A righteous family is honored after 60 years

Dutch farmers saved Jewish brothers from under the noses of the Nazis.

taglit.sendarticle (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
For four decades, Ben Hulata, 81, had lost contact with the Dutch family that saved him and his younger brother during World War II. Then last year, the octogenarian was suddenly struck with pangs of conscience and remorse for "not doing enough" to thank the Christian Dutch family for their heroism. Determined to set the record straight and see them rightfully recognized, he set out to find the family that had saved his own life, and that of his younger brother more than 60 years ago. In the summer of 1943, Hulata, born Ben Monnikendam, was 18 when he decided to flee Amsterdam together with his 16-year-old brother Yitzhak after being put in touch, via a female classmate, with a member of the Dutch underground named Luke. Just two years earlier, their older brother had been deported to the Mauthausen concentration camp where he was murdered by the Nazis. As the persecution of the Jews intensified in the Dutch capital, the two brothers escaped, and hid on a farm in eastern Holland, where they paid rent to the farmers. In the meantime, their parents, who had chosen to remain in Amsterdam, were caught and sent to their deaths in Auschwitz in October 1943. Soon enough, the brothers' money ran out, but their contact in the Dutch underground transferred them to a family farm in Varsseveld, a small Dutch village near the German border. The farm belonged to the Colenbrander family. The head of the household, Bernard Colenbrander, who was active in the Dutch resistance, lived on the farm with his wife, Hendrika, their 11 children, and a grandfather. The two Jewish brothers were offered shelter at the farm even though Bernard Colenbrander had been imprisoned in the Vught camp in the south of Holland for resisting the regime and on suspicion of hiding Jews. Colenbrander's son, Elbert, then 21, was in charge of finding alternate hiding places for the Jewish siblings on the family farm both before and after his father's detention. Despite the already-heightened risk to the family, the two brothers were given Dutch names and hidden in a small room above the pigsty of the farm, along with two British pilots, with all their needs looked after by the family during their one-year stay. Over the course of that year, Elbert Colenbrander would bring two additional Jews to the farm, and take care of them as well. Near the end of the war, a group of German soldiers arrived on the family farm, taking over part of it for their own use. Despite the heightened risk to their lives, the Colenbranders continued to sequester the Jews, and provide them with food when the German soldiers were out. Ben and Yitzhak Hulata remained at the farm until they were liberated in 1945. The Hulatas immigrated to Israel in 1946. Ben Hulata had gone back to see the Dutch family in 1965 when he went to study agriculture in Holland, and had then lost touch with them, although his brother had visited the family in 1992. Last year, Ben Hulata tracked down Elbert Colenbrander, 79, in Holland, and worked tirelessly to have the family recognized as "Righteous Among the Nations" by Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. Colenbrander was very surprised when Ben Hulata contacted him with the idea, feeling it was "a big honor he did not deserve," Colenbrander's daughter Wilma, 46, recalled Wednesday, as her father, and her late grandparents received Yad Vashem's highest honor in the Garden of the Righteous. Colenbrander, who broke out in tears at the emotion-fraught ceremony, never talked much about the war with his children, and only discussed it when asked, his daughter said. Over the years, he always said that he was taught that as a Christian, you do these things for other people, his daughter said. At the simple ceremony, the memories of the war, and his family's actions, flooded the now-elderly man, and, for a moment, the decades of oft-hidden emotions were overpowering.