The Bond between Rescuers and the Children they Saved
Jozef & Augusta De Winne
When Jozef & Augusta de Winne’s grandchild, Jan, informed his family that his would-be bride, Luisa, was of Jewish origin, his aunts told him that their parents his grandparents - had saved Jews during World War II. Luisa’s family urged the young couple to turn to Yad Vashem in order to recognize the rescuers. In the course of the examination of the case, the following story was revealed:
Leib Krautstengel had immigrated to Belgium from Poland in 1921. In 1941 he married Amalia Lifshitz, who had escaped from Germany two years earlier. When the deportations began, the family – by that time they had one baby, Maxime, and were expecting another child - went into hiding. With the danger of deportation intensifying, they wanted to find a safer place for their child in the country. A neighbor put them in touch with her sister, Augusta de Winne, who was living in Erondegem, and welcomed Maxime into her home. When Amelia Krautstengel gave birth to a daughter, this baby too was brought to the de Winne home.
The children were very well taken care of by the de Winnes, but the separation from his parents was most traumatic for Maxime, and in the first months of his stay with them he was crying a lot. Only the doctor and priest knew the children’s true identity. Although they lived in a small village, there were collaborators among the neighbors and therefore a cover story had to be invented. They told everybody that Maxime and Nelly were the children of their daughter, Lucienne, who was then 22 years old. When Jozef de Winne died in 1943, his wife continued to care for the children, facing the danger and the difficulty of providing food for the children who had no food ration cards.
When the war ended, Maxime and Nelly’s parents, who had survived in hiding, came to take their children back. This constituted another painful separation for the two children, who by now had completely adjusted to their benefactors’ family and who saw their real parents as total strangers. In order to facilitate the return home, Augusta and Jozef de Winne sent their son, Cyriel, to join the children in their new home with the hope that a familiar face would perhaps ease the transition. Cyriel’s sister would often come and help Amalia Krautstengel with the children.
The traumatizing effect of the war years left a strong mark on Amalia Krautstengel, and she suffered from deep depression and was often hospitalized. The children were therefore put in a children’s home, first in Brussels and then in Antwerpen. The parents never mentioned the war years, and Nelly never dared to ask them how they had survived. Her father died in 1967, and in 1987 her brother, Maxime, committed suicide. It was only when she met Hubertine and Lucienne, the daughters of Augusta de Winne, that she was able to learn more about her past.
On 16 July 2007 Jozef & Augusta de Winne were recognized as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem.