“WHY have I hidden Jews in my home? WHY?? Because unlike you monsters, I have a heart!” yelled Herman Hellenbrand at the Nazi soldiers.
He paid a huge price for this. He was promptly taken to a concentration camp, where he suffered unspeakable torture. When the Second World War had ended and he returned home, he was a broken man, physically and mentally. He never fully recovered.
Herman & Petronella Hellenbrand, a young Christian Dutch couple, had lived in Heerlen, a quiet city in the southeastern Netherlands, in the province of Limburg. When the word started spreading about the atrocities the Nazis were performing against Dutch Jews, they knew they had to do SOMETHING about it. So they joined a Dutch resistance group that arranged for Jews to be hidden in Christian homes throughout the Netherlands.
My grandparents, Miep and Arie, and their baby daughter Elizabeth, were already fugitives by then, spending a few months in each hiding place, until it became too dangerous and it was time to move to a new location.
They arrived at the Hellenbrand household and stayed there, where the Hellenbrands, who had recently lost a daughter in an accident and had one other child, took care of all their needs.
But when one of the neighbors noticed that Nellie was buying too many groceries for a family of three, he reported them to the Nazis. The Nazis came, and took Miep and Arie with them. They didn’t take Elizabeth. Nellie had told them that Elizabeth was her own daughter, and since the death of her real child in an accident was never documented, the Nazis believed her.
“Why have you hidden Jews in your house?” Asked the Nazis. Herman could have said he was sorry. He could have told them he made a mistake and will never do it again. Instead, he retorted, trying to protect my grandparents with his own body, “Because I have a heart, unlike you, monsters!”
During the following months, his life was turned upside down by those monsters.
He survived, and in 1972, in an emotional ceremony held in Jerusalem, Nellie and Herman were honored by Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Authority, and were recognized as “Righteous Among The Nations.”
To save the lives of my family, Herman and Nellie Hellenbrand had sacrificed theirs. They are no longer alive, but our families maintain regular contact. We will forever be grateful to them.
Today is Holocaust Memorial Day. As you give thanks for the death of one of history’s most evil men, Osama Bin Laden, please take a moment to remember the horrors done by another monster, Adolf Hitler. I find it symbolic, and so very fitting, that Osama Bin Laden was finally brought to justice on Holocaust Memorial Day.
In the photo (from left to right): Bridgette Hellenbrand (Nellie and Herman’s daughter), Nellie Hellenbrand, me at age 3, Herman Hellenbrand, and my mom, in our Jerusalem living room, summer 1974.