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Photo of Reverend Rudy Fidel, Cheryl Barish (co-chairs of the event) and Anje Van Tongeren. Photo by María Fernanda Medina


Sharon Chisvin


by Sharon Chisvin

For more than 60 years Anje Van Tongeren has treasured a note that her mother wrote to her and tossed out the window of a moving train as it inched its way into Germany. Van Tongeren's mother knew that she likely would never see her daughter again. Both mother and daughter were members of the Dutch underground, and had been betrayed, imprisoned and interrogated. Van Tongeren was eventually set free, but  her mother was sent to Ravenbsruck Concentration Camp, where she died  in January, 1945.

    This episode was just part of the story that Van Tongeren, now 81-years-old, related  to a hushed audience of approximately 100 at a B'nai Brith Manitoba Jewish- Christian Roundtable event on Tuesday, December 1st at the Asper Jewish Community Campus. The purpose of the event was to recognize Van Tongeren, a devout Christian, for risking her life in order to save Jewish lives in Holland during the war. Van Tongeren is now a candidate for the title of Righteous Among the Nations.
    Righteous Among the Nations is a honourary  designation bestowed on non-Jews who saved Jews during the Holocaust. Candidates for the title are scrupulously reviewed by a  special committee headed by a Justice of the Supreme Court of Israel.
    "The principle duty of this committee is to convey the gratitude of the State of Israel and of all Jews to non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jewish people during the Holocaust," explained Alan Yusim in his opening remarks. Yusim is executive director  of B'nai Brith Midwest Region.
    The names of those revered as Righteous Among the Gentiles are engraved on a Wall of Honor in the Garden of the Righteous at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem. To date, Yusim added, these names represent individuals from 44 countries and from all backgrounds, all faiths and all ages.
    Yusim's introductory remarks were followed by a formal presentation to Van Tongeren by event co-chairs Reverend Rudy Fidel and Cheryl Barish
    "Tonight I am overwhelmed to be in the presence of Anje and to know that she was there and risked her life, and that some of us would no be here if not for her and others like her," Barish movingly said.
    Two members of Winnipeg's survivor community later echoed Barish's gratitude, making a point to personally stand up at the end of the evening and thank Van Tongeren for her efforts on their behalf.
    These efforts largely included the forging of documents and the clandestine transportation of these forged papers, as well as ration cards, weapons and ammunition, to various drop off points throughout Holland. While Van Tongeren described  a few of these activities, her talk mainly focused on the way in which life changed with the Nazi occupation, and details of her betrayal and imprisonment. She also interjected her talk with many references to scripture, demonstrating the intense faith that has guided her most of her life.
    After liberation Van Tongeren had no choice but to return to home, even though she knew that  it had been her father who had turned her and her mother in to the authorities.  Having lost everyone and everything that she valued, Van Tongeren contemplated suicide. Her faith however kept her going. Eventually she married and made her way to Canada, where she raised a family in Rivers, Manitoba, before moving to Winnipeg.
    "For me there will never be a 'lest we forget'," she said. "It is not the remembrance that is difficult, but the forgetting and forgiving."
Having seen babies ripped apart in front of their mothers and people forced to dig their own graves, Van Tongeren has no patience for those who claim that the Holocaust never happened. As a young woman she courageously risked her life for those being consumed by its horrors. As an old woman, six decades later, she still regularly speaks about those horrors and the way in which she put her faith into action.

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Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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