the teachings of the New Testament and becoming what she felt was a “‘completed Jew’” (Stewart). Elisabeth’s brother, Henry, who had been hidden by Margriet’s sister Aartje Bogaards, did not experience a similar spiritual change, and, after the war, he was accepted back by the family with open arms. Elly’s family, however, was not quite as accepting of Jesus Christ as she was. When Margriet began contacting Elly’s surviving family members, including her aunts and uncles, none were willing to take her because of this profound change in her religious faith.
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