June Ravenhall- Forgotten Hero

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I often ask myself the question “Would I risk mu own life to save another?” and the honest answer is “I don’t know” I think I would but when it comes to it I don’t know.

However there are so many in History who asked themselves that same question. One of these brave souls was June Ravenhall.

Ravenhall was born Elsie June Stickley in 1901. She was a native of Kenilworth who moved to The Hague with her husband, Leslie Ravenhall, whom she married in 1925.The couple left Coventry for the Netherlands due to Les Ravenhall’s business, and started a business importing Coventry Eagle motorbikes.

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Their house and business were expropriated when the Nazis invaded the Netherlands. As a British citizen, and since Britain was then in war with Germany, June’s husband was sent to a prison camp in Poland, and she relocated to Hilversum.

Mrs Ravenhall was approached by the Dutch Resistance and asked to hide a young Jewish journalist called Levi(Louis) Velleman. She agreed and he lived with the family for three years.

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When, in the summer of 1942, the first orders were issued for Jews of the Netherlands to report for “work in the East”, Levi Velleman, born in 1919 in Haarlem, was in a hospital in Hilversum (prov. North-Holland) with tuberculosis.
As not enough Jews did report, the Germans started to round up Jews. As Velleman was a well-known journalist and radio reporter in the Netherlands going by the less Jewish sounding name of Louis., he feared that he would be sought too. He thus turned to one of the physicians in the hospital who contacted the adjacent recuperation center asking if someone there could take him into hiding. June Ravenhall, who was living in the immediate vicinity of this center, came forward even though she had some initial hesitation to take in a person with a contagious disease. June had the lone responsibility for her three young teenage children after her husband Leslie had been arrested. Both originally from Britain, they had come to live in The Hague where Leslie had found a business opportunity importing motorbikes. Three days after the capitulation of the Netherlands in May 1940, Leslie was taken as a prisoner of war to a camp in Germany, where he remained until the liberation some five years later.

June gave Louis Velleman the room of her oldest daughter, where he stayed all the time. Since sunshine was considered favorable for healing, Louis sat in the garden when the weather was nice and June thought that there was no immediate danger. However, when the Germans learned that many Jews were in hiding in the town of Hilversum, many house searches were carried out, among them in the Ravenhall home. The Ravenhall children were well instructed to keep the Jew hunters delayed for awhile, so that Louis could get into his hiding area. Once he escaped by jumping out of a window at the back of the house. When the policeman found some men’s clothing and confronted June with it, she feared immediate arrest. It turned out that the policeman had only come to warn her of a pending house search.

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The winter of 1944-1945 was especially difficult in the western parts of the Netherlands, as food supplies from the rural eastern parts of the country were forcefully stopped by the occupier. Moreover, there was no electricity or gas. Many Dutch had to survive on flower bulbs and many more died of starvation. The Ravenhall family could not support an extra mouth, and thus Louis was taken to Wieger and Sijbrig Beks, living close-by, who were able to feed him. Once a week, Louis ate at the Beks: “I could eat in one day more than during the entire week with the Ravenhalls”.

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The Beks were heavily involved in a local resistance cell, among other things by delivering false identity papers to Jews in hiding in the area.
Louis Velleman survived the war thanks to June and the Beks. He stayed in touch with all until his passing in 2000.

 

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