19 May 2011
On Monday, May 23, 2011, Yad Vashem will hold a ceremony posthumously honoring Johanna (Pieterse) & Jacobus Witte as Righteous Among the Nations.
Mr. Cees Witte, son of the Righteous, will receive the medal on behalf of his late parents. The event will take place in the presence of Mr. Leopold Robert Kalfus, who was rescued by the Wittes, Mr. Cees Witte, son of the Righteous, and H.E. Michiel den Hond, Ambassador of the Netherlands in Israel, and friends of the family.
A memorial ceremony in the Hall of Remembrance will be held at 11:00 followed by the awarding of the medal and certificate by Yad Vashem Director General Nathan Eitan in the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations at Yad Vashem.
The events will take place in Dutch and Hebrew. The event is open to the press, in coordination with the Media Relations Dept. 02 644 3410.
The Rescue Story
Irene Irma and Leon Kalfus arrived in the Netherlands from Poland, via Berlin, in the late 1930’s and settled in the town of Oirschot. As a result of the German occupation of the Netherlands, Irene and Leon attempted to obtain papers that would ‘prove’ that they and their children Renate, Ralph and Robert, were not fully Jewish, but they were unsuccessful. The family decided to go into hiding: Irene and Renate found shelter together while Leon and Ralph found a separate hiding place. Johan Termeer, a family friend, brought four-year-old Robert to Johanna (Jo) Pieterse, a relative of his who had recently married Jacobus Witte, a widower with five children.
The Wittes lived with three of Jacobus' five children in Zijdewind, in the province of North-Holland. Robert was introduced as a nephew of Johanna and was treated as one of the couple's children. He slept in the attic with the two Witte sons, Cees and Jan, soon calling the Wittes Uncle Jaap and Aunt Jo. He went to the local Catholic kindergarten and joined the Wittes when they attended church. The Wittes were farmers and had cows, chickens and grain, so there was always milk and homemade bread available. German soldiers frequently searched the farm for horses and food, yet they never discovered that Robert was a Jewish child. Robert remembers the infamous Hongerwinter, the Dutch famine of 1944-1945, when food supply to the big cities in the western parts of the Netherlands was cut off by the occupying Germans and many people came to the countryside in search of food. Despite the increasing risk, Robert remained hidden on the farm. The Wittes looked after Robert for two years; during this period they also sheltered a downed Allied pilot.
After liberation in May 1945, Johan Termeer returned to collect Robert in order to reunite him with his family, who had survived in hiding. Robert's parting with the Witte family was extremely difficult for the six-year-old who was once again torn from his environment.
Johanna Witte passed away in 1971 and Jacobus in 1974.
On August 1, 2010, the Commission for the Designation of the Righteous at Yad Vashem decided to recognize Johanna (Pieterse) & Jacobus Witte as a Righteous Among the Nations.
For more information about the Righteous Among the Nations Program: http://www1.yadvashem.org/yv/en/righteous/index.asp