The extended family of Benno Gerson and his late sister Anni Goldberg at the event honoring their wartime rescuers, Joseph and Marie Andries
Serge and Stefan Goldberg, the sons of Anni Goldberg z"l, thanked Yad Vashem for the "unimaginable and unlikely family reunion"
22 November 2016
On 21 November, the long-lost relatives of Benno Gerson and Anni Goldberg, Jewish children who were saved during the Holocaust by Joseph and Marie Andries, gathered at Yad Vashem for a ceremony honoring the late Belgian couple as Righteous Among the Nations.
Benno and Anni Gershonowitz were young children when their family moved from Germany to the Netherlands following the Kristallnacht pogrom in November 1938.
When the deportations from Belgium began in 1942, Ludwig and Pepi Gershonowitz decided to separate from their children in order to save them. Seven-year-old Anni and five-year-old Benno were brought to the home of Joseph and Marie Andries in Anderlecht. On 24 September 1942, Ludwig and Pepi were arrested and deported to Auschwitz, where they were murdered. Several months later, the Andries family and the children moved to Sint-Pieters-Leeuw, where they remained until the end of the war. Joseph and Marie Andries were childless, and at some point separated; the two children remained with Marie, who continued to care for them lovingly. Life was simple, and Marie sometimes received help from her relatives, the Rampelbergs, who provided her with some additional food.
After the war, contact was established with a relative of the Gershonowitz family in the United States, and in 1947 Anni and Benno left Marie Andries’ home and sailed to New York. In 1983, shortly before Marie Andries passed away, Benno travelled to Belgium and visited his rescuer one last time.
Accepting the certificate and medal on behalf of the late Joseph and Marie Andries was Dr. Francoise Rampelberg, who travelled especially from Switzerland to attend the ceremony. Dr. Rampelberg, who only recently discovered the courageous actions of her grandparents' cousins, said: "The medal and certificate are proof that brave people with a conscience did exist during those dark times. They attest to the fact that friendship can triumph under even the most dangerous circumstances… they represent symbols of hope for the future."
Holocaust survivor Benno Gerson and his nephews, Serge and Stefan Goldberg, sons of Anni Goldberg z"l, traveled from the United States to participate in this rare event. While Benno admitted he did not remember much from the war period, he described his memories of his "mamak," Flemish for mother, with love and affection:
"The risks she took to protect us are beyond my understanding. No one deserves this honor more… I've had a wonderful life because of Marie and Joseph Andries. They gave me the gift of life."
Serge Goldberg thanked Yad Vashem for honoring Marie Andries and for all of their hard work to bring together this "unimaginable and unlikely family reunion." He related that strong family loyalty was of the utmost importance to his mother Anni, and that she had always hoped that her children and grandchildren would grow up without fear. "This was a wonderful event for our family. We are so happy to be here despite all the trauma that occurred 70 years ago. I never would have imagined that one day I would be standing here at Yad Vashem for an event like this."
Hopeful for future generations, Benno added, "It's so important that we continue to educate and remember what happened, so that such a tragedy can never occur again. We need more tolerance and for people to get along better. That’s my hope - that people will never have to experience what my sister and I did with the loss of our parents."
Yad Vashem has currently recognized 1,707 Righteous from Belgium. To date, more than 26,000 individuals have received the honor. More information about the Righteous Among the Nations, including background details, stories and the Database of Righteous, can be found online here.