A good Church has an organ, it is not just a musical instrument but sometimes also a statement of grandeur.
During WWII one of these organs also became a hiding place for 3 Jewish families, well more the attic above the organ.
During the Second World War, the Breeplein Church in Rotterdam harboured a secret: three Jewish families were in hiding in the two attics high on both sides of the organ. What began, as was envisaged , as a temporary shelter for six weeks became a refuge for three years. The story of the Breeplein Church is one of courage, hope and trust, a story full of wonders and even the birth of a perfectly healthy baby.
On May 29, 1942, Maurice Kool and Rebecca Andriessen knocked on the door of the sexton of the Breepleinkerk in South Rotterdam. After they both had received a letter from the Nazi authorities telling them to report for ’employment in Germany’, they decided to go into hiding.
The seventeen-year-old Rebecca Andriesse and her 25-year-old fiancé Maurice Kool thought that they could stay together if they were married, so they did so as soon as possible. Rebecca’s grandfather arranged for them to go into hiding in the Breeplein Church. The sexton, Jacobus de Mars, created a hiding place in the attic behind the organ, which could be accessed by a ladder and an “invisible” trapdoor.
Three weeks later, Maurice’s parents called to the church . They too had received a letter and wanted to go into hiding. Shortly afterwards, the pharmacist De Zoete and his wife were hidden in the second attic behind the organ. It became their hiding for 34 months.
The organ will have been quite loud, when it was played. Which probably gave the hiding families some chance to make some noise of their own. However this would only be the case on Sunday mornings, the other days they would have to remain very quiet.
Meijer and Ida Kool, Maurice’s parents, owned a textile shop on the in Rotterdam. Because they were Jewish ,they were not allowed to run a business anymore. Because they had received a letter from the Nazi authorities they also decided to go into hiding. After an unsuccessful attempt elsewhere, they also ended up in the organ attic.
During the day the refugees sometimes left the attic an would go downstairs, but for most of the time they were in their hiding place , where it was very cold in the winter and unbearably hot in the summer.
Six months after the arrival of Meijer and Ida, two more people sought refuge in the attic . The sexton built one one on the other side of the organ, for the pharmacist Chaim and his wife Fifi de Zoete. Their three daughters were placed in other safe houses. Hadassah, one of the girls, was placed with the Van der Leer family, who attended the Breeplein Church services every Sunday. The Brillenburg Wurth family ,Reverend and his wife, made sure that Fifi and Chaim could see their daughter after the service, without Hadassah knowing that this was happening. I think because they may have been afraid that she would say something to others in her enthusiasm.
Thanks to the Resistance in Rotterdam, there was enough to eat for all the refugees as also for all the people helping and protecting them.
Rebecca became pregnant in spring 1943. This may sound like a strange thought but they must have been anxious having sex, to make sure they didn’t make too much sounds .Early January 1944 Rebecca had a baby boy . The Surinamese ophthalmologist Dr. Leo Lashley, the reverend’s wife Gerda Brillenburg Wurth and nurse Riet Dekkers assisted Rebecca during the childbirth. This too must have been nerve wrecking because this also had to be done in silence or at least as silent as possible.
The baby son was named after his grandfather and the sexton but was generally called Emile. The stays with the sexton and his wife.
Their adult daughter came to live with them with her newborn baby. To ensure that the crying baby would not attract attention.
April 14,1945 just three weeks before liberation , Nazi troops raided the church. Someone had told them that there were weapons in the church. The soldiers searched, but found nothing. At that time one of the refugees was playing a game with the sexton and quickly hid under the sexton’s bed. However, the soldiers were so fixated on weapons that they overlooked the rest. The people in hiding were therefore not found.
However the sexton was arrested “Even if they beat him to death, my husband would never betray you” said the sexton’s wife determinedly; and indeed, he did not.
Each person involved in this would definitely been sentenced to death, if they had been caught, luckily they weren’t and they all survived the war
I just want to mention Dr. Leo Lashley the ophthalmologist, who quickly had to become gynecologist, by reading a book on the subject.
He was born on March 24, 1903 in Nieuw-Nickerie, Surinam. He moved to the Netherlands, studied medicine in Utrecht, and obtained his doctorate in 1930 as an ophthalmologist. A little later he married and settled with his family in Rotterdam as an ophthalmologist.
During the war, he joined the resistance and helped a number of people go into hiding in Rotterdam; he also collected food for people in hiding. He successfully delivered baby Emile , the son of Rebecca and Maurice Kool . He went into obstetrics because no other doctor wanted to help Rebecca. Dr. Lashley had eventually go into hiding himself
After the War, he briefly remained active in Rotterdam and in Surinamese associations, but disappointed by racism and discrimination, he moved to Curaçao in 1948. He passed away in 1980.
A report of the Dutch Homeland security stated.
“Immediately after the liberation he fulfilled a very prominent function in the construction of the municipal council here. Being colored, he would have been forced out of this position to a certain extent, which has deeply hurt him,”
A book titled “Invisible Years” was written about this forgotten event. Currently a documentary for the Dutch public broadcaster is also made.
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