In the living room of her Newport Beach home, Flory Van Beek reaches up to a shelf and takes down a plain-white book the size of an encyclopedia and engraved with a Star of David. “This was published by the Dutch government,” she says. “It has the names of the almost 140,000 Dutch Jews who died during the war.” Flory flips through the book, searching for her mother’s name.
Flory is one of the 5,000 Dutch Jews whose stories didn’t come to an end with this book. Her incredible tale of hiding from the Gestapo is told in intimate detail in the recently published “Flory: Survival in the Valley of Death” (Seven Locks Press, 1998).
Little has been written about the Jews in hiding in rural Holland during the Holocaust. Because so few of them survived, and because of what Flory calls “the serious, private nature of the Dutch,” many stories went untold. But Flory filled a suitcase with her meticulous documentation of the war: newspaper clippings from the early 1940s, family documents, and her deportation summons from the Germans.
“I had received a summons,” she says. “I tried to ignore it. I went out to do some shopping for my mother, and while I was walking back, I stood before the canals, thinking how I could kill myself. A man saw me with my star on my clothes, standing there, and he jumped off his bicycle and asked me in very colorful language, ‘What the hell are you doing here with that damned star on your blouse? Take that damned thing off and follow me.’ I ripped the star from my clothes. I had never seen this man before in my life. For some reason, I felt safe in his company; I instinctively knew I was in good hands.”
The man was Piet Brandsen, the head of the Dutch resistance in Amersfoort.
Soon after, Flory decided that she and her friend Felix would marry and go into hiding in the Brandsen home. They lived in a small room for a year and a half and did administrative work for the resistance to pass the time and make themselves useful. It was during some of these “office hours” when the Gestapo came into the house to arrest Brandsen.
Flory recounts the scene in her book: “Gripped with panic and disbelief, we crawled into the [hiding] place. There had been no time to hide the numerous papers on the table. The screaming downstairs was earsplitting…. Suddenly, we heard footsteps coming up the staircase. We knew exactly how many steps there were. As the person arrived at the top stair and reached for the doorknob, a voice yelled out in German: ‘What are you doing there? There is nothing upstairs.’ Holding onto each other, Felix began whispering the ‘Kaddish’…finally there was silence.”
Brandsen had been taken away to a concentration camp. Flory and Felix, familiar with the habits of the Gestapo returning soon after a visit, slid down a gutter and fled into the winter night. Five miles later, they arrived at the home of the Hornsveld family.
“It was so incredible, I remember,” Flory says. “We showed up at the house, and there was this young teen-age boy and his mother. His mother asked her youngest son, Bertus, who was the man of the house while his father was away, if they could take us in. I will never forget his answer: ‘Yes, we can.’ This became the phrase that got me through it all — ‘Yes, we can.'”
After the war, Flory and Felix came to America, where Felix entered the home furnishings business. The couple sponsored Bertus Hornsveld and his brother Hannie for immigration to America, where the brothers became building contractors. They built the home in Newport Beach where Flory and Felix, married 56 years, now live. “We all should recognize the role that we must continue,” says Flory, “to fulfill the dreams and goals of those whose voices are stilled forever.”