The Righteous Few is a remarkable true tale of courage, compassion, and rescue during the Holocaust. It is the story of a young married Christian couple, Frans and Mien Wijnakker, living in the Netherlands during World War II. When their country was under Nazi German occupation, they were firsthand witnesses to the horrific acts of violence inflicted upon thousands of innocent people, especially Jews. Refusing to sit back and do nothing, they chose to put their own lives at great risk by hiding their Jewish neighbors. By the end of the war, they had managed to save more than two dozen countrymen from certain death. Their heroism later earned them a special recognition of “Righteous Among the Nations” by Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center.
Frans and Mien were Catholics who led a simple life in the countryside of southeastern Holland. They had four small children of their own. But a simple yes in response to a call for help during a business trip to Amsterdam profoundly changed Frans’ and his wife’s lives. In a two-year period, they took many Jewish refugees into their own home and organized a rescue network that placed refugees in other people’s homes, as well. As their rescue work increased, so did the many risks and dangers associated with it. They faced one of their most difficult challenges when they took in a young pregnant Jewish woman and her husband. How do you help someone who has to give birth in hiding? Through this and many other stories, The Righteous Few draws a vivid picture of two extraordinary people who shined the light of hope during one of history’s darkest periods.
Marty Brounstein received his BA degree in Education and History from the National College of Education in Evanston, Illinois and his Masters in Industrial Relations from the University of Oregon in Eugene, Oregon. Early in his career, Marty was an educator who taught history, including the Holocaust. Later, Marty ran a management consulting business for more than twenty-five years, specializing in leadership and organizational development with clients across many industries.
Through this work, he has been the author or contributing author of eight books related to business management, including Coaching and Mentoring for Dummies, Communicating Effectively for Dummies, and Managing Teams for Dummies. The stories he now writes tell of the often unknown heroes of the Holocaust, such as his his previous book, The Righteous Few. He travels extensively throughout the country speaking about the Holocaust, and sharing accounts of individual bravery. Currently, Marty resides in San Mateo, California with his wife, Leah Baars.
1. May 2009 Historic Moment, 5
2. The Beginning, 9
3. Freetje, 25
4. Life in Occupied Netherlands, 32
5. The New Business Starts Expanding, 43
6. Early Challenges and Dangers, 46
7. The Pivotal Moment and Forging a Key Ally, 61
8. Adults Move In Too, 71
9. The House Fills Up, 79
10. The Brokering Business Expands, 87
11. Baby Ineke, 99
12. Placement Challenges in the Rescue Network, 110
13. Not Always Successful, 136
14. The Threats and Real Dangers, 140
15. The End Finally Comes, 162
About the Author, 175
I want to take you on a journey into a remarkable story, and to start this journey I want you to think about these three questions. Question one: Would you be willing to help others whose lives are in great danger? Question two: Would you be willing to help others whose lives are in great danger, knowing if you get involved, you probably put your life in great danger. Would you still help? And question three: Would you be willing to help others whose lives are in great danger, knowing if you get involved you probably put your life in great danger, when these people who most need the help most everyone else wants to hate them or be indifferent to their plight. Would you still get involved and help? The Righteous Few: Two Who Made a Difference is a true story of a Christian couple from the Netherlands who answered a definite yes to all three of those questions in a time period when most everyone else said no. They are true heroes. This has been the opening to my storytelling presentation about this remarkable husband and wife named Franciscus and Hermina Wijnakker, Frans and Mien for short (pronounced like Franz and Mean)—an opening audiences find quite thought-provoking. At the writing of this latest edition for the book, this by accident on a trip to the Netherlands with my wife in May 2009. My wife’s curiosity led us to connect with the five children of Frans and Mien, a reconnection for my wife. On this initial accidental visit to the home of Frans Wijnakker, Jr., who lives in the actual house where much of his parents’ rescue work occurred in the 1940s, I was blown away when I learned that his parents had been recognized as Righteous Among the Nations. I knew what this honor meant. Nestled up in the hills on the western side of the city of Jerusalem is a place where thousands of people from around the world visit daily to learn about the tragic period of history from 1933 to 1945 known as the Holocaust. The name of this place is Yad Vashem. It was established in 1953 by an act of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, to serve as an education, research, and historical center and museum in remembrance of the six million Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust at the hands of the Nazi Party machine led by Adolf Hitler. That number, six million, can be almost unimaginable to the average person. What it means in terms of the Holocaust is that nearly two-thirds of the Jewish population that existed in Europe prior to the start of World War II perished at the hands of the Nazis and their collaborators by war’s end in May 1945. These were targeted victims of murder, not victims of war where millions more soldiers and civilians died from the most destructive war in humankind’s history. The Holocaust also included another five million-plus murdered victims on Hitler’s list of so-called inferiors and undesirables, such as gypsies, the handicapped, homosexuals, communists, political opponents and dissidents, and those of Slavic heritage. So this tragedy would never be forgotten is why Yad Vashem was created. Amidst the many parts of this fascinating historical museum is a section called the Righteous Among the Nations, unexpected journey of a section that recognizes the non-Jews, who carried out acts of courage to save the lives of Jews during the Holocaust. On the grounds outside the walls of the museum are plaques and planted trees that pay tribute to these courageous people, the area often referred to as the Avenue of the Righteous. In fact, the 1993 Academy Award winning movie Schindler’s List featured one of the best known of these Righteous few, Oskar Schindler. Another 27,000-plus, as of the start of 2019, Righteous people who have received this special honor from Yad Vashem join him. The actions these people took to help Jews included creating papers for false identities, hiding them, helping them get away, or providing other means of refuge. Such actions may be hard for some to grasp as daring and bold if absorbed in the world of today with its high-action, high-drama movies, video games, and sensationalized stories in the media and Internet or the misused word of hero that gets attached to celebrities in the world of sports and entertainment. Make no mistake about it; everyone recognized in Yad Vashem’s Avenue of the Righteous truly participated in real-life drama that put his or her life at great risk. The ugly scourge of anti-Semitism was not just confined to Adolf Hitler’s Germany in the 1930s and 1940s. By the start of 1942 Germany and its allies in the Axis Powers had conquered most of the countries of Europe outside of Great Britain and the Soviet Union, with much of the European portion of the U.S.S.R. overrun by German forces. In most every one of these countries, the Nazis found sympathizers who gladly assisted them in the brutalizing, murdering, or rounding up of Jews to be shipped off to the concentration camps in Poland and elsewhere. Of course, millions more chose to look the other way or were just indifferent to the plight of Jews among their citizenry. On top of this setting was the brutality the Nazi henchman carried out to anyone caught trying to help save Jews. Death sharing this special story with a wide was the outcome in quite a few cases either on the spot by being beaten to death, burned to death, or shot. If one was lucky enough to just be arrested, the concentration camp was usually the destination, with dying either in the gas chambers or through backbreaking labor and starvation the most common outcome. In light of this hostile climate at that time in Europe (and elsewhere around the world) and the dangerous risks involved, the actions of this small minority of non-Jews recognized by Yad Vashem were truly remarkable and courageous. These Righteous people were truly heroes. In Section H on the grounds in the Avenue of the Righteous, you will find the plaque of two such people, a couple from a small town in southeastern Netherlands named Franciscus and Hermina Wijnakker. This book tells the story of this Christian couple, commonly referred to as Frans and Mien and the actions they took in the time of the Holocaust that eventually earned them this special honor at Yad Vashem. Among the many heroic acts Frans and Mien performed was taking into hiding in their own home a young Jewish couple similar in age to them where the wife was already pregnant. How do you get a baby born to a Jewish woman in Nazi-occupied Holland? Impossible is the answer. Yet they performed a miracle and got this baby born and kept her safe with her parents until liberation finally came—the wife of this very author. Please enjoy the journey ahead. variety of audiences and venues is now well into nine years and counting. I often tell audiences that this is a story I stumbled into