‘Righteous gentile’ welcomed into Jewish cemetery

MANATEE — Johanna “Jopi” Hagedoorn, who was honored as a “righteous gentile” by Temple Beth El in 2001 for her brave work saving Jews during the Holocaust, has died.

In her final years she lived in the assisted-living wing at Westminster Shores of Bradenton. A retired doctor and professor of anatomy, her memories were dimmed by Alzheimer’s in recent years. But Temple Beth El never forgot.

Its members, who had enjoyed a unique relationship with this non-Jewish woman for eight years, have donated a burial plot in their cemetery and Hagedoorn will be buried there.

The synagogue will have a memorial service for Hagedoorn at 11 a.m. Sunday at Skyway Memorial “Garden of Abraham.”

“I’m thrilled we were able to do this,” said Sandy Clark, past executive vice president for Temple Beth El. “I think it’s fitting that she will be among the people she helped and rescued. There are an untold number of Jewish children who are alive and have families because of her.”

After the Nazis invaded her native Holland in 1940, Hagedoorn, then 19, risked her life by transporting Jewish children to British ships in her sailboat at night, using black sails, Clark said.

She died July 29 at age 89 with no living family or final resting place, Clark said.

Officials from a local funeral home, who knew of Hagedoorn’s relationship with Temple Beth El, called the synagogue to say there would be no service and that she would be cremated.

“No one should be buried alone or not be buried,” Clark said. “I got in touch with our rabbi and asked if we could do something for her.”

Hagedoorn’s attorney said, “absolutely,” when asked if Hagedoorn could be buried in a consecrated Jewish section of the Skyway Memorial cemetery along Highway 19 just south of Terra Ceia headed north toward the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.

Although the early stages of Alzheimer’s were upon Hagedoorn in 2001, she walked into Temple Beth El that year to donate an object.

She was able to relate a moving story about that object to then Temple Beth El Rabbi Barbara Aiello.

“Johanna became a member of the Resistance,” Clark said. “After the war, she was named as one of the “Righteous among People” of Yad Vashem, the Jewish memorial organization honoring those who have saved lives regardless of personal risk.

It seems that the Cohen family, who were colleagues of Hagedoorn’s parents, were being taken to a concentration camp.

Knowing the Hagedoorns were not Jewish, the Cohens asked them to hold onto the family’s treasured menorah until a family member came back for it.

No Cohen family ever came back.

The handsome menorah, which holds the candles during the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, was eventually passed to Hagedoorn by her mother. It had a place of honor in her home until Hagedoorn decided to give it to Temple Beth El in 2001.

The special menorah is the first one lit every year during the Temple’s family Hanukkah celebration.

“I never knew her, but I became familiar with her story,” said Temple member Kate Richmond. “Sometimes the rabbi would have me tell it. We also prayed for her on Fridays and Saturdays.”

Richmond says she feels pride at what the Temple is doing for Hagedoorn.

“I think it’s great,” Richmond said. “She took in countless Jews when they had nowhere else to go. It is only right and a great honor for us to welcome her in this way.”

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 708-7917.