Beauty out of ashes during Nazi occupation of Netherlands — Charles Gardner

Nazi soldiers ride into Amsterdam in trucks at the start of the Nazi occupation of Holland during World War 11 (PHOTO: DW.com)

New research has thrown fresh light on a series of startling heroics during the dark days of the Holocaust.

Thanks to the meticulous efforts of Australian author Kelvin Crombie, we now know much more about Jewish suffering particularly as it affected the Netherlands during the Nazi occupation.

And we are also introduced to the little-known story of how Jewish followers of Jesus were treated. Many survived, though others shared the fate of their fellow Jews despite special exemptions initially granted to so-called “non-Aryan (Jewish) Christians”.


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Gentile Christians, of whom Corrie ten Boom and her family are best known, were also sent to concentration camps for the ‘crime’ of hiding Jews. But over 100 000 Dutch Jews were murdered by the Nazis including teenager Anne Frank, famed for her best-selling two-year diary of “lockdown” terror.

Yet, of the 29 000 people recognised by Jerusalem’s Holocaust museum as “Righteous among the Gentiles” for aiding Jews, the second highest number of recipients (5,910) came from the Netherlands.

Unlike other parts of Europe, Jewish Christians there had a relatively high survival rate thanks to some miraculous interventions and to the various exemptions also applying to those in mixed marriages.

But there were many, like Johannes Rottenberg, who perished in the camps with their fellow Jews.

Crombie has uncovered much new material through his ongoing research into what happened to Jewish Christians (today known as Messianic Jews) during World War II.

After focusing on Poland in his book on Bazyli and Anna Jocz, in his new book, Jewish Christians in the Netherlands, he turned his focus to Holland, birthplace of his wife Lexie whose grandfather and his brother played a key role in standing up to the Nazis.

A A L Rutgers, Lexie’s grandfather, survived the war to resume his place as member of the State Council, but his brother Victor Henri paid with his life. He died in Bochum prison in Germany and was later awarded the Verzetskruis 1940-945 (Cross of Resistance) for bravery during the German occupation.

A focal point of outreach to the Jews was a centre known as Elim (first in Rotterdam and later in The Hague), originally set up under the auspices of CMJ (the Church’s Ministry among the Jewish people) as an oasis for refugees escaping the pogroms of Russia at the turn of the 20th century. Nearly 150 000 Jewish people passed through the centre during its first six years when tens of thousands were evidently introduced to Jesus.

Rottenberg was its pastor in the pre-war years, having discovered Jesus as his Messiah after secret late night visits to a CMJ missionary left him with an ‘irrepressible desire’ to know more of the New Testament. He was even prepared to do manual labour in a cigarette factory to provide for his needs there, explaining: “I did it with unspeakable pleasure because it gave me the opportunity to investigate the truth undisturbed.”

He was eventually “convinced that Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah of the Scriptures,” as his son David recorded. Though cut off from his family, Rottenberg and others helped to lay the foundations of the modern Messianic movement.

On one occasion, amidst the devastating brutality of the Nazis, he encouraged his fellow Jews: “God has not forsaken his people. The New Testament says there will come a time when ‘all Israel will be saved’. God has a future for the Jewish people.”

He was eventually murdered at Mauthausen in Austria, but not before he had won two Jews to Christ in the camp.

Amidst all the hatred, another of these Jewish Christians stubbornly continued to believe “that the earth will become more habitable again only through the love that the Jew Paul described to the citizens of Corinth in the 13th chapter of his first letter to them”.

These believers endured terrible stress as they waited in holding prisons for what seemed inevitable transportation to death camps while putting their trust wholly in Christ, realising that, in Him, ultimately, they had everything.

Among the survivors was Elly Rodrigues, taken into a ‘safe house’ by a schoolteacher. When Elly’s father asked why she would risk her life for a 12-year-old Jewish girl, the teacher replied: “Mr Rodrigues, I’m a Christian. When Jesus was on earth, he said that what we did for even the least among us, it was the same as doing it for him. And since Elly is Jewish and Jesus was a Jew, well, that just makes me want to help her even more.”

When Gestapo agents asked to check her documents on a train journey, Elly prayed that, if Jesus was real, he would protect her. Her prayer was answered.

Ernest Cassutto, whose memoirs are recorded in The Last Jew of Rotterdam, miraculously escaped deportation after the yellow star was somehow removed from his cell door in the holding prison.

Following the German surrender, Ernest walked to a nearby village and was re-united with his parents and brother. They had not only all survived, but in the process had all come to acknowledge Jesus as Messiah.

Arthur Goldschmidt, imprisoned at Theresienstadt, concluded that “it was a life without purpose unless one knew [the One who said] that “I am with you always, until the very end of the age”. When first deported there, he saw it as his mission to proclaim God’s word, and his congregation grew weekly.

Of the 1.1 million Jews gassed and cremated at Auschwitz, at least 252 were Jewish Christians from the Netherlands.

Crombie also concluded that a number of Jewish people were actually introduced to Jesus while in hiding – another sign that, in the words of Isaiah (61:3), beauty had indeed come forth out of the ashes of the Holocaust.

Jewish Christians in the Netherlands during the Holocaust is published by Heritage Resources Pty Ltd, Western Australia, and available from www.cmj.org.uk

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