Righteous Among the Nations – Albertus and Gerrigje Van Engelen

From left to right: Leo Karpe, Noor Karpe Annie Karpe, Gerrigje van Engelen and Albertus van Engelen.

“This is part of our family history, but it is also part of history that extends out to the greater community and is a celebration of the greater good of what we as humans are capable of.” –Claudia Kobayashi, granddaughter of the Van Engelens

In 1942, Dutch Jews were transported to labour and then concentration camps in the east of Holland. Guided by what they viewed as their humanitarian duty, Albertus and Gerrigje van Engelen defied this action by providing food and shelter to several Jews in their house in Soest, a small village in the German-occupied Netherlands. To hide them, they built various hiding places in the house: one below the main floor accessed through a closet door and another in a sidewall of the master bedroom.

Among the people sheltered by the van Engelens was Ilse Jacobsohn, a German Jew who fled Germany with her parents after Kristallnacht, the violent anti-Jewish riot in November 1938. By hiding Ilse, the van Engelens saved her from the fate of her parents, who were murdered in Sobibor.

Leo Karpe in 1943

The Karpe family — Leo Karpe, his sister Beppie, her husband Martin Bremer and their son Bob — also found refuge with the van Engelens. Leo Karpe arrived at their home after escaping from a labour camp. “When the labour was finished, the Germans intended to send all those Jewish people that were working to the concentration camp. Just the day before they did it, my father could escape,” said Leo’s daughter, Sascha Karpe.

The van Engelens lived in constant fear of being discovered. The German soldiers occupied a building down the street. A local policeman lived next door. One time, the family had a very close call when they failed to conceal a passport belonging to a Jewish child they were hiding. It tumbled out from the bottom of a laundry hamper as officers ransacked their living room. “If they had only turned the page of that passport they would have found a stamp impression of the Star of David,” said Albertus and Gerrigje’s son, Harty van Engelen.

The van Engelens survived the war, and so did Jews they sheltered. Harty remembers a much-anticipated day when Canadian troops marched into his village. He recalls finding his father, his uncles and Leo Karpe dancing as they saw the approach of Allied forces, sign of their deliverance.

This unique experience during the war created a strong bond between the van Engelens and the families they rescued, a bond that continues decades after the end of the WWII.

On June 26, 2017, Albertus and Gerrigje van Engelen were officially recognized as Righteous Among the Nations.

On February 20, 2018, Canadian Society for Yad Vashem and the Consulate General of Israel in Toronto and Western Canada recognized Albertus and Gerrigje van Engelen at a special ceremony at Beth Israel Synagogue in Edmonton. Harty Van Engelen, who immigrated to Canada in 1952, accepted the award on behalf of his parents. Leo Karpe’s daughters flew in from the Netherlands to participate in this moving ceremony.

To read more about his moving ceremony please click here.

“My family did what any normal humans would do,” Harty van Engelen emphasized.

Harty van Engelen passed away a couple of weeks following the tribute, but his family story lives on. The van Engelens’ unique story of courage and morality is reflected in the descendants of the Jewish people they saved. Were it not for the van Engelens’ actions, they would not be alive.