'This coming year you-know-who will disappear'
While hiding separately from the Nazis in the Netherlands, Yaakov Van Der Hoeden sent lovely illustrated letters to his young daughter, Lieneke. A veteran Israeli today, she recently decided to publish them, to accompany her own moving story. A saga of survival - not for children only.
Nili Goren, 74, from the Haifa suburb of Kiryat Haim, was born Jacqueline Van Der Hoeden, in the Netherlands. "Jacqueline" was a fusion of Jacques (or Yaakov; her father's name) and Lien (her mother's name). Her nickname was Lieneke. That typical Dutch name, together with her blue eyes and her father's connections, helped her hide from the Nazis and saved her life. A new book, which tells the story of the years she spent in hiding and also contains the letters her father sent her via the Resistance, has just come out (see box). If her story had ended unhappily, Goren says, it would have been a far better one. If she had been turned over to the Nazis, the letters her father wrote her - wonderful texts, accompanied by illustrations - would have competed with Anne Frank's diary. Fortunately for Goren, however, she, her father and her siblings lost the "glory" contest, but won life - and a pretty good life, too.
Her Holocaust, she says, was almost "a good Holocaust": "I always say that for me the Holocaust started on the day the Nazi occupation of Holland ended, and I suddenly found out that my mother had died," she says. Her mother, by the way, died of an illness. During the final year of the occupation in the Netherlands, Lieneke, a child, survived by eating flower bulbs and animal fodder, like all the inhabitants of the village in which she found refuge - but at least she was free and alive. With her new identity as a Christian, she had a relatively normal life, celebrating Christmas, attending school and playing with the neighbors' children.
"But the whole time," she recalls today, "I was worried about my brother and sisters and my parents, and I hoped that everything was all right with them. I also felt that I had to be a good girl, because I was very much aware of the tremendous danger experienced by those who hid me."
Goren was born in Utrecht in May 1933, the last child in a family with four children: Hannie, 85, who lives in the Netherlands, to which she returned in the wake of a romance after years in Israel; Bart (Baruch), 83, and Rachel, 78, who live in Israel; and Lieneke.
A beautiful woman with sparkling blue eyes, Lieneke and her husband Sasson Goren, an organic chemist, live in an apartment on a quiet street. The couple has three children and six grandchildren. Their home is full of souvenirs from the Netherlands, and its walls are covered with oil paintings done by Goren's father.
Lieneke's father was an extraordinary man. In the Netherlands he was a veterinarian and also did research in hospitals. In Israel he was a highly regarded researcher and an esteemed lecturer in medicine and biology, who was the first recipient of the Israel Prize in Agriculture, receiving the award from then prime minister David Ben-Gurion. He was a warm person, who had many close friends as well as many acquaintances and admirers throughout his life. Thanks to the high estimation in which they held him, he was able to save himself and his four children - all of whom emerged physically unscathed from the war.
Lieneke was six when the war broke out. When she was eight, her parents realized that they had to smuggle the entire family out of Utrecht. "I remember that a year or two before the German occupation, all kinds of people arrived from Germany and told stories of atrocities. Naturally not to us children, but there was an atmosphere of fear surrounding the word 'Germans.' There was also a couple from Germany, elderly people who my mother took under her wing, and when they heard that the Netherlands had surrendered they hanged themselves."
In the first two years of the war, Lieneke's parents tried to give the children a feeling of normalcy. As time passed, however, it became necessary to get the older ones out of harm's way.
"Hannie, who had completed nursing school in Amsterdam, was sent to hide with the director of a hospital that belonged to a convent. She wore a nun's habit and became one of them. One day one of the nuns asked her, 'Why do you wash yourself all the time?' If I didn't know you were a nun, I would think you are a Jew.' Bart remained at home until he completed high school, but then had to flee, as the Germans rounded up all the high-school graduates - not only the Jews - for labor camps. Father arranged for him to live with a farmer whom he knew from his work as a veterinarian, as a hired hand. I had no connection with either Hannie or Bart during the whole war and being cut off, especially from Bart, was very hard for me."
Lieneke and Rachel continued to live a sheltered life at home. As children, signs such as "No entrance to dogs and Jews" did not upset them.
"I said it was a good thing they said we were like dogs - an animal I love," says Lieneke. "We were extremely protected, but we understood something when we heard that Jews were being seized and taken from their homes at night. I also fell ill with diphtheria, which was then fatal. Everyone who had diphtheria was placed in isolation in the hospital, but this was out of the question for a Jewish girl. So Father created an isolation room in the house, and only he looked after me. The disease protected us, because the health ministry gave us a sign that said 'Contagious disease here.' The Germans were frightened of contagious diseases, and Father tried to stretch out the illness as long as he could. Every week I had a throat culture done and he'd say there were still germs, so the sign stayed up.
"One day I was sitting on the balcony that overlooked the street, and I saw three cars enter the courtyard very fast and then stop with screeching brakes. Soldiers poured out of the cars and immediately arranged themselves in two rows. They started to charge the front door, but then the first soldier saw the sign about the disease, and after him the others, and the two rows of bayonets fell back and they rushed to the cars and left. Of course, Father understood then that this trick would not be useful much longer, and within a few days we fled."
Game of names
"Mother took Rachel and me into her bed," Lieneke continues, "and told us that we were now going to play a game. You are not our girls, she said, you are other girls and you have new names and different parents and a different address. She said that Rachel would be called Francesca. I could stay Lieneke, because that was a typical Dutch name, and I only received a different surname. We were very happy, because it was a game.
"Later she said we would not all be able to stay together, that only Father would go with us to our friends, [who had] agreed to take us in. They lived in a place called Sassenheim. We stayed with them for a short time. I hardly remember anything from that period, except that we lived on the top floor and came downstairs only in the evening, to eat with the whole family. One day, after the maid had set the table for the meal as usual, she suddenly took fright and said to the lady of the house, 'Ma'am, your father is at the door.' The woman's father was a Nazi sympathizer. She did not lose her head, but told the maid, 'Take their plates off the table.' And to us she said, 'Go upstairs and sit on the beds and don't step on the floor.' It was a wooden floor, and she was afraid that her father would hear the footsteps. We sat upstairs quietly for a good few hours until her father left. But after that they decided that enough was enough, and we had to go.
"So Father moved Rachel and me to a small village called St. Oedenrode, to the home of the village doctor, Harry Cooymans. He was not even a friend of Father's, but he was in residency in the hospital where Father did research. On the day he completed his residency he left a note on Father's desk saying, 'I understand that we can expect hard times. If you should ever need help, let me know.' You understand, this was a person who wasn't even a friend. What he did was tremendous. I can't stop being moved by it."
The doctor was not in when Lieneke's father arrived at his house. His wife asked who he was. He said maybe her husband had told her about a note he had left for a researcher in the hospital. She understood, and immediately agreed to take the two girls.
"I want you to understand the heroism this entailed," Goren recalls with visible emotion. "It was terribly dangerous. At the beginning of the war they only seized and tortured people who hid Jews, but toward the end of the war they would kill them and everyone else in the house, too. It's unbelievable how brave these people were. When I was already a mother, and the children were small, I often went to their beds when they were asleep and asked myself whether I, in the same situation, would be willing to put my children at risk to save the daughters of someone I don't know."
Lieneke and Rachel led a protected and quite happy life with the Cooymans family. There were three children in the family, and they were educated by a nanny-teacher they called Fraulein. There were also two maids.
Lieneke: "The life of the children took place on the second floor. In the morning we had lessons, and at midday, no matter what the weather, we went for a walk in the woods, and in the afternoon we did our homework, did crafts and played musical instruments. I was a bit afraid of the mother. Her children were also a little afraid of her, because she was aristocratic and looked tough. It was only after I was grown up - and of course we all stayed in touch after the war, until their death, with the parents and with the children - that I understood what a soft and sentimental woman she was.
"We arrived there in the period before Christmas. I had always envied my Christian friends for having a Christmas tree and all those beautiful songs. Now I had an opportunity to make decorations for a tree and to learn songs. Every day from 5 P.M., Fraulein played the piano and we sang. Singing was my great love.
"One day, when the priest came calling, he heard us singing from the ground floor and suddenly heard an unfamiliar voice. He asked who was singing. She said it was a guest, and he said he wanted me for Mass. It was clear that if I were to sing at the Mass, to which people came not only from the village, but from the whole region, questions would be asked and it would be very dangerous. So we had to be removed quickly, and this time Rachel and I had to separate."
Rachel was sent to a nice young couple in the center of Holland, in the area where Bart, Hannie and also her father were hiding, each of them separately. Their younger sister recalls that "they met quite a few times, and they would talk and pretend that they were just acquaintances who were not related. Only I stayed cut off from them, because Father took me to a village on the other side of the Rhine ... I was taken to the home of Henry Kohly, who was the village doctor and was also in the Underground, and he arranged for me to stay with him. He and his wife Vonnette were childless. They led a very orderly life, which I of course slightly messed up, even though I was a very, very good girl. They were very good people.
"Until the end of the war they also hid a Jewish student and a couple of which the husband was a doctor, as well as a nurse. They hid them in a room upstairs, which also had a false wall with a cupboard, should the need arise. I didn't have to hide, because I came with a cover story of being a relative from Amsterdam, who had fled the hunger and bombing there. With that story I could roam about freely. I went to school and Sunday school and had a lot of friends there. It was to that house that Father started to send me the booklets."
'The postman gets dizzy'
Lieneke's father sent her the first letter in October 1943. To be on the safe side, it was agreed between them that he would be known as "Uncle Jaap," and that was how he signed all the letters. On the cover of the first booklet he sent her, he wrote "A small conversation with Lieneke," and on the inside page he added "Conversations with pictures." In the booklet he drew himself sitting and writing her a letter, with Jeanne (the name given to Lieneke's mother in the letters) sitting nearby, knitting a sweater for Lieneke. He drew the room in which they were sitting; on its walls were pictures of actual drawings Lieneke had done. In the letter he asked that they go on "just chatting ... Write me a long letter with a lot of drawings! And then I will write you a letter in reply ... And so we will continue the whole time, until the postman gets dizzy. Do we have a deal?"
That booklet was the first in an exchange of correspondence that reached its destination with the help of the Dutch Underground. He wrote her poems, stories, greetings and also reports about the dog he had adopted, the flowers in the garden and two newborn goats. On her 11th birthday he wrote her, "All I can do is celebrate for you here. I will invite the kid I have named after you, Lieneke, and the kid I named after myself ... We will eat cakes made of goat's cream. And in the evening we will go out to the garden with holiday lights and sing: 'Lieneke is 11!' .... Next year we will be even happier, because we will be together again on May 24, and then the Netherlands will be liberated."
For New Year's he sent her a poem: "Lieneke my little one / Already a year has come and gone / Days and weeks not in the least delicious. / Lieneke my fondest one / A best friend not to be outdone / Accept a basket of all good wishes. // So come to me / Climb on my knee / With both arms I'll embrace you / Kiss you once and then twice / On each cheek, it's paradise / And one more kiss on your head ... This coming year / let's have no fear / You-know-who will disappear ... The sun will shine / And with it like a lifeline / The days of orange will again be fine" (orange is the national color of the Netherlands).
"Jaap" sent his last letter in July or August of 1944, and then there were no more, Lieneke explains, "probably because it was impossible to pass them on any longer. After the letters stopped, I had no information. I was completely in the dark. I worried the whole time, and thought about my siblings and also about my mother. She had died and I didn't know it. The truth is that Dr. Kohly knew, but didn't want to tell me - he decided things were hard enough as they were."
Lieneke's mother died in October 1944, at 48. The Netherlands was liberated in May 1945, when Lieneke was 12. "My mother managed to get to the hospital run by the Underground, but too late. The truth is that a week after she died, the Germans discovered the hospital and sent all the patients and physicians and staff there to Auschwitz, so at least she was spared that."
In the drawer of her bureau Lieneke keeps the only souvenir she has from her one encounter with her mother during the war: a perfume bottle without a top. On the way, when she was transferred from the Catholic family to the Kohlys, she recounts, "Father told me: Let's stop here a bit, I have friends here. We went and knocked on some door and suddenly my mother was there. I hadn't seen her for a year. I was with her for 20 minutes and it was so hard to pull myself away. But since I became a mother I have thought about how hard it was for her, all that separation and the concern for the children. Mother wanted terribly to give me something as a present, but she had nothing, so she took out a small bottle of perfume that was empty but still had the scent. So, whenever I was sad, I would take a gulp of my mother's scent. But I was very worried all through the war. Whenever I heard shelling I was afraid that maybe they were shelling my mother."
The area in which Lieneke was living was liberated a few months after the area where the rest of the family was located. "Those months - when I already knew that there were regions that had been liberated, and I was waiting for Father to take me to Mother and to my brother and sisters - were for me the longest of the whole war. So when he finally arrived I couldn't wait for him to he take me to my mother. And then he told me that she was gone. That was horrible. For me, that is when the Holocaust began. Because what saved me during the whole war from developing a feeling of misery, into which I very easily sank in my imagination, was the constant hope that the war would end and everything would go back to the way it was. But that didn't happen."
At first she continued to call her father "Uncle Jaap." "You can call me Father already," he said, and asked her whether he could go back to calling her Jacqueline. "But I wasn't having any of it, because after he told me that my mother had died, I knew that nothing would be the way it used to be, not even my name."
Her father took her to the place where the others had taken refuge. Lieneke, Hannie and Rachel stayed in the house of a family that hid 34 Jews during the war, while her father and her brother went to Utrecht to prepare their house for the family's return. But they found that during the war the house had been annexed to the neighbors' and had become a hospital for pregnant German prostitutes.
"So in the meantime we were given the home of a Nazi sympathizer who had been thrown into jail along with his whole family, and after a time, after the Dutch government repaired our original house, we moved back in. I was then 12 and a half."
Lieneke went back to school, but had a hard time. "In the village I had been considered a great genius because I had come from the city, but they didn't learn anything there. Then, suddenly I was back in the city, and I was way behind in my studies. That was the start of a year when I had no life. I spent the whole time studying either at school or in private lessons. When the year was over and I had caught up, I suddenly started to sing and to act in the theater, and I was in an extracurricular basketball group and in the Scouts, and had a great many friends. And just as my life was good and finally starting to become normal, suddenly my father told me that this was it, we were going to Israel. Who wanted that, of all things?"
Lieneke and her father immigrated to Israel in 1948, after the rest of the family. Their absorption was rough: They didn't know Hebrew, and in the absence of a mother she, at the age of 15, had to manage the household she shared with her father. After a time they moved in with a Dutch family in Ramat Gan. There, six years later, she met the man she would marry, and who is her husband to this day. Her Israeli name, Nili, which she dislikes, was given to her by a girlfriend, who took her to her first party in Israel. Lieneke didn't know enough Hebrew to argue with her, "and so I remained stuck with that name, which I really don't like." When she was married, her name became Nili Van Der Hoeden-Georji. "But that was impossible. I removed my original surname and Hebraized Georji into Goren."
After immigrating, high school was a nightmare for her, because of the Hebrew, and she decided go to a school to learn to be a caretaker for children. Thereafter, she spent the time before her conscription into the army on Kibbutz Deganya Aleph. "Then I finally learned to love the Land of Israel," she says. "First of all, I discovered the beauty of nature there. Besides that, I worked in the children's nursery and the guys, when they came back from work, would stop to ask if there was any pudding left. That's when I discovered the beauty of guys." At the age of 21, her relations with Sasson, "the first boy I ever met in Israel," turned romantic.
Meanwhile, her father was involved in conducting extensive research on diseases that are transferred from animals to people. "For example, he discovered that crocodiles and porcupines are the main transmitters of disease here. He was very busy, because he had his research, and at the same time he had to set up a veterinary center. He was the most apolitical person you can imagine, but suddenly he was being asked all the time if he was a Mapainik [Mapai was the precursor of today's Labor Party] and he had no idea what they were getting at."
Lieneke moved to Jerusalem with Sasson because of his studies and afterward, when he enrolled in a preparatory course for the Technion - Israel Institute of Technology, they moved to Haifa, where they lived until he completed his graduate degree in organic chemistry. When their eldest daughter was two and a half, and Sasson completed his studies, they moved to Kiryat Haim.
'No, it's private'
Meanwhile, she kept the letters she received from her father during the war in a box in her bureau. Sometimes she showed them to her children or to friends, who always told her she should do something with them. "But I would tell them, 'No, it's private.'" In the end, though, she yielded to the entreaties of a girlfriend and went with the material to the museum of Kibbutz Lohamei Hageta'ot (the Ghetto Fighters Kibbutz).
"All the Ghetto Fighters' House [museum] staff and all the administrative personnel pressured me and said that the museum would build a beautiful showcase to display the letters. I told them that a book had no worth if it was behind glass. Children have to hold the books in their hands. Finally, I agreed to have copies made of the booklets, so children would be able to go through them. For the past five years, children have been coming here and receiving booklets. They also get blank booklets in which they can write questions and send them to me, and I reply to every child.
"The children ask how I survived without a father, religious people want to know how I got along with the Christians, how I obtained kosher food - all kinds of questions like that. And sometimes children write to share their problems with me. They might write that they understand what I felt, because their parents are divorced, for example."
The initiative to publish the book came from the museum, but Goren was hesitant. "When the publishing house approached me, I told them that it wasn't a serious story. I could send them a woman who wandered along through the forests of Poland between the ages of five and seven. That's a story! But they told me that children have to read a book about things they can identify with. In fact, I remember that when my children learned about the Holocaust in school, with all those frightening stories, they absolutely did not want to hear about it. But they connect easily with my story.
"My condition was that I would decide if the person they were going to send to write the story was right for me. Then I met Tami, who is absolutely delightful. I also think that of all the people who have known me, she understood best what kind of girl I was. In fact, I think we are quite similar. But it's very important to have people understand that the book, in my opinion, is not only for children aged 10 to 12. It is a book about a father and a child, about fatherhood, and precisely because of that young parents take to it powerfully. I saw that with my children and with those of my friends, too.
"All told," she sums up, "I didn't have a bad childhood at all. Most of the time everything was fine, even during the four years when I was in hiding. I met good people. I was lucky. In general, it can be said that our story is that of the victory of the Jews. Not just that Father was able to save us all - but look what large and wonderful families we all established in the Land of Israel." W
No 'Diary of Anne Frank'
"And What Do They Call You Now?" (published in Hebrew by Dvir, in conjunction with the Ghetto Fighters House and Robert de Rothschild) is far more than another Jewish-Holocaust story for children or another "Diary of Anne Frank." In fact it's the opposite of the latter, not only because the heroine survives, but also because it is a paean to fatherhood and the value of the family. The book is written in clear language, is meticulously produced and is in no way childish or didactic.
The life story of the young Lieneke is told grippingly and effectively by Tami Shem-Tov, a veteran journalist and editor, and the author of two books for juveniles (the first won a prize for children's books in 1998, and the second was adapted for the stage). Shem-Tov wrote the book on commission from the publishing house of Zmora-Bitan-Dvir.
Shem-Tov: "Yael Gover, from the publishing house, called me and asked whether I was interesting in writing a book based on a true story. I immediately asked her when we could meet." Gover took her to the children's section at the Ghetto Fighters' House, "and the moment I saw the letters, I went crazy."
Shem-Tov prepared for her first meeting with Goren as though for a blind date, "because I knew that her condition was that she had to feel she had a good relationship with the writer. I went to her and I immediately liked her, because she is extremely lovable, gentle, wise - and also one of those people who you can tell what they were like as children." Work on the book, which involved two trips to the Netherlands, took a year and a half. "It was a wonderful experience, but that is largely thanks to Lieneke, who is simply a magnificent human being."
In the end, so both Shem-Tov and Goren feel, Lieneke emerged in the book as their mutual offspring: "A bit Lieneke and a bit me," says the writer. "Maybe the two of us really are very much alike." The fine writing is accompanied by the charming drawings of Yaakov Van Der Hoeden; the meticulous design is by Gila Kaplan.