"I don't feel like a hero," said 91-year-old Annie Schipper. "I did what I had to do."
What Annie and her husband Pieter "had to do" in 1942 was to hide a young Jewish couple with a baby son in their small apartment in Amsterdam, at the risk of their own lives.
For their bravery and humanity, Schipper and her late husband, as well as a second Dutch family, were honored Dec. 14 as "Righteous Among the Nations" by local Israeli diplomats and the American Society for Yad Vashem.
Schipper, now a resident of Santa Barbara, was joined on the stage at Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel by the young mother she had saved, Leah Lopes Diaz van den Brink, and her now middle-aged son, Wulfert. Honored posthumously with the scroll and medal of Yad Vashem were Josef "Jupp" Herinx, who in 1943 found clandestine foster homes for Jewish children in his hometown of Kerkrade, Holland, and his mother, Theresa.
Theresa Herinx hid one of the children, Andre Neuberger, in her home. The cover story was that Andre was an orphan who had lost both parents during the German bombing of Rotterdam in 1940.
Neuberger was present Dec. 14, as was Theresa van Wortel of Costa Mesa, Jupp's daughter and Theresa's granddaughter.
The role of the Dutch people during the Holocaust is somewhat ambiguous, Fred Kort, president of the West Coast Friends of Yad Vashem, pointed out in his talk.
On the one hand, 75 percent of Dutch Jews perished during the Holocaust, the highest percentage of any country in Nazi-occupied Europe, except for Poland.
On the other hand, among the 18,000 Righteous Gentiles officially recognized by Yad Vashem, 4,000 are Dutch, by far the largest national contingent among all European countries.
Also participating in the ceremony were actor Mike Burstyn as emcee, Israeli Consul General Yuval Rotem, and deputy consul general Zvi Vapni, who organized the event.
Consular officials from Austria, Holland, Canada and Belize were in attendance. -- Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor
Requiem for a Survivor
As Angelenos, we've all grown accustomed to watching high-speed police pursuits splashed across our local TV news. Yet even by L.A. standards, last weekend's police chase, which ended in Encino with the horrific crash that took the life of 77-year-old Charlotte Lenga, was difficult to witness. The sad twist to the whole story is that Lenga lost her life years after having survived the unimaginable horrors of the most infamous of Nazi concentration camps.
Lenga, who was remembered Saturday by family and friends as a woman of strength and conviction, was born Sept. 28, 1923, in Jasina-Korosmezo, in the former Czechoslovakia, and survived concentration camps at Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. According to the Los Angeles Times, Lenga was transported from a Jewish ghetto in Mateszalko to Auschwitz, where she arrived on May 21, 1944. There, Lenga was forced to work for German industry under inhumane conditions, ordered to sift through the personal possessions of prisoners for precious metal items to be melted. Lenga endured much suffering in the concentration camps, where guards beat her until she was bloody and swollen, then forced her to work 12-hour shifts. In early 1945, Lenga was sent on a "death march" to Bergen-Belsen, from which she was liberated.
Last year, Lenga was among the seven Holocaust survivors who, with the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Gov. Gray Davis, filed a lawsuit in California Superior Court against American companies Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Co. and German institutions Deutsche Bank, Dresdner Bank, Deutsche Lufthansa, and Viag. The lawsuit against the named companies regarded the use of slave labor during the Holocaust.
Neighbors at the Zelzah Avenue condominium complex where Lenga and husband David had lived for the last decade remembered Charlotte as a woman devoted to her loved ones and to her faith.
"She was very family-oriented and very concerned about everyone who lives in the building," Sema Smith, 72, told the Los Angeles Times. "She was preparing for Chanukah and may have been going to the post office to mail some cards."
Said another neighbor of Lenga, "I understand that she had survived the Holocaust, and for her to come to such a tragic end is a double tragedy, it's heartbreaking."