The Holocaust Story of Elly Rodrigues and her Dutch Rescuers
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” Fred Rogers
Anne Frank has been described as Hitler’s most famous victim. By virtue of her diary, which was in fact a heavily revised memoir that today might be considered to belong to the genre of creative non-fiction, Anne Frank has attained a kind of immortality that the art form of writing frequently provides.
This should not, of course, trivialize her fate, nor the suffering of the multitudes of other victims of the Nazi regime, a group comprised of Jews, as well as non-Jews. Some of these stories have been told in great detail, while many others have not.
What follows is the story of Elisabeth Rodrigues Lopes de la Peña, a Jewish girl whose family had fled the Spanish Inquisition to settle in the Netherlands. During the German occupation of Amsterdam during the Second World War, this family faced yet another existential threat, one that some of them did not survive.
Elisabeth may well have ended up as yet one more entry in the long list of the Nazi’s victims, if not for the intervention and courageous efforts of her non-Jewish neighbors—efforts that were based in large part on their own deeply held religious beliefs and sense of morals. Elisabeth’s rescuers are known to Holocaust historians, and their names are enshrined in the Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Museum in Israel, as well as in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC.
Along with my Research Assistant Angelica Roman, I have conducted personal meetings and interviews with Elisabeth’s daughter, Carolyn Stewart. Ms. Stewart has graciously shared many heretofore unknown details of her mother’s story of rescue, as well as photographs and documents, including some that have been unseen by anyone in over sixty years. What follows is new insight into Elisabeth Rodrigues’ escape from the list: a true story of courage, sacrifice, and survival.
I would like to acknowledge with gratitude the assistance and support of the following people: Jennifer Crespo, Student Success Coordinator at Pace University in New York City, who generously provided funding for this project as part of the Pace Undergraduate Student – Faculty Research Program; Bonnie and Howard J. Price, without whose help this project would never have seen the light of day; my colleague at Pace University Dr. Maria Plochocki, for reviewing the manuscript and providing valuable suggestions; Gertjan Broek and Karolien Stocking Korzen at the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam; Beth Slepian at The Anne Frank Center NYC, and my superbly talented Research Assistant, Angelica E. Roman ‘19, who tirelessly conducted research, helped revise early drafts, and patiently fielded a multitude of my requests while putting up with my numerous anxieties. Special thanks go to Carolyn Stewart, who traveled from Maryland to New York City for interviews, and who spent many hours communicating with Angelica and me over the course of several months.
Carolyn shared many details and primary historical artifacts with us, and she relates her mother’s fascinating tale in a captivating and compelling manner. Our hope is that we can do this wonderful, inspiring story justice in the pages that follow.
Research Assistant: Angelica E. Roman
New York, NY
July 8, 2016
In the early 1940s, in the Dutch city of Amsterdam, there lived a young Sephardic Jewish girl by the name of Elisabeth Rodrigues Lopes de la Peña, more commonly known as Elly Rodrigues. Elly and her family were very religious Jews who originally hailed from Spain.
When Queen Isabella had all of Spain’s Jews expelled by issuing The Alhambra Decree in 1492, the family immigrated to the Netherlands, where they thrived for hundreds of years.
Midway through the twentieth century, the occupation by Nazi Germany during World War II changed the family’s lives forever. Tragically, Elly’s parents, Abraham Rodrigues and Lea
Coopman-Rodrigues, would perish in the gas chambers of Auschwitz. Elly and her brother Henry, however, would both survive thanks to the courageous actions of three selfless individuals with a conscience: Lizebertus “Bert” Bochove, and two sisters, Aartje and Margriet Bogaards.
This paper explores a story that is not entirely unknown. There are mentions of Elly Rodrigues, Bert Bochove, and the Bogaards sisters in a number of books and on various websites. This writer has, however, enjoyed exclusive access to the story as told by Elly’s daughter, Carolyn Stewart. Carolyn travels to different schools, speaking to young people about the inspiring story of her mother’s rescue, and she agreed to meet with the research team for many hours, relating heretofore unknown details of this story. She has also made available to us photographs and documents that had been locked away by an uncle, unseen by anyone including the family, in sixty years. Our hope is that this additional first-hand information will enhance appreciation for what is, as Carolyn puts it, a miraculous story of “love and faith.”
Part I: Who Were Elly’s Rescuers?
Only 11% of the European Jewish children who were alive in 1939 survived beyond the war years. It is a sad and sobering statistic that a total of 1.5 million European Jewish children were killed during World War II (Dwork xi). This astonishing number underscores how badly the odds were stacked against these children and helps explain why those who did survive, almost always with the help of non-Jewish citizens, felt that the gift of life they received was, indeed, miraculous. In Holland alone, “More than twenty thousand Dutch people helped to hide Jews and others in need of hiding during those years” (Gies 11). As a result of this altruism, there are many stories of heroism and survival that anyone examining this dark period of history can find. While some of the children who were hidden were rescued by people acting upon conscience alone, some were saved by individuals motivated by their Christian faith, as well, and, very often, this religious element had a large influence on the way the survivors led their lives after the crisis had passed. One example of the latter situation is the story of Elly Rodrigues.
Margriet Bogaards, who was Elly’s savior, was inspired to act primarily by her deeply held religious convictions. Religious belief was not, however, always a contributor to a moral imperative for many Christians—a great number of them chose to do nothing and often collaborated with the Nazis. Bert Bochove and his wife Annie, on the other hand, were not motivated so much by their religion as a feeling that they would simply be doing the right thing:
‘If I was not Christian, I would still do it. You have it in you. The first woman to come to us was a good friend of Annie’s, and likable, the last person you could say no to — it was impossible. Then you see that your house is more or less the perfect place for giving help; you have the feeling that you can do a good thing.’
(qtd. in Land-Weber)
Figure 1. Bert Bochove in 1946. (“Portrait of Dutch Rescuer Bert Bochove.” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum)
While Bert Bochove was Elly’ initial savior, Margriet Bogaards was her second, longer-term rescuer. Margriet was, in fact, motivated far more by her religious convictions than by any other consideration. Some rescuers were spurred to act by financial concerns, some by simple hatred for the Nazis; some, like the Bochoves, were guided by their conscience, and some were moved to act by virtue of their religion. Sometimes, these inspirations were combined, often conflating, and quite often the lines between these motivating factors became blurred.
Read more about this Holocaust story here:
Part 1 | Part 2