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Ange Van Tongeren , Sea of Galilee


by Rhonda Spivak, October 12, 2011


[Editor's note: Anje van Tongeron was written about in the Israeli press when she was recently in Israel returning two wedding rings to a family she knew before the war. A version of this article will also appear in the Canadian Jewish News]

Anje van Tongeren, a Dutch Christian woman who survived the Holocaust after her own father betrayed her to the Nazis for helping Jews, has been searching ever since for the Jewish owners of two wedding rings she has had in her possession. The two gold bands were left by Hermann and Janette Wolff with a family friend of the Anje's for safekeeping before they and their sons were sent to the concentration camps.

After close to seventy years of searching, van Tongeran, now 83 years old, miraculously found Earnest Wolff, the nephew of Hermann and Janet Wolff, and the only surviving member of the entire Wolff family, who now lives in Haifa. "I knew Earnest when he was about 17 years old before he was sent to a concentration camp."
Last month, Anje went to Israel for “such an emotional meeting” to return the rings to Earnest Wolff, now 87. "I opened my wallet and said, would you like these [the rings]."
Anje was just a teenager in the Netherlands during the Second World War, when she and her mother played an active part with the Dutch underground in helping Jews to safety.
From 1942 to 1944, van Tongeren and her mother helped escaping Jews as they passed through Groningren, a city in northern Holland, providing them with clothing, food and forged documents.
“The papers were stolen and I forged the signatures of the Nazi officials. I never knew the names of the people who gave me the papers.” she says. “It wasn’t easy. It took time and a lot of hard work.”
Anje, who was born and raised in Groningen also remembers “dying the hair of a couple of Jewish children blonde so that they looked non-Jewish,” and were less likely to be identified by the Nazis..
Van Tongeren’s work ended in 1944 when she and her mother were betrayed by her father to the Nazis and were imprisoned.
“I was 15 when I was arrested. I didn’t know then that it was my father who had ratted on us. He was on the Nazis side. He got money [from the Nazis] for betraying me and my mother. His sister and her husband were Nazis.”
The two gold wedding rings had been deposited for safekeeping to a friend of Anje’s family, a bachelor, Hank Vanderveen. “But he was shot at age 42 in Vught on August 22, 1944 after he got caught for being involved in the Dutch underground,” she says.
 “My mother died when she was 44 years old in Ravensbruch Concentration Camp in January1945.”
When Anje, an only child, was released from prison after being there for a few months, she had no money and was forced to go back and live with her father because she was a minor and he was her only parent. "Until this day I don't know why they released me. If they knew what I knew they wouldn't have released me. It was a miracle."
 Anje says her father "did everything to get rid of me. It’s a very difficult story. He ratted on me again to the police and they followed me. He had told them I was a prostitute that walked the streets. It was another miracle I survived.”
After the war, Anje, who had known about the two gold rings that Vanderveen had for safekeeping, went through his belongings and found them.
I knew the rings belonged to the Wolffs. I didn't know if any of them had survived. I suspected that Hermann and Janet [Wolff ]and their five sons had died as none of them had come back. I didn't know if there was a way of finding that information out or not so all these years I kept the rings."
Then about a year ago very unexpectedly, Angie’s daughter, Joanne found a man named Jair Wolff on facebook. "He had broken English and she asked him if he knew of an Earnest Wolff. He said that Earnest was his father.”
To Anje’s great surprise and delight, she learned that both Earnest and his wife were alive and living in Kiryat Bialik in Haifa. Then this September, Angie went to Israel on a Christian tour group organized by Winnipeg’s Pastor Rudy Fidel of Faith Temple Church.
“Our whole bus load went up to the Earnest's door in Haifa. It was so emotional to meet them. We were hugging and crying.”
Anje's tour guide made arrangements for her to visit Yad Vashem where "I was able to get the death certificates of Hermann and Janet Wolff, and learned that they had died in Auschwitz with their five sons."
As a token of appreciation for returning the rings, Israel’s Ministry of Tourism presented Anje "with a silver plaque with a Hamsa on it, with the twelve stones" representing the tribes of Israel.
“Last October 1, 2010, I had to have surgery for thyroid cancer—I was told by the doctor that my heart is no good and I have diabetes and I probably wouldn’t live through it.  I never thought I’d live to see the day when I would be able to return the rings to a member of the Wolff family, someone I'd known when he was 17."
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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.