On Monday, August 27, 2012, Yad Vashem and the Netherlands will sign an agreement whereby the Dutch government will support the digitization of the files concerning the Dutch Righteous Among the Nations. The agreement will be signed at Yad Vashem by Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev and Ambassador HE Caspar Veldkamp on behalf of the Netherlands.
Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev said, “Providing easier access for researchers, filmmakers, students and anyone else interested in learning about these extraordinary men and women, the digitization process is a key aspect in commemorating the choices these individuals made not to be bystanders.”
Over the past 5 decades, the Commission for the Designation of the Righteous has recognized over 24,000 men and women who risked their own lives to rescue Jews during the Holocaust. As of today, 5,204 rescuers from the Netherlands have been recognized as Righteous Among the Nations. The database of Dutch Righteous Among the Nations is now available on www.yadvashem.org, along with the database of Righteous from the Baltics and the former Soviet Union. As long as more stories of rescue are substantiated, Yad Vashem will continue to recognize these remarkable individuals.
In the course of the pilot project in preparation for the scanning, a unique document was discovered. It is the touching story of Berendina (Diet) Eman and Hein Sietsma, a young engaged couple from The Hague who were part of a group of non-Jewish youth that helped Jews escape the Nazis. The Hein group, named after Hein Sietsma and also an acronym of the words “Helpt Elkander In Nood” (“Help Each other In Need”), was initially involved in disseminating BBC news and arranging hiding places for Jewish fugitives. As priests and pastors were exempt from forced labor, all the male members of the Hein group posed as clergymen. Before long, the Hein group was in charge of 60 Jews, among them Aronda and Sarina Niekerk and their parents, Hans and Ellie van Esso; the Koppel family; the Hartsuiker family; Rabbi Tal and his wife; Albert van Gelder; and the Nihom family. Moreover, the group also took care of a large number of young non-Jewish men who were evading forced labor in Germany.
After many instances of tight escapes and near misses, Eman and Sietsma were arrested on separate occasions. Eman was released after a number of months of imprisonment in Vught. Sietsma was sent to Dachau. In October 1944, he managed to send a note to his fiancée, folded into a one-centimeter package: "Even if we never meet each other again on this earth, we will never be sorry for what we did," he wrote. "We will never regret that we took this stand, and know, Diet, that of every human being in the world, I loved you the most." Sietsma died in Dachau. Both he and Eman were later recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations.