Part IX: Request Denied
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Henry Rodrigues went into hiding with Aartje Bogaards at the age of 13 and, as a result, did not even have the opportunity of celebrating his Bar Mitzvah, which under normal circumstances, he would have done that same year. Henry’s experiences hiding with Aartje and her children during the war affected him deeply, and in his later years, he would rarely consent to speak about this period at all, becoming a rather quiet and introspective adult. Unlike his sister Elly, Henry did not embrace Christianity, and, like some other survivors of the Holocaust, he turned away from religion for a time, questioning the reasons for his suffering for many years before returning to more observant Judaism later in life. His niece, Carolyn Stewart, recalls that he finally did get to have a Bar Mitzvah, not at 13, but at the age of 56, in New York City.
During the war years, Henry became quite close with Aartje’s sister Margriet and was like an actual nephew to her. When the war ended however, Aartje, a widow with six children of her own, was “all too happy to let Henry go” (Stewart). Henry went to live with an aunt and uncle, but Margriet was now faced with a problem: what would become of Elly?
The answer became more and more obvious. Margriet and Elly had become extremely close. Elly recognized that Margriet had most likely saved her life. Elly no longer had living parents, and her closest living family members had now disowned her. In addition, Margriet was responsible in many ways for Elly’s current state of religious belief. There was really only one thing for Margriet to do: adopt the now 14 year-old girl. Margriet and Elly had developed a love for one another much like that of a mother and daughter. An application was made to the government of the Netherlands for a legal adoption, and shockingly, Margriet was immediately turned down. The Dutch government of the 1940s would not allow Margriet to adopt Elly because Margriet was unmarried, and “there was no nuclear family consisting of a mother and a father” (Stewart). Eventually, a compromise was reached, and in 1945, Margriet Bogaards was awarded fully legal Guardianship of Minor Child to Foster Mother by the Dutch government. In his later years, Henry Rodrigues, who had been so profoundly affected by his wartime experiences and was always reluctant to discuss them, kept a photograph hidden away in a shoebox along with other artifacts from this period, never showing it to anyone. Upon his death, Elly’s daughter Carolyn came into possession of an amazing photograph. This official
Government of the Netherlands image, unseen by anyone in over 60 years, captures the momentous occasion when Margriet Bogaards was given legal guardianship of Elly Rodrigues by the Government of the Netherlands. Carolyn Stewart points out how the strain of what Elly had been through is visible on the young girl’s face. Elly certainly appears to be older than 15 years old in the photograph.
Figure 12. Government of the Netherlands official photo capturing the moment when Margriet obtained legal guardianship of Elly. (Courtesy of Carolyn Stewart)
After the guardianship was legally formalized, Elly’s Christianity played an increasingly important role in her life, although she always continued to hold on to her Jewish heritage, as well. Carolyn Stewart recalls that “Christianity simply made sense to her,” and sharing in Margriet’s Christian belief also deepened the familial bond that she formed with her legal guardian, convinced that she would not have survived without her.
While Elly was going through her own travails, elsewhere in Holland, there was another rescue story taking place, and these two lives would soon converge, leading to even more lifechanging events. Ernest Cassutto was from a non-religious Jewish family who, at the time of his birth, lived in the Dutch East Indies. The family moved to Holland and, during the Nazi occupation, was also forced to go into hiding. Ernest and his fiancée, Hetty Winkel, were also hidden by Dutch Christians and members of the network that comprised the Dutch resistance movement, in a total of forty-four different hiding places during the war (Stewart). Hetty was eventually captured and died in a Polish camp in November of 1943 (Stewart).
Figure 13. Hetty Winkel, date unknown.
(Courtesy of Carolyn Stewart)
Ernest was also eventually captured and imprisoned in Rotterdam. One of the Dutch prison guards there was a very religious Christian, and, as a gesture of goodwill, he gave Ernest a
Bible, saying, “‘The Bible will save you’” (qtd. in Stewart). The guard began having regular conversations with Ernest about Christianity, and, then, an extraordinary thing happened.
Prisoners with a yellow star on their cell door identifying them as Jewish were slated for eventual execution, and Ernest’s door had one of these stars affixed to it. Shortly before he was due to meet his fate, the yellow star mysteriously disappeared from the cell door. Someone unknown had removed it, and Ernest’s life was spared. Ernest Cassutto always considered this to be the act of an angel, and these events led to Ernest’s embrace of Christianity, as such experiences did for Elly and some others in similar situations. After his release from the Rotterdam jail, Ernest was given assistance by the Dutch underground in getting to England, where “he was rehabilitated back to good physical and emotional health by a couple named Mr. and Mrs. Newmark” (Stewart). In his later years, he wrote a book recounting his wartime experiences titled The Last Jew of Rotterdam.
Part X: Aunt Grie
During the late 1940s in Holland, a group of young people had formed who had all gone through similar experiences in hiding during the war. Elly heard about a conference that was to be sponsored by this group and wanted to attend, but, because Elly was only a sixteen-year-old at the time, Margriet forbade it, saying, “‘You will go over my dead body. You are only sixteen!’”(qtd. in Stewart). In a rare show of defiance to her guardian, Elly insisted, and Margriet very “reluctantly let her go.”
This conference was where Elly Rodrigues would meet her future husband Ernest Cassutto for the first time, and when he saw Elly, “his eyes locked on her.” Ernest was roughly ten years older than Elly, and their courtship lasted a full year “under the watchful eyes of Margriet” (Stewart). They were engaged in 1948, married on April 22, 1949, and lived during the early part of their marriage in the small Dutch town of Hurwenen. At the wedding of this young lady, who was now not only orphaned, but who, in her time of need, had been disowned by her entire surviving adult family, Margriet Bogaards was called upon to sign not just as a witness, but now as a legal guardian, substitute mother, confidante, and friend, and also to experience the joy of being present at this event in what was her most important role: as Elly’s lifesaver.
Figure 14. Margriet Bogaards signs as witness and legal guardian at the wedding of Elisabeth and Ernest at The Hague, April 22, 1949. (Courtesy of Carolyn Stewart)
The couple’s first child was born a short time later, and, in a very gracious act, Elly consented to name their new daughter Hetty, after Ernest’s first fiancée. This is confirmed by Ernest and Elly’s younger daughter Carolyn, who explains, “My sister is named after Hetty Winkel. To this day I don’t know how my mother was OK with naming her first daughter after her husband’s fiancée. I believe my mother wanted to pay tribute to a young Jewish woman who [lost] her life for no reason.” This is quite an extraordinary gesture on Elly’s part and illustrates the values of selflessness, compassion, and perhaps even sacrifice that seem to have been ingrained into Elly’s personality by the acts of those who saved her from a fate similar to Hetty’s—a fate that so many other innocent souls needlessly suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Together, Ernest and Elly later moved to the United States, eventually settling in Maryland. They raised a large and loving family, which included more than one pair of twins, and Ernest became a Minister in the Dutch Reformed Church. When Elisabeth’s old friend Barry Spanjaard, who always had a crush on her, learned in 1946 of her survival he was astonished, as he “had assumed [her] to be dead” (Spanjaard “Epilogue”). Barry added, “I visited her a few years later in Holland. She is now married, has five children, grandchildren, and lives on the East Coast of the U.S. No, she did not marry me” (Spanjaard “Epilogue”). Margriet, who remained a lifelong resident of Holland, often travelled to the Cassutto family home in the United States for frequent visits. Elly’s children always viewed her as a close family member, usually referring to her as Tante Grietje, or Aunt Grie. The gift of love that Margriet had given Elly was returned to her many times over and is reflected in the revered position that Margriet Bogaards holds in the Cassutto family to this day.
In her seminal 1991 study of the effects of the Shoah on the Jewish children of Europe, Children with a Star, Deborah Dwork raises some difficult questions:
The treatment of the innocent and protection of the powerless are, after all, key issues through which we can understand and judge a society. The central conundrum is not why did the Jews allow this to happen, but where were the gentiles? It is the collusion of the gentile world, their responsibility in the oppression of children, and their failure to defend their young neighbors, which emerges as the principal dilemma. (256)
While it is indisputable that many in Europe either willingly participated in the persecution of the Jews or simply looked the other way, this troubling fact makes the stories of those non-Jews who acted on their conscience even more inspiring.
Anne Frank was able to survive in hiding for two years and to give the world the literary gift of her diary, thanks to the efforts of Miep Gies and the other Christian helpers of the Secret Annex. The story of Elly and Henry Rodrigues, of Bert and Annie Bochove, and of the Bogaards sisters is yet another of many examples of non-Jews voluntarily putting their own lives on the line in order to save some Jewish children, despite the consequences that might have arisen from the dangerous situations these helpers placed themselves in. Sometimes their actions were motivated by religious faith, and in other instances, these risks were taken because the rescuers believed their efforts to be the right choice.
Regardless of the origins of these selfless deeds, this paper’s goal has been to shine a few more rays of light on what was, during a very dark period of history, some evidence of the brighter side of humanity.
Figure 15. Margriet Bogaards hard at work cooking one of her specialty dishes during a visit to the Cassutto family home in the United States in 1955. (Courtesy of Carolyn Stewart)
Elly Rodrigues, as Elly van Tol, was given the gift of life thanks to the heroic actions taken by Margriet Bogaards. Elly and Ernest both lived full and happy lives into the mid-1980s. They basked in the warmth and love of their family, often returning to Holland and always looking forward to Margriet’s visits to the United States. Many of their sons and daughters speak today to young people about the risks taken and the courage displayed by their parents’ rescuers, including Carolyn Stewart, who resides in Maryland and who passionately shares her mother’s story with students at area schools.
Figure 16. Elly (back, second from the left) and Ernest Cassutto (center) enjoying the warmth of a family celebration at a bon voyage party prior to one of their frequent visits back to Amsterdam. (Courtesy of Carolyn Stewart)
Bert Bochove was honored as one of The Righteous of The Nations at the Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center with a tree planted in his name during a ceremony at which he was present, on January 28, 1980. He died on August 13, 1991, at the age of 81 (“Lizebertus Bochove”).
Figure 17. Bert Bochove at the tree planting ceremony in his and his wife’s honor on January 28, 1980. (“Bochove Lizebertus 1910-1991.” Yad Vashem)
Figure 18. The tree’s plaque as it appears today. (“Bochove Lizebertus 1910-1991.” Yad Vashem)
Figure 2. The tree planted on January 28, 1980, at Yad Vashem in the Bochoves’ honor, as it appears today. (“Bochove Lizebertus 1910-1991.” Yad Vashem)
Elly Rodrigues’ rescuer, Margriet Bogaards, passed away on June 17, 1964, at the age of 65 (Yad Vashem). In 1987, she was honored by the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Center as one of The Righteous of The Nations with an inscription on their Wall of Honor.
Figure 20. A portion of The Wall of Honor at Yad Vashem. (“Bogaards Family.”Yad Vashem)
Figure 21. Detail illustrating Margriet’s entry on the Wall of Honor at Yad Vashem. (“Bogaards Family.” Yad Vashem)
Henry Rodrigues’ rescuer, Aartje Ketel-Bogaards, passed away at the age of 77 on June 22, 1970
(Groeneveld’s Geneological Database). In 1987, she too was honored by the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Center as one of The Righteous of The Nations with an inscription on their Wall of Honor.
Figure 22. Aartje Ketel-Bogaard’s inscription on the Wall of Honor at Yad Vashem. (Courtesy of Carolyn Stewart)
Figure 23. Elly’s granddaughter Tina (bearing a striking resemblance to her grandmother) plays Anne Frank in a school production of The Diary of Anne Frank in the 1990s. (Courtesy of Carolyn Stewart)
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