Commentary: Post-Holocaust farewell to my 'second' mommy

Two days ago Yom Hashoah, the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day, was observed by people of goodwill everywhere. Susie Konicov, our beloved Temple Beth El religious school director, reflected on her farewell to her 'second' mommy, a righteous Christian

woman from Holland who is a heroine of the Holocaust. This is Susie's incredible personal story, in her own words:

On Dec. 20, 2011, Jenny, my second mother, died. She was 99 years old.

Second mother? Do you think I mean stepmother or something like that? No. I am Jewish and I am 70 years old, and when I was a baby, I had to be hidden from the Nazis. I am sure you have heard stories about that time, that war, and those Nazis.

My parents and I (all the Jews) had been forced to move from where we lived in Holland, to the ghetto established in Amsterdam. When the time came that the "razzias" (round-ups) were a daily occurrence, my parents contacted the Dutch underground to have me

smuggled out of Amsterdam. I was 16 months old.

The Van Heeckerens -- Wim and Jenny -- who had three young children of their own, had contacted the Resistance people and told them they would help where they could. I was brought to the Van Heeckerens' home to be hidden there. I stayed for two and a half years.

I was a very active little member of the family. They were blond, all five of them: blond, straight hair. I had dark, curly hair. Yet I was not literally hidden, as in a closet or under floorboards. There were times when I was out and about, playing with my (new) brothers and sister outside, or going on an errand with Wim.

I don't have many memories of that time, just one brief picture in my mind that I once asked Jenny about, and she corroborated it as a genuine memory.

So, you see, Jenny and Wim were my second mommy and daddy. I was 4 when they sent me back to a liberated Amsterdam to be with my father's Jewish cousin and his gentile wife. That time, the Van Heeckerens believed, would provide a transition for me -- from a gentile home to a semi-Jewish home and family.

And that was where my parents went to reclaim their daughter -- me -- and begin a new life. That was possible for many reasons, but most of all, because Jenny and Wim were who they were -- Righteous Gentiles, as they are called in Israel, at Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Memorial Center.

In my own words, Jenny and Wim were my parents in those early years and I loved them. They were kind, and wise, and true Christians. And I love them still.

-- Rabbi Harold F. Caminker, is rabbi of Temple Beth El, 4200 32nd St. W., Bradenton. Shabbat services are held at 7:30 p.m. Fridays. For more information, call 941-755-4900 or visit