In 1939, as the Nazi occupation grew from threat to reality, the Jewish population throughout Europe faced heart-wrenching decisions—to flee and lose their homes or to go into hiding, hoping against all odds to avoid the fate of being discovered. Holocaust survivor Flory A. Van Beek faced this terrible choice, and in this poignant testament of hope she takes us on her personal journey into one of history's darkest hours.
Only a teenage girl when the Nazis invaded her neutral homeland of Holland, Flory watched the only life she had ever known disappear. Tearfully leaving her family, Flory tried to escape on the infamous SS Simon Bolivar passenger ship with Felix, the young Jewish man from Germany who would later become her husband. Their voyage brought not safety but more peril as their ship was blown up by Nazi planted mines, one of the first passenger ships destroyed by the Germans during World War II, sending nearly all of its passengers to a watery end. Miraculously, both Flory and Felix survived.
After recovering from their injuries in England, they returned to their homeland, overjoyed to be reunited with their families yet shocked to discover their beloved Holland a much-changed place. As the Nazi grip tightened, they were forced into hiding. Sheltered by compassionate strangers in confined quarters, cut off from the outside world and their relatives, they faced hunger and the stress of daily life shadowed by the ever-present threat of certain death. Yet they also discovered, with the remarkable and brave families who sacrificed their own safety to help keep Flory and Felix alive, a set of friends that remain as close as family to this day.
A tribute to family, faith, and the power of good in the face of disparate evil, this gripping account captures the terror of the Holocaust, the courage of those who risked their lives to protect their fellow compatriots, and the faith of those who, against all odds, managed to survive.
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About the Author
Flory A. Van Beek came to America in 1948 carrying a suitcase full of papers and photographs that she had buried while in hiding during the Holocaust. This material is now one of the largest collections from the Netherlands housed in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. Flory and her husband, Felix, live in Newport Beach, California.
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A Miraculous Story of Survival
The Early Years
"You can take your skates along with you today," I heard my mother say as I was preparing for school.
My family lived in a small town in the Netherlands, the country of my birth. The town was called Amersfoort, located in the center of Holland. Amersfoort was quite picturesque, surrounded by many canals, old castles, and lush forests. In the winter, when the canals were frozen and the ice was strong, children could go to school on their ice skates, taking shortcuts and having lots of fun at the same time.
I was the youngest of four children, born of Jewish parents in the city of Rotterdam. My oldest brother, Jes (Ies), was nineteen years my senior. Then came my brother Ben, ten years older than I, followed by my sister, Elisabeth, who was nine years older. When I was very young my family lived in Rotterdam, close to my father's parents, sisters, and brothers. It was a large family. Many Sunday mornings when all of us assembled at my grandparents' home, we had to wait in line to pay our respects to my grandmother. My grandfather had passed away long before.
My mother was very beautiful; she had married my father when she was nineteen. She was soft-spoken, gentle, and an attentive listener. When I was five years old my father died in an accident, leaving my mother devastated. It was then that she decided to move to Amersfoort to be near her parents and siblings.
My mother's parents, my beloved grandparents Oma and Opa, were very religious and helped to raise me in the Orthodox Jewish fashion. When I turned six years old I began Hebrew schooland shortly thereafter learned to read Hebrew.
My school, called De Meisjes School, was an all-girls' school located on a plateau near an old castle. My teachers were quite strict; the headmistress especially was to be awed and feared. However, all who attended De Meisjes School received an excellent education, including learning the languages of our neighboring countries. In the fourth grade we started to learn French, followed by English in the fifth grade and German in the sixth grade. I disliked mathematics but loved languages, which were taught, as was the custom, by teachers from the countries where these languages were spoken.
I attended school each day from nine in the morning until noon and from two to four in the afternoon, with the exception of Wednesdays and Saturdays. On Wednesdays we attended school half a day, and I did not go to school on Saturdays, which was the Holy Sabbath. On the Sabbath I went with my grandfather, Opa, to the synagogue. This was an exciting event because afterward my sister and I went home to join my mother, grandmother, aunts, and uncles for a plentiful luncheon. We sang Hebrew songs of grace and enjoyed sweets, and I savored the feeling of safety and security with my family in this warm and loving atmosphere.
Opa was very handsome and dignified looking. On our way to the synagogue, people greeted him with reverence. One of my favorite memories from this time is my grandfather reading the daily newspaper aloud to my grandmother, whose eyes were not in good condition. The love they shared between them was enviable.
My birthday was celebrated on St. Nicolaas Day, December 5, although my real birthday is December 3. St. Nicolaas Day (in Dutch, Sinterklaas Dag) is always celebrated in Holland with much joy and fun and many surprises. Legend has it that St. Nicolaas arrives on a ship from Spain and, after disembarking, mounts a white horse. With his Moorish helpers, he visits schools and homes in the township. No matter what religion one observed, Sinterklaas Dag was celebrated by all.
So on this particular day, skating home, I was very much looking forward to Sinterklaas Dag, birthday presents, and my school's upcoming chorale presentation. However, as I approached my home, a funny feeling came over me that I couldn't explain. All through my life I would experience this feeling again and again as a warning of impending doom.
My mother greeted me at the door with tears streaming down her face. She took me in her arms, and as she held me my sister, who stood nearby, said, "Opa died."
"What do you mean?" I said. "Opa cannot die." But I had lost my beloved grandfather.
The funeral was attended by all who knew him: dignitaries, friends, family, neighbors. The mourning period lasted seven days, and during that time people would come in and out of my grandparents' house with foodespecially egg dishes because eggs were regarded as the symbol of life.
After my grandfather died I watched my grandmother gradually deteriorate. Within a half year she too passed away.
After the death of my grandparents in Amersfoort, my mother became increasingly nervous. We ended up selling our house and moving to Amsterdam, where my brother Ben was living. It was a tremendous change for our family, moving from a small town to a big city. I was enrolled in the Joseph Israels H.B.S., a school named for the famous painter who lived from 1824 to 1911.
I soon adjusted to these changes and came to enjoy school. Music had always been very important in our family, and the schools of higher learning offered a fantastic program that included free musical concerts once or twice each month.
Before these concerts the principal violinist would visit our class to explain the repertoire. He would discuss the composers, the interpretation of the music, the instruments, the dynamics. When my class attended the concerts I would listen attentively, understanding and recognizing all I had learned from the principal violinist.
During these school years I spent my summer vacations with my oldest brother and his wife back in Amersfoort. My brother and his wife were a devoted couple but had no children. They lived in a modest home, which was a haven of warmth and coziness. They always catered to me and made my stay with them a happy time.Flory
A Miraculous Story of Survival. Copyright © by Flory Van Beek. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Table of Contents
Note from the Author vii
The Early Years 1
Storm Clouds Rising 9
The Odyssey of the SS Simon Bolivar 21
Holland Invaded 43
The Persecution Begins 59
The Deportations 83
The Hiding Years 91
The Hiding Place 109
Fear, Our Companion 127
Working for the Resistance 137
A Night of Infamy 161
Miracles Do Happen 183
The Road to Freedom 199
The End of the Road 215
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I read each and every Holocaust story, both fiction and nonfiction. Everyone's experience is vastly different and this one provided information about the Dutch. But to me, it was only informative, not a story. Told in very simple text, Flory documents events, but never goes deeper into personalities and emotions.
It is a little slow moving at first. However, it's another wonderful story of survival. Amazing that they were able to keep so many documents to help give such a real account of what they went through. I have been to Holland and have seen what beautiful people they are...it's really great to see how patriotic - not too mention Brave to help these families!
This is an inspiring book and another look into those horrible times and how heartbreaking and difficult they were for so many people. I have to ask myself, could I be as brave? We can't forget or let it happen again.
I have read several books on the holocaust and this one gave a point of view that I liked. She told what it was like to hide and know the enemy was just outside your door.
This is the story of Flory van Beek's experience during World War II. Born and raised in Holland, she tried to leave when Hitler started his evil actions. She and her future husband survive the sinking of the Dutch passenger ship Simon Bolivar in late 1939. After six months of recuperation in England they go back to Holland where endure German occupation and war for six years. They are put into hiding by the Dutch resistance in the homes of good patriots. They survive the war but many of their friends and family do not. One incident that sticks with me - when Flory's mother is deported, she wrote a letter of goodbye to her children on the train taking her to Sobibor extermination camp. She threw that letter off the train. Someone found that letter and delivered it to Flory.I found this book intriguing. It is written by Flory -- her story in her words. It is not literature or prose; it is Flory telling you what happened to her. I feel it was more powerful written this way than if it had a ghost writer changing her words. It is a story of bravery and courage, not only by Flory and her husband but of everyone who helped them survive the war. I highly recommend it.
This is one story you have to read and NEVER FORGET NEVER FORGET
This was a very readable showcasing the heroism of a group of people that could very easily said no, not my problem. Instead they risked themselves and their families to follow their Christian beliefs and aided their fellow man never asking for anything in return.