Anti-Semitism and Holocaust

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ISRAEL HONOURS COUPLES WHO SAVED JEWS
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By Linda Jacobs, The Hamilton Spectator, August 30, 1999

They came to Canada after the war and they worked like dogs. Over the years, they tamed the English language - even if it did sometimes reach around and bite them.

Theirs was the typical immigrant story.

But Philip Plas would like you to know one more thing about them: they were heroes, too.

When Plas was a four-year-old Jewish kid in Nazi-occupied Holland, Hendrik and Theresa Veenstra took him in and raised him as their own.

And when the Nazis burst in, Theresa tucked him in bed with one of their children and told them the children were sick.

The bluff worked.

This weekend, Plas traveled to Canada to watch a dream come true. The couple who saved him was honoured posthumously by the State of Israel.

The children of the Veenstras, who saved Philip Plas, and of Lucas and Aleida Koops, who saved another Jewish child, accepted the Yad Vashem medal in a ceremony of Adas Israel Synagogue yesterday.

"My mother was asked once why she did it, how she could risk her life and her family's life," recalls Veenstra daughter, Betty Vanderende of Milton. "Her answer was very simple: 'Because we may not kill.'" End of story.

"My parents were very strict Christian Reformed and it was because of that strong conviction that they did what they did."

"They treated me very well," Plas recalls. "When I came into that family, they told the children that I was a nephew, but they treated me like their own children.

"There are so many bad things in the world. It is very good that people like the Veenstra family are honoured and that it is in a public way."

Plas, whose parents were killed in the Holocaust, has no memories of them.

"I was only three or four when I last saw them," he says. He also lost several members of his extended family, including aunts, uncles and cousins, though his sister also survived. They were raised by an aunt and uncle.

But he kept up the connection with the Veenstras for the rest of their lives and has tried to win them Yad Vashem recognition since Theresa Veenstra died two years ago.

Lucas and Aleida Koops were nominated by Miriam Shimshoni who hid in their home as a teenager. She lives in Israel and was not present for the ceremony.

"It was quite a tricky thing because the neighours were pro-Nazi, recalled their daughter, Ann De Jonge-Koops of Hamilton.

"It was also the kind of thing my dad would do. He would stick his neck out and take a chance and my mom would pick up the pieces."

Lucas Koops was active in the Resistance, finding safe places for Jews and getting false documents and ration cards for them. His parents and brother also hid Jews.

Why did they do it?

"I guess because they were good Christians and they felt the Jews were related to their best friend, Jesus," De Jonge-Koops said.

"I know that my parents taught us to do what is right and not to worry about the cost or the risks involved."

Israel has honoured more than 16,000 Gentiles who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.

The Israeli consulate in Toronto hasn't kept records of how many Yad Vashem ceremonies have been held in Canada, but staff estimates 40 to 50 people have been recognized here.

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