Honoured for their heroism
On Nov. 7, members of the Kalkman family – left to right are Danielle, Victoria, Matthew, Peter and Bonnie – received the Righteous Among the Nations award from the consulate general of Israel in Toronto and Western Canada and the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem, on behalf of Dirk and Klaasje Kalkman. (photo by Rhonda Dent Photography)
One night in the Dutch village of Moordrecht, the call went out: the Nazis were doing a round-up. In a round-up, the Nazis would surround a neighbourhood and then search house by house for those they hunted: Jews, resistance fighters and others they deemed enemies. Wim Kalkman’s family rushed to prepare for their arrival: two Dutchmen who refused to work as forced labour building battlements for the Nazis were taken through a trap door under the carpet in the living room. The really dangerous guest of the family, however, was hidden in plain view. Tanta Ina, they called her, saying she was an aunt who had fled the battle zone on the coast to find refuge with the family.
Tanta Ina was not related to the Kalkmans, however. She was a Jewish woman, the widow of a Dutch-Jewish nobleman who the family had been urged to protect by Reverend Henk Post, the brother of Dutch resistance fighter Johannes Post and a fellow clergyman to Wim’s father, Dirk.
Dirk Kalkman, a pastor in the Dutch Reformed Church, and his wife Klaasje, had taken Catharina Six tot Oterleek-Kuijper in and given her a new identity. They hid her, with the help of their four children, from 1943 to 1945, at great personal risk. On that fearful night, the Nazis did not discover the two Dutchmen or Tanta Ina, who sat on the couch with the rest of the family while they were all interrogated. When a Nazi soldier asked young Wim if the family was hiding anyone, he broke into a gale of nervous laughter, which confused the Nazis, who also began laughing. Fearful of Wim’s sister, who was suffering from diphtheria, the Nazis rushed their search and left.
This was the story that was told to Wim’s son, Peter, and his grandson, Matthew, both of whom were in Vancouver Nov. 7 to receive the Righteous Among the Nations award from the consulate general of Israel in Toronto and Western Canada and the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem, on behalf of Dirk and Klaasje Kalkman.
Righteous Among the Nations are non-Jews who assisted or sheltered Jews during the Holocaust, often at the risk of great peril for themselves and families. The project was established by Yad Vashem in 1963 and to date has granted the award to more than 26,000 people. It had been Wim Kalkman’s lifelong dream to see his parents honoured for their heroism, as Matthew Kalkman told those gathered at the Rothstein Theatre for the ceremony.
After Peter Kalkman read his father’s account of that terrifying night and told the story of his grandparents’ protection of Tanta Ina, Matthew Kalkman gave an emotional speech, often through tears, about the importance of his great-grandparents’ actions to his own life. He said he had first connected with the reality of what his great-grandparents had done when he visited the Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam.
When his grandfather Wim died in 2014, they discovered a note expressing his dying wish that Wim’s father be honoured. Matthew took up the task personally and, together with researchers in the Netherlands, was able to find definitive evidence of what happened in the Kalkman household so many years ago.
The award was given to the Kalkmans by Consul General Galit Baram on behalf of the state of Israel and by Josh Hacker on behalf of the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem. Liel Amdour, a classical guitarist born in Israel, played two pieces of music that embodied hope and rebirth, and Dr. Ilona Shulman Spaar, education director of the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre, and Salomon Casseres, president of the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver, also spoke, as did Karen James, the chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver board. All of the speakers touched upon the importance of remembering the heroes of the Holocaust as inspirations in the current times of resurgent nationalism, racism and xenophobia.
Casseres, who has Dutch ancestry, also stressed the relevance of the Kalkmans’ story for himself, as a descendant of Dutch Jews who survived the Holocaust. “In Hebrew,” he said, “we say kol hakavod, which means ‘all the respect.’” In Dutch, he added, “A hearty thank you for your family’s deeds of heroism.”
Matthew Gindin is a freelance journalist, writer and lecturer. He is Pacific correspondent for the CJN, writes regularly for the Forward, Tricycle and the Wisdom Daily, and has been published in Sojourners, Religion Dispatches and elsewhere. He can be found on Medium and Twitter.