About four years ago, Margaret DeJong opened an email attachment of a photo. To her amazement, it showed her grandparents, her father and her aunts and uncles in the Netherlands during the Second World War. The sender was a man in Israel she had never heard of.
The immediate thought of the 63-year-old Sarnia, Ont. resident was, “what are you doing with a picture of my father and his family?” She found it quite strange.
But after some back-and-forth with the Israeli sender, that sentiment soon gave way to, “oh, this is interesting.”
DeJong had been tracked down by the son of the Jewish boy her grandparents had sheltered in Nazi-occupied Holland.
The son, Zachi de Paauw, soon traveled from Israel to Sarnia to meet DeJong. They established a friendship that continues to this day.
The Canadian woman and Israeli man tearfully embraced again on Nov. 4 at Israel’s consulate in Toronto, where DeJong’s grandparents, Jan Snippe and Elsje Slendebroek-Snippe, were named as Righteous Among the Nations at Yad Vashem for their heroism is rescuing the Jewish boy, Samuel de Paauw.
The moving ceremony was attended by several dignitaries and about a dozen members of the Snippe family who traveled from Sarnia, St. Catharines, and Owen Sound.
DeJong and her brother, John Snippe, were presented with a certificate and specially-struck medal by Israel’s consul-general in Toronto and western Canada, Idit Shamir.
Shamir quoted the Talmud, that whoever saves a life is as if he saved the entire world, and asked, under the same circumstances, “how would we act?”
The honour was actually bestowed in 2018 but the pandemic caused delays. The Dutch couple join nearly 28,000 non-Jews who have been designated Righteous Among the Nations for having rescued Jews during the Holocaust.
Bringing greetings at the ceremony, the first in-person gathering at the consulate since the pandemic began, were Ontario Lt.-Gov. Elizabeth Dowdeswell; Marilyn Gladu, MP for Sarnia—Lambton; Bob Bailey, MPP for Sarnia—Lambton; Rabbi Rafi Lipner of Toronto’s Shaarei Tefillah synagogue; and Fran Sonshine, national chair of the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem.
Also present were MPP Robin Martin; the Netherlands’ consul-general in Toronto, Harman Idema; and anti-racism activist Raheel Raza.
Jan Snippe and his wife Elsje lived in the southern Dutch province of Limburg. They had seven children, two of whom died of tuberculosis during the war. The family was devoutly Christian.
In late 1944, they received an extraordinary request from a resistance group to hide a 13-year-old Jewish boy, Samuel, whose earlier hiding place had become too dangerous. Despite the life-threatening risks, the family welcomed the boy warmly and treated him as one of their own. He developed an especially close relationship with a son of the Snippe clan, Albert, who was the same age as Samuel, or “Sammi,” as he came to be known.
As a child, DeJong recalled hearing stories that her father, also named Jan, spirited Sammi into the nearby forests and stayed with him when Nazi troops were close. Sammi’s hair had been dyed blond and her father shared his meager war rations with the boy.
Her father “put a lot of that behind him,” DeJong told The CJN. “It was a difficult, difficult time.” Three of the Snippe children, including her father, immigrated to Canada after the war.
Samuel survived the war, along with two brothers who had also been sheltered nearby. The Snippe family attempted to adopt Sammi, unsuccessfully, so he lived in an orphanage for a time, then, at age 18, made his way to the nascent state of Israel.
There, he worked in a kibbutz dairy, followed by army service and then agricultural school, where he met his wife. They had two children, and would go on to have seven grandchildren and 16 great-grandchilden. Samuel died in 1967 of kidney disease. He never spoke of his war-time experience.
“For him, life started after the war,” his son, 63, who lives in Nir Banim in Israel and came to Toronto with his daughter, Chen, told The CJN.
It was the same with his mother, also a Holocaust survivor. “I told her the Berlin Wall fell down. Maybe your wall will fall down one day. She looked at her children and grandchildren and said, ‘this is my victory.’”
De Paauw began researching his father’s rescuers in the mid-1980s but the advent of the internet made it much easier.
When he first met DeJong, he asked why the Snippes opened themselves to such danger. She replied that her family did “what it must,” de Paauw told the hushed gathering.
Asked what the honour means for her family, DeJong said: “I have to learn a lesson from my grandparents, and that’s to step forward when I need to and not worry about the consequences, but about humanity and the love of my God.”