In 1943, Lou and Betty van Naarden were living in Amsterdam with their young son, Wim, when they felt the grip of Nazism tightening around them and decided they needed to go into hiding. A prospective safe house could only hold two people, and they decided that separating from their child was the least terrible option.
The parents survived the war, but Wim was gassed on his fifth birthday at Auschwitz. But not before a Dutch family tried their best to save him.
On Sunday, a member of that Dutch family was honored at Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel in Elkins Park, with Wim’s brother, who was born after the war, leading the tribute.
Robert van Naarden, who lives in Huntingdown Valley, shared his brother’s story — much of it he only learned last year — moving much of the audience to tears.
Last summer, van Naardan got a call at home from a Dutch journalist. The man was investigating World War II war criminals and had found information about a Jewish man who was suspected of telling the SS where some Jews, including Wim, were hiding.
After connecting with the journalist, van Naarden traveled to Holland, intent on learning more about the apparent betrayal and why the brother he never met had been killed.
“It’s a part of a dark history and once it opens up again you want to find the facts and find the truth,” said the 66-year-old van Naarden, who didn’t have any other siblings.
While abroad, he met with the journalist and with Ina Lagendijk-Kingma, a member of the Dutch family that had hidden Wim for several months.
Lagendijk-Kingma was 14 when Wim came to live at her home in a small village in Holland called Bennebroek. The house already held the parents and seven children, who were now all put at risk by Wim’s presence.
“Where nine mouths can be fed, there’s always room for one more,” Lagendijk-Kingma recalled her father saying.
Not long after, when the family got word that the SS was coming to the house, Lagendijk-Kingma took Wim’s hand and tried to lead the 4-year-old Jewish boy out the rear of the house. They were going to run into the woods, but outside the door, stood an SS officer.
Wim, whose full name was William Philip, was taken away. Lagendijk-Kingma’s mother tried to stop the officers and said that if they were taking him, she was coming, too. For reasons they never learned, the SS uncharacteristically released the mother and father, who was not home at the time but later went to the police station in search of Wim and his wife.
Lagendijk-Kingma had become something of an older sister to the small, red-headed boy she never saw again.
“He was a very bright child, a very smart child,” she said. “He wanted to know everything and was very curious.”
The story of how Wim was actually discovered was dug up by the Dutch journalist, Cees van Hoore, who was investigating a suspected war criminal named Arnold Noach, a Jewish man whose brother was friends with the van Naarden family.
In recounting the story on Sunday, van Naardan said that van Hoore suspected Noach of telling the SS where Wim and 18 other Jews were hiding in order to save himself. The journalist is now trying to find out why Noach, who died in Germany in 1989, was never brought to trial for his suspected war crimes.
“My issue is not what dastardly thing this guy did, it’s more for me to get more facts about my brother, and that’s important to me so I can get closure on this,” van Naarden said.
After meeting Lagendijk-Kingma last summer, van Naarden wanted to pay tribute to her in some way. He met with the leaders of Keneseth Israel and they agreed to honor her in conjunction with Yom Hashoah.
Lagendijk-Kingma, now 84, and her son traveled from Haarlem, Netherlands. They lit a candle for the victims of the Holocaust. Van Naarden told the story of his brother and then introduced Lagendijk-Kingma. The congregation presented the Dutch mother and son with a painting of a tree of life.
“In hiding my brother, they risked their entire family,” van Naarden said. “It’s an incredible act of courage and of human dignity.”
On meeting Robert van Naarden and his family, Lagendijk-Kingma said, it was “very emotional. In Rob’s features, I can see that he is a brother of Wim.”