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Righteous Among the Nations Gert Jan and Jan Kottelenberg and Bob and Maria de Jongh Bestowed With Yad Vashem Medal and Certificate of Honour

Righteous Among the Nations

The period of the Holocaust has shown only too well and painfully the lowest depths to which the human condition can sink. On October 8, the stories of Righteous Among the Nations Gert Jan and Jan Kottelenberg and Bob and Maria de Jongh showed some 280 guests the heights that people can reach. This at a dinner co-sponsored by the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem and the Canadian Chair of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).

But first Jason Kenney, Minister of Employment and Social Development and Minister for Multiculturalism, presented awards to first- and second-place winners Caitlin McGinn and Carling Hind, both from British Columbia, for their winning designs entered in an international Holocaust poster competition entitled “Keeping the Memory Alive—Journeys Through the Holocaust.”
Click here to see the top two winning designs

The main event, however, centred around honouring Righteous Among the Nations Gert Jan and Jan Kottelenberg and Bob and Maria de Jongh, who were posthumously awarded the Righteous Among the Nations medal and certificate by Avner Shalev, Chairman of the Yad Vashem Directorate, and DJ Schneeweiss, Consul General of Israel in Toronto, on behalf of Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, and the State of Israel.

Fran Sonshine, National Chair of the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem, who acted as MC, introduced the video, which presented the story of Gert Jan and Hermina Kottelenberg and Jan Kottelenberg. Eyes were dabbed throughout the harrowing tale, which ended happily for Julius Zion, whose life was saved as a result of his being harboured by the Kottelenbergs. Tragically, Julius’s sister, Johanna, and future brother-in-law, Istvan Balint, were apprehended, transported to Sobibor, and murdered.

As the Kottelenberg family approached the stage after the movie, the crowd spontaneously stood in tribute to the family and their Righteous forbears. Avner Shalev and DJ Schneeweiss bestowed the medal and certificate to the children of the Righteous honourees. It was a rare moment to experience something so authentic and heartwarming—to feel the pain of the loss so acutely and the distinct pride of the family so deeply.

In her address, Betty Kazin, the daughter of Johanna Zion, who took refuge in the Kottelenberg home but was tragically murdered in spite of the Kottelenberg brothers’ efforts, pointed out the common ground that unites the Kottelenberg and Zion families: “… tonight we sit together: Though from different backgrounds we have much in common…. And there is even more: with a cap on or off - both families read the Book of Books and are steadfast in their beliefs.”

Gadi Gans, grandson of Julius Zion, reminded us of the famous adage in the Mishna “He who saves a single life saves an entire universe” with his words “Without the brave help of the Kottelenberg family and others, I would not stand here today.”

Next, the story of how Righteous Among the Nations Bob and Maria de Jongh rescued 12-year-old Vera Hartog during the Holocaust was shown. Vera, whose mother had died just before the war, was placed by the Underground with the loving de Jongh family who treated her as one of their own. The bonds that tie Vera with the de Jonghs were clearly apparent as the de Jongh siblings, now in their 80s, recounted in the video how Vera was just like another sister to them. Incredibly, after 68 years, Vera and the de Jongh children were reunited at the dinner.

Medals and certificates were presented and Bob de Jongh accepted the award on behalf of his family. The central question of why individuals make the choice to risk their lives and that of their precious children to save the life of a stranger was addressed by Bob in his acceptance speech when he said, “After the war ended, we as a family never discussed what motivated our parents to take in a Jewish girl. It was just the right thing to do as, after all, we are our brothers’ keepers.”

While we ponder the actions of the Righteous, the families themselves humbly offer up an answer: it was just the right thing to do.


To read more about the Righteous Among the Nations event please click on the link below:

Dutch families honoured for rescuing Jews| Thursday, October 10, 2013| Jordan Adler, Special to the CJN:

To read more about the Holocaust Poster Competition, please click on the link below:

Canadian Jewish News | Holocaust poster competition focuses on remembrance: Page 20 of the edition.

To read the stories of Gert Jan and Jan Kottelenberg and Bob and Maria de Jongh Bestowed, click the links below: