Bob and Maria de Jongh Story
When Rachel Koppleman died of cancer at the age of 45 in 1942, her two daughters, Fenna, 15, and Vera, 9, were left bereft of their mother at a time when their own lives were in jeopardy. Since the German invasion of Amsterdam in 1940, the fate of the Jews was all but sealed.
Devastated by the death of his young wife, Sally Koppleman sent his daughters to live with a family friend, Metje Lettinga, in Enschede. Metje cared for the girls for 10 months, until she was forced to evacuate her home when an air battle between German and British aircraft destroyed parts of the city.
The two girls separated and wandered around Amsterdam for the next month, each searching for a family that would take them in. Fenna found refuge with the Dommerholt family in Rijssen and Vera was taken in by Bob and Marie de Jongh in Utrecht.
For the next year, from April 1944 to May 1945, Vera, then 12, became part of the large de Jongh family. Bob was a tailor and an important member of the Underground. Maria cared for her children, Kiek, 13; Ann, 11; Bob, 6; baby Willie, 1 1/2; and, of course, Vera, who was treated as another daughter. “For the time being, she is your sister,” Bob and Maria told their children.
Vera enjoyed being a part of a family again. Like the other children in the de Jongh family, Vera went to church on Christmas and learned the prayers. In the winter, when hunger and cold gripped the Dutch people, Vera and Ann walked the streets together looking for wood to burn in the stove.
Fear and tension permeated the lives of the de Jongh family. Each night, the windows were blackened out so that the house could not be seen by enemy aircraft. The family stayed indoors, as those who ventured outside past the curfew were shot.
The Germans paid regular visits to the de Jongh family in search of Bob. During one interrogation of Maria, the Germans pressed cigarettes into baby Willie in an attempt to get Maria to speak, but she remained silent.
In spite of the danger, Kiek, the eldest, proved herself to be both useful and fearless, delivering papers, which she hid in the lining of her coat, to the Underground. On one occasion, Kiek left the house after curfew and walked under a bridge where a German soldier was stationed to warn her father not to come home.
Danger escalated to a critical point in October of 1944 when an argument broke out between Maria and a neighbour. The neighbour threatened to tell the Germans that the de Jongh family was hiding a Jewish girl.
The Germans descended upon the de Jongh home in the middle of the night. Woken from their sleep, the children huddled in their beds as the Germans searched the house. Evidence of Underground activities was hidden throughout the house: a radio that kept the members of the Underground informed, an automatic handgun hidden under Kiek’s mattress, and secret papers hidden below the floorboards. While the incriminating evidence was never found, Bob was arrested, taken to jail, and slated for execution.
Just a few weeks later, on the night before Bob’s execution, he escaped and returned to the family. Apparently in good spirits, he smiled and said, “Hier is ie weer [Here I am again].”
Bob and Maria de Jongh moved to Canada in 1953, where Bob worked as a tailor and Maria became a foster parent to 36 children. While Bob and Maria are no longer with us, they have left a legacy of courage, the highest integrity, and moral fortitude that will forever be cherished by their children and grandchildren.
After the war, Fenna and Vera moved on with purpose and resolve. Fenna became a nurse, and Vera became a doctor, practising medicine in Holland for 10 years and then in Israel for another 21 years.
Filled with gratitude for the de Jongh family, Vera, now with three children and nine grandchildren of her own, contacted Yad Vashem to recognize her benevolent rescuers Bob and Maria de Jongh as Righteous Among the Nations.