Below is a press cutting from the 1928 Amsterdam Olympic Games.
“Everything was taken care of down to the last detail. Nice practice material—not too heavy—logically composed, neatly executed in class, wonderful order and leadership, in one word sublime. …The jury was also enthusiastic and awarded the Kleerekoper corps a total score of 316.75 points, leaving the other teams far behind. With their well-deserved success, the gymnasts were the first female Olympic champions in the Netherlands. At a quarter past five, the Dutch flag fluttered above the Olympic Stadium and the National Anthem sounded over the central area. However, the cheers rose when HRH Prince Hendrik stepped forward and shook hands with each of the participants. …and then they, our ladies, to whom we owe the first victory, disappeared under the grandstand to their dressing rooms”
In 1928, Amsterdam hosted the Olympic Games. This was the first time that women were competing in the field of gymnastics. Five women on the Dutch Olympic gymnastics team were Jewish: Helena-Lea Nordheim, Ans Polak, Estella-Stella Agsteribbe, Judikje-Judik Simons and Elka de Levie. The team’s trainer, Gerrit Kleerekoper, was also Jewish. The team won the gold medal for women’s gymnastics at the Amsterdam Olympics, and the women became national heroines. In just over 16 years later all but one would be murdered. Elka de Levie survived the Holocaust and died in 1979.
Kleerekoper’s team scored 316.75 points, defeating Italy and the United Kingdom.
Gerrit Kleerekoper was born in Amsterdam on 15 February 1897 was originally a diamond cutter, by trade, but earned his money as a gymnastics teacher at the Jewish Lyceum at the Amsterdam Stadstimmertuinen. In his spare time, he was a trainer at the gymnastics association Bato, which consisted almost entirely of Jewish members. In 1926 he organized the first women’s gymnastics championship in Amsterdam.
On 28 May 1919, Gerrit Kleerekoper married Kaatje Ossedrijver, together they had two children: Leendert on 15 January 1923, and Elisabeth on 14 October 1928, the year in which the gymnasts trained by Kleerekoper won gold at the Olympic Games. In preparation for the Olympic Games, from June 1928 he had his pupils conduct outdoor training sessions on Wednesday evenings and Sunday mornings to get used to the changing weather conditions.
A few years after the games, Gerrit Kleerekoper provided a daily gymnastics session on the radio. Early in the morning, at a quarter to seven, the VARA broadcasted its program with physical exercises. The session started with the question, “Listeners, are you all ready?” accompanied by a piano from the studio. He then had his audience perform bending and stretching exercises in their living rooms.
At the beginning of the war, a drama took place in the Kleerekoper family. After the Dutch capitulation on May 15, 1940, Gerrit’s sister Mina and her husband Louis Judels decided, together with their children Mia and Bert, to take their own lives on this day. In July, Gerrit wrote a letter about this to his brother Herman, who was a biologist in Sao Paolo:
“Dear Herman, Co and Children, On behalf of Dad and Mom and the family, I have the difficult task of informing you of the difficult days we have spent here and the great sadness we have to deal with. Under the circumstances, you must not have dared to hope for good news. However, the blow that has struck us all is heavier than we and you will have expected. In the first days of the war and immediately after the surrender, many people experienced great fear. Our dear sister Mina with Louis and both children preferred a gentle death to life in fear of the future. During the nights of 15–16 May, they left us. You understand that much writing is not possible at this time. The condition of all of us and Pa and Ma is pretty good considering the circumstances. We must now hold our heads together. We also wish you strength and health. You Gerrit.£
In November 1942 Gerrit, Kaatje and Elisabeth were forced to leave their house at 94 Rivierenlaan. In the last months before their deportation, the family lived at Transvaalstraat 136. On 20 June 1943, at nine o’clock in the evening, they were taken from their home. With their luggage, they walked to Krugerplein from where an overcrowded tram took them to Muiderpoort station. Because of the crowds, they struggled in the tunnel for about an hour to get into the hall. By now it was midnight. On the platform, they had to hand in their house keys to an official. After another hour of waiting, the train appeared and at 2 a.m. they were crammed into a boxcar with 53 others. Fresh air came in through a small crack. In the utterly dark Kaatje wrote a message with a pencil to her sister-in-law, “We are in a freight car and have not left yet. The mood here is perfect. I hope you can read this. We are sitting on the floor with Z. It’s probably a quarter past two. We’re sitting with a candle and I can’t see what I’m writing. Now Trien and Leo, a bunch of Ger, Ka, Elly”.
At five o’clock the train arrived at Zwolle and Gerrit wrote another postcard: “We hope to see each other again soon”. Before they could be registered in Westerbork, it was eight o’clock in the morning and the “scorching hot sun” was already burning above their heads.
Ten days later, on 30 June 1943, the names of Gerrit, Kaatje and Elly Kleerekoper were on the transport list. Daughter Elisabeth wrote to her Aunt Trien, “We have already packed everything for the transport. You can take a bread bag, blanket and handbag with you. The train is already there, almost cleaned. We don’t know where we are going. Maybe we won’t go at all tonight. At least I’m not afraid of it. But if something happens, you have to be strong. I saved the oatmeal cookies and rye bread to eat on the train”. Just before folding the letter, Elisabeth added a quick note to the bottom of the letter, “Left on Tuesday.”
On 2 July 1943, Gerrit Kleerekoper, along with his wife Kaatje and their fourteen-year-old daughter Elisabeth, were murdered by the Nazis at the Sobibór extermination camp. Leendert Kleerekoper had arrived in camp Westerbork more than two months before his parents and sister, that was on 13 April 1943. His registration card states that he had no religion. Leendert was an electrical engineer. His profession ensured that he was sent to camp Vught on 17 May 1943, and was placed with the Philips command. He was murdered in Auschwitz in July 1944 by exhaustion.
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