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Righteous Among the Nations from the Netherlands To be Honored at Yad Vashem Wednesday

30 March 2009

Wessel and Ankje Ruwersma, Righteous Among the Nations from the Netherlands, will be posthumously honored at Yad Vashem on Wednesday April 1, 2009 for rescuing Jews during the Holocaust. A ceremony will take place in the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations at 11:15. The ceremony will take place in Dutch and Hebrew, in the presence of the survivor, Yehudit Levy, and Daniel Postma and Ankje van Keulen-Postma, grandchildren of the Righteous, who will accept the medal and certificate of honor on their late-grandparents behalf.

The events are open to the press in coordination with the Media Relations Department: 02 644 3410.

The Rescue Story

Wessel and Ankje Ruwersma lived in the village of Burum, located in the district of Friesland in Northern Holland. Wessel worked on the family farm and also distributed kerosene in the local villages while Ankje ran a grocery shop in Burum. The couple, who were in their 50s, had two children: a married daughter, Anne, and a son, Ruurdtje, who lived with them.

In May 1940, the Germans captured Holland, and in Summer 1942, the deportations of the Jews of Holland began. When the Levy family, of Tilburg in Southern Holland, received orders to report for forced labor in the East, the parents, Jeanne and Alfred, decided to search for hiding places for their three young children, Miriam, Dan and Yehudit. Through a neighbor they managed to place Yehudit, at that time almost two years old, in the home of Wessel and Ankje Ruwersma, who referred to Yehudit in coded messages as a a pink hat.

The couple received little Yehudit with open arms. They cared for her as if she were their own daughter, seeing to all her needs. In order to hide Yehudits identity, the people of the village were told that she was the daughter of friends whose mother was ill and the father unable to care for her. Additionally, in order to further obscure her identity, Yehudits black hair, an uncommon sight in that area, was bleached in order to lighten it. When Yehudit began to speak her first words, she repeatedly said the word Oetie, and Wessel and Ankje decided to call her by this name. To this day, the Ruwersma family still calls her Oetie.

Yehudit remained with the Ruwersma family for two years, until liberation in April 1945 when her aunt collected her and returned her to her family. Yehudits father was murdered in Auschwitz, but her mother, sister and brother survived the Holocaust. Yehudit regarded her rescuers as her parents and her separation from the Ruwersmas was especially difficult. When the Levy family immigrated to Israel, Yehudit remained in contact with her rescuers and then later on, after their deaths, with their children.

Over 22,700 individuals have been recognized as Righteous Among the Nations. For more information about the Righteous Among the Nations program: http://www1.yadvashem.org/yv/en/righteous/index.asp