True "Righteous Gentile" Story from World War II
On November 28th, 1968, the
following article appeared in the Vancouver Sun;
Funeral Service for Mr. Henry Hulstein, 65, who
risked his life harbouring Jews during the Nazi occupation in
Holland, was held Friday at the First Christian Reformed Church in
Vancouver. Mr. Hulstein and his wife Grace, shielded many Jewish
people in their home in Apeldoorn, Holland, until Mr. Hulstein was
detected and sent to a concentration camp.
My name is Ray [Reijer] Hulstein, residing at
#200-8600 Lansdown Road, Richmond BC.
Canada. I am the oldest child of the ‘Quiet
Man’ and his wife Geesje Hulstein, nee Yzerman.
This is the story of courage, endurance, sacrifice
and a deep belief in the commandment, ‘Love your neighbour as
It all started on May 10th, 1940, just 24 days after
my 11th birthday. Standing in front of our home, Dad and I looked up
towards the sky, and to our amazement, we saw many planes flying
overhead. At a closer look we saw the German Swastika on their wings
and we immediately knew that the dreaded prospect of war had become
a reality. Normally a quiet man with gentle ways and seldom very
angry, this man started to cry, and shook his first upwards to the
sky to the invaders. He yelled not so gently and not so quietly into
the sky. He then went quickly inside and when I saw him again he had
transformed himself by putting on his old army uniform. Obviously,
the uniform was a few sizes too small, the sleeves a bit too short,
and the buttons too tight, but he did look ready to defend his
country. Saying his goodbyes to us, he presented himself at the
local Army Hall. Later that same evening he returned home after the
mighty German Army had already entered our town. As history will
tell you, the Dutch fought very well with the resources that were
available to them, but after a murderous bombardment of the town of
Rotterdam, where thousands of innocent citizens were killed, this
war was lost to the Dutch people within 5 days. And so 5 years of
oppression, 5 years of terror and 5 years of the most terrible
For the first few months things were not too bad.
Life seemed not too much different, except for the many German
soldiers and their awesome war equipment that constantly roamed our
But then the first sign of what was to come, what
Hitler had planned for our Jewish population came slowly into being.
The order was put forth that all people of Jewish decent, young and
old, were to be identified by wearing a yellow ‘David’ star with the
word “Jood” written across it. It was then only that I discovered
that I had some Jewish playmates. They came to play with us in the
same clothes, the same blazers and the same jackets that they always
did, except that now the ‘David’ star and the word “Jood” was
written on their clothing! How degrading! How monstrous! Our friends
were now separated from us - they were shown to be different from
us, they were JEWS! But it worked very well for the Germans. They
separated them effectively and the Jews were now easy to recognize.
And because of that, a new order came soon after this: Jews can now
only shop at certain hours of the day, Jews no longer could attend
movies, concerts or any other performance. We, the non-Jewish
population, had received ration cards in order to obtain food, but
the Jews would only receive half a ration card – therefore, half of
the food. Within a year, the rounding up of the Jewish population
I remember my parents getting together with some
members of our church and talking about this situation. Soon after
this, the Committee of Jewish Rescue was formed. Several elders of
our Church become involved. A very good friend of my dad, Arent Jan
Smit, headed this committee as its leader. It did not take very long
for them to become active. Extra ration cards were needed in order
to feed those that had gone into hiding. The only way to obtain
those ration cards was to go and get them. So Dad, the so called
‘quiet man’ and his cohorts went to the Central Distribution Centre.
They simply held up the place and helped themselves to this, by now,
very precious commodity. This done, they went to the City Hall and
the Bureau of Vital Statistics. With guns in hand, they ‘obtained’
a load of blank passports mostly used for those of Jewish descent
who then received a new identity as a non-Jewish person.
As the round up continued, more and more homes that could be used as hiding places had to be found. Our parents’ home was rather small, and by that time, already housed 6 or 7 children. But a makeshift bedroom was made for my brother and I in Dad’s upholstering workshop and whenever our bedroom was occupied by some “visitors” we two would sleep in the workshop. The first “visitors” we had were Mr. and Mrs. Brandon and their 13 year old daughter Lenie. As always, nobody stayed too long and soon they were moved on again to a different location. This family did survive the war, and lived in our town for a number of years. Our families became very close friends and they became “Uncle Louis and Aunty Jetty” to us. Later the Brandon’s immigrated to Canada and lived in Ontario.
Another couple that stayed somewhat longer were Mr. and Mrs. Van Engelen and their daughter Jo, who was in her late twenties. Her parents were the most friendly and most considerate couple you could find. However, Jo was somewhat spoiled and became a bit of a problem. In order to survive the war as a Jewish person, one must never, never, leave the house where you are hiding and certainly never venture into the street. Only in the dark of the night would one stand outside for some fresh air and then only on the back porch or at the back of the house. But Jo, whose features were clearly that of a Jewish girl, took it upon herself to walk on the street one day. She was sternly warned never to do that again. It was to no avail as one afternoon she came running into the house extremely frightened.
While she had been on the street she had passed a German soldier who had looked at her closely. Later that afternoon I heard a big commotion in our kitchen, and saw my dad and his friend Arent Jan Smit facing this very frightened Jewish girl. She was pushed up against the kitchen wall while Mr. Smit faced her with a gun in his hand and yelled at her, “If you venture out on the street once more, endangering Mr. Hulstein, his wife and their children and many other people that are trying desperately to save your life, I will come back with this gun and I will personally pull the trigger.” Well, that did the trick and Jo was not seen on the street again.
All three survived the war. Shortly after the war,
Mr. Van Engelen died, and Jo and her mother immigrated to Australia.
No sooner had one party left than another would take their place -
and back to our bedroom in the workshop we went.
Despite all the tension and the fear, there were sometimes funny and hilarious moments as well. One day, our parents had gone out to visit some friends. When I came home later that night, I found the whole house in total darkness. As I entered the house, a voice came out of the darkness, “Would you be so kind to turn on the lights?” My first thought that we were harboring some really lazy people here - but then I realized that it was the Sabbath, and since they could not ‘work’ after sunset, they asked me to ‘sin’ for them by turning on the lights. I got a hearty ‘thank you’ for my trouble.
Christians usually worshiped relatively quietly in
our churches, which was quite different from the noisy worship in a
Synagogue. One day, while sitting at dinner with our large family
and our Jewish ‘guests’, Dad had warned us several times to be more
quiet, but to no avail. Finally, getting somewhat exasperated, he
said sternly, “Kids, be quiet! Where do you think you are? In a
synagogue or something?” Mother looked horrified that he would say
this in front of our Jewish ‘guests’, and father just about choked
when he realized what he had done. However, the situation was saved
by our quests
who burst out laughing. They thought this was
priceless! Yet another reminder that the Jewish people have a great
sense of humour and are not easily offended even by what today would
be considered a racial slur.
During the years of occupation it was forbidden to
have a radio of any type in your possession. All radios were to be
handed over to the authorities. This was to prevent anyone from
listening to any broadcast from the BBC in London. Dad had found a
very old radio and dutifully handed this one over and even got a
nice receipt for it. But his own radio he kept hidden and many
evenings he would listen to the news from London and after the news
he would wait for coded messages such as, “The moon is blue” or “It
comes like mustard after a meal.” While Dad was away one evening, he
asked me to listen for such a coded message and it did come though
that night. So the following day Dad left town for a few days.
Later, I found out that a drop off was made of some weapons and
blank passports somewhere in a field outside town.
One night there was a great commotion - yelling and
screaming. Peaking through the blackout curtains, we saw the
Gestapo at the home of our neighbour, Mr. Westhof. They had him
arrested but as they escorted him to the wagon he made a run for it
and bolted into the dark night. One of the Gestapo men took his gun
and aimed, but the weapon misfired. Then another Gestapo took aim
and again that one misfired. Talk about the Lord’s intervention! Mr.
Westhof escaped, went into hiding for the rest of the war and
survived. But, unfortunately, the Gestapo then went to his brother’s
home and shot him instead. Mr. Theo Westhof became the first member
of our church to give his life to save others.
As the war went on, food became a very short
commodity. Thousands of people were without food. Particularly in
the larger cities along the coast, people were very desperate.
Thousands of people walked for hundreds of kilometers to the rural
areas and the farm lands carrying their personal belongings in a
handcart or baby carriages. They exchanged their watches, their
jewellery, their gold and silver and anything else that could be
used for bartering to get precious food. Some had nothing left to
barter with and could only beg for food. Some came to our door, and
whenever there was some food left they got something to eat. I don’t
think that as a family we can say that we were ever really hungry.
Dad often was able to exchange furniture, curtain material or
flooring, taken from the furniture store he owned, for food. Our
neighbours next door, also a large family, had a bakery and always
had some scraps of food left.
So Dad and this neighbour came up with a good idea
for another food source. Together, they would build a pig sty. It
would be big enough to hold two large pigs. Naturally, it was
illegal to have animals of any kind, whether it was chickens, goats
or anything else that could supply food for you. We were supposed to
starve so that the German Army could eat and survive. But this pig
sty did get built and shortly thereafter, Dad took his bike, which
had a double saddlebag, and went to one of his farm friends who had
just the right thing for him - two nice, cute little piglets.
The two chosen piglets were then put in the double saddlebag, one on each side, and Dad headed home. Arriving at the bridge that crossed the canal, two things happened. There were two German soldiers at the bridge stopping all traffic and checking for illegal transportation of food. At the same time, the two piglets in the saddlebag picked that time to start snorting and squealing. Dad had to make a quick U-turn back to the farmer and he explained his dilemma. “No problem,” said the farmer’s wife, and with that she went to the kitchen cupboard. She produced a large pancake syrup bottle, and with a large wooden spoon, she smeared loads of syrup on the piglets little snouts. “You are okay now,” she said, “they will be far too busy licking their little snouts for a long time and will be very quiet!”
When Dad returned to the bridge he was not challenged
at all and even received a little wave. He came home safely with the
little pigs, still very busy licking their little snouts. Months
went by and the little piglets were not so small anymore. They kept
growing and growing, until one day the need for food become such
that one of them was chosen for the pot, slaughtered and divided up
between the two families. The other was left to grow bigger and
turned into a great ugly looking beast of nearly 400 pounds.
One Sunday, while we were at church, three men
arrived at our home with a wagon. Someone in the neighbourhood had
informed the authorities about the presence of this one large pig.
They came to claim it, as it was illegal to have any food-producing
animal. They managed to get this large beast out of the pen, and got
as far as the road when the pig decided not to co-operate. After a
short struggle, he got loose and proceeded to run along the
sidewalk. At the same time, two of the neighbourhood churches ended
their worship service and the sidewalk began to fill with
worshippers on their way home, clad in their Sunday best. The pig,
who was by now very angry, stormed into the crowd of people and
started to knock them over like pins in a bowling alley. The pig was
finally cornered several blocks away and taken away. Much later,
after the war, Dad went to the local prison where one of these men
who took the pig was imprisoned for his wartime activities. He
questioned this man about the pig episode and the man admitted that
the pig never arrived at the proper authorities. It was slaughtered
and divided between the three of them. This story about the piglets,
when reminiscing during family gatherings, still creates a lot of
As time went on, Dad got more and more involved with
the Jewish Rescue Committee, along with many other members of our
local community and church members. One day, there was a phone call
asking for some special help. A Jewish lady, hidden somewhere in a
large city, had given birth to a baby boy. The location where she
and her husband were hidden was such that it was impossible to hide
this little baby. Its crying alone would give away their hiding
place. Right after this phone call our mother went to the Central
Railway Station with an empty baby carriage. She was to meet with a
lady dressed as a nurse and had been given a certain password. All
went as planned. The nurse was there, the password accepted, the
baby was put in the baby carriage and so our mother came home with a
new addition to our already large family of eight children - and
mother was expecting number nine. The baby made ten. We all loved
this little boy and my sisters drooled over him!
Dad had a good and trusted friend at the Bureau of Vital Statistics, where all families are registered with the names of all of their children and their birthdays. So this little boy was then entered into our family register as Jacques Hulstein. This little boy stayed with us all during the war - nearly three years. After the war, his parents managed to find him via the Red Cross. He was left with us for a while. His parents returned to their home and continued to visit us and their son for weekends. In this way, he slowly got to know his real parents.
But then came the day that we all dreaded - the time
they took our “Sjakie” home. But we often went to visit the deGoede
family, and they often came to us. Our families became good friends
until the year 1955, when my parents, my brother, and 9 sisters
immigrated to Vancouver, Canada. A year after arriving, this, by now
young man, now known to us as Ben de Goede, wrote a letter to our
parents in which he made known his desire to come to Vancouver and
rejoin the family. “I’d like to come home to Papa Henk and Mama
Gees,” he wrote, and he did come, and joined the family. Ben is
considered part of the family. He lives in Tappen, BC, is married,
and is a father and grandfather. Today, I have in my possession the
Family Register where all the children are listed, including the
name of Jacques Hulstein, but now a line is drawn across his name.
This Family Register is my prized possession, as this simple line
across his name has such a wonderful story to tell.
In October, 1944, a call was issued by the German Command that every available man between the ages of 18 and 45 were to bring a shovel, and assemble at the market place. They were required to start digging defenses to stop the advancing Allied Forces. This order was, of course, against the rules of the Geneva Convention, and only a few men turned up for that duty.
The Germans then went to the local prison and selected a few men at random. Some of the men in prison had been charged for minor local offences such as traffic offences, others for smuggling food. There were also three Allied pilots in prison whose plane had been shot down over our town. The Germans then shot these men, a total of thirteen, and their bodies were loaded on a flat deck truck and deposited in strategic places around our town. Via radio and loudspeakers, the people were then informed of this deed, warned that anyone not turning up for the required digging would be shot as well, and their bodies displayed with those already laying in several intersections around our town.
This scared a lot of people, particularly the women who urged their husbands and sons to follow the order. And indeed, a large group of men passed our home on the way to the market, led by several German soldiers. Dad looked out on to the street and to his dismay he saw our Uncle Jan marching with the group, shovel over his shoulder. Dad ran down to the tool shed, grabbed a spade, ran into the street and fell in line with the marching group, making sure to be beside his brother-in law. He gave Uncle Jan a piece of his mind and told him that “no brother-in-law of mine is going to work for the Germans.” Dad told him of a plan of escape. He was going to create a diversion by falling down and screaming with pain at which point Uncle Jan was to dart away. As Dad fell and screamed and a soldier came to see what the commotion was, Uncle Jan dashed across the street into a neighborhood garden. He then jumped right into this stranger’s front door, which luckily happened to be open, ran though the hallway and right out of the back door to freedom. Dad got up and continued his march to the market, but found an opportunity for escape as well. He found his brother-in law and together they found a hiding place at one of our church elder’s home. The next morning, Mom received a phone call from the lady of this house assuring her that all was well, and that both men would stay there for a little while until things calmed down. Mom kept this information to herself for everybody’s safety. All we were told was that Dad was safe. The next day, Mom instructed me to take a parcel of food to a needy family. “Just give this to the lady of the house,” were the instructions. When I arrived at the house, the lady met me at the kitchen door. I handed the parcel of food to her and was turning to leave, when suddenly I heard a voice from somewhere below the kitchen floor. “Corrie”, I heard, “can you bring us the potty? We both have to pee sooo bad!” The lady then put her finger to her lip and gave me a wink. I knew then that my Dad and my uncle were safe, somewhere under that kitchen floor. After a few more days, things looked safer and Dad returned home to his wife, his 2 sons, 7 daughters and his little house quest, our Jewish brother.
All our other Jewish guests had been quietly moved to
another location, at least for a little while.
It was about that time that our Pastor, the Rev. Nawijn, came to see my Dad and warned him that this situation was becoming more and more dangerous and urged Dad to be very careful in harboring Jews. He himself could do with a message like that since he, also, was deeply involved, particularly in his Sunday preaching style and prayers for the Queen in exile and our country.
Our visitors having moved on, brother Henk and I
could sleep in our own bed again - but not for very long. We only
had a few days of respite when we were once again ordered to our
makeshift bedroom in the workshop. The reason this time was a little
different. Our own bed was being occupied by two Allied flyers shot
down somewhere over Holland. With the help of the Underground they
were trying to return to England. It seemed they might be
successful according to a coded message received via the BBC
sometime later. The night that we returned once again to our own
bedroom we were shocked to find a large stengun under the bed. We
took it downstairs and pointed the gun at Dad and yelled, “Hands
up!” Dad quickly took this gun from us and in the morning took it
apart in smaller pieces. The parts went into our bike’s saddle bag
and he gave us an address in town to deliver this merchandise. Just
as we approached an intersection, we found ourselves surrounded by
German soldiers who were in the process of confiscating bikes. Since
the mighty German army was getting short on transportation, they
simply took bikes from the people whenever they needed them. Many
bikes were already leaning against a fence and that’s where our
bikes landed up, with the gun parts in the bags. I thought about
disappearing fast before those bags were inspected more closely. But
brother Henk had a better idea. He walked up to one of the soldiers
and said, “Is it not true that any woman in Germany with more than 4
children receives a medal from Hitler?” “Yes,” said the soldier,
“That is true!” “Well”, retorts brother Henk, “My mother has 9
children, does not get a medal and you steal her children’s bike!”
“She has 9 children?” the soldier asked. With that, he turned
around, handed our bikes back to us, and we happily rode on to
deliver the gun parts to the address given us.
Soon after this, new ‘guests’ arrived at our home. I have forgotten many of their names but do remember all their faces. Faces portraying terrible anxiety, faces full of fear. What a terrible and scary time this was for them. Not only for the Jewish people but for all those that tried to help and shelter the Jews and others being chased by the Gestapo. So many put themselves and their family at risk. The risk of being imprisoned, the risk of being executed. One day, two large buses passed our home and inside those buses were 121 men - some political prisoners, some taken from the local police station, some simply taken from the street and also 2 Allied pilots. The bus took these men just outside of town to an open field and they were then all gunned down with machine guns. Only one survived, although badly wounded. This was in retaliation for an attack by the Underground on a German convoy. This mass murder was simply done to teach the populace a lesson.
It was much later when I started to understand the
real danger my parents were in and what scary moments they must be
going through. But they never showed this to us children. But they
certainly knew what the Gestapo was capable of. It is no wonder that
the present generation find it hard to believe what really went on
during those terrible years. The things people went through in those
5 years! How are you to explain to them what human beings are
capable of doing to one another? They will have a hard time in
believing me when I tell them that one night a house right across
the street from ours was raided by the Gestapo, where they
discovered a young Jewish family that was hidden there. They were
dragged out of the house towards a paddy wagon, the young woman
crying loudly. One of the German Gestapo came out of the house,
having found their baby, and holding him upside down by one leg. He
yelled to his comrade, “Look what I found. Here, catch!” With this,
he threw the baby towards the other German standing by the paddy
wagon, who missed the catch and the tiny baby fell on the road. Even
today I can still hear the terrible scream of the young mother. Yet
this was only one of the millions of victims of Hitler’s final
The night, something we had feared happened. Just before 8 o’clock one evening Dad had taken his hidden radio into the living room and placed it behind the curtain that was drawn across the garden door, a door which was normally locked. Dad was ready to tune in on the BBC evening news after which he was expecting a coded message. Just then we heard the sound of tires squealing, shouting in German and the sound of heavy boots on the gravel pathway leading to our door. Dad instantly knew that this was THE dreaded moment. He asked me to quickly run upstairs and get rid of a briefcase under his bed. As I ran up the stairway, I got a glimpse of the first Gestapo man running towards the garden door. To my surprise and to the surprise of the family in the living room, this door was not locked, as it was supposed to be. The Gestapo man tripped over this illegal radio and landed very un-ceremoniously on the living room floor. He had tripped over a radio that was tuned in to the BBC! I managed to reach my parent’s bedroom, retrieved the briefcase and dashed over to the girls’ bedroom.
I opened the skylight window and threw the briefcase onto the roof, where it slid and came to rest in the gutter. Just as I closed the window, I was grabbed from behind and faced a big bulky Gestapo man who demanded to know what I was up to. Today, I know that it was the Lord who gave me the words to answer him and I calmly told him that I was closing the window so that my sisters would not feel the cold air coming in. He accepted that, but then marched me to the bedroom where brother Henk was sleeping. He roughly shook him awake and started to ask this 13 year old boy, still half asleep, all sorts of questions, such as, “Where are the Jews?” and “What do you know about Mr. Smit?” Very sleepily Henk looked this giant straight in his face and said, “I don’t know! Let me go to sleep!” But he also was grabbed and both of us were dragged toward the stairway. When we reached the top of the stairs, he kicked us in the behind and we tumbled down the stairs and landed in the hallway. Maybe it was nerves, I don’t really know, but both of us started to laugh like we were watching a funny movie. But we stopped laughing when we entered the living room. There stood our Dad with his hands up in the air and a gun pointed at him. The Gestapo man that had tripped over the radio picked it up off the floor, and looking at Dad he said, “Just for this you will be shot!”
Mother sat in her chair holding our little Jewish brother on her lap. By this time it was very obvious that mother was pregnant again with our sister Irene, soon to be born on January 2nd, 1945. A baby on her lap with very dark hair, a very dark complexion and not even a year old and this woman is very much pregnant again? One of the Gestapo men was a Dutch collaborator, and in our own language he turned to mother and asked, “How old is this child?” Mother answered, “He is a year and a half but is very undeveloped because he was born very premature.” This seemed to satisfy him, but he then began to ask her all kinds of questions about the Jews we were hiding, and the whereabouts of the Jews, and what did she know about Mr. Arent Jan Smit and other people involved in “Actions against the German Reich”. But mother kept telling him that she had absolutely no idea what he was talking about, which made him very angry. He took a box of matches out of his pocket, struck a match and told mother that if she persisted in giving no satisfactory answers he would put a match to “this joint” and burn it down. I will never forget my mother’s reaction to this and her courage and faith when she replied, “I put absolutely no value in earthly things – neither my house nor my furniture are of any value to me. If you want to burn this “joint” down you go right ahead! Just let me pick up my children and I will leave you to it!” But then he said, “Take your children out first? That remains to be seen!” Well, that made my mother shut up in a hurry. Her children were her most precious possessions. At that point, Dad was handcuffed and they were ready to take him away.
At this point, our sister Hanny, just 14 years old, became extremely upset and pleaded with one of the men to bring her Dad home again. This man had been acting somewhat different than the others. He seemed calmer and had a very sad face during all this and therefore looked to us to be somewhat human. He did tell Hanny that he would see what he could do. He wore a beautiful watch on his wrist and our sister asked him for that watch until Dad would come back home. She would then return his watch to him. He looked rather sheepishly at the other Gestapo men and told her that he could not do that.
They let Dad kiss Mom goodbye, kissed each one of us,
and said simply, “Look after your Mother”. Then they led him out of
the door and into the waiting wagon. They took away a husband and
father whose only wrong doing was that he firmly believed what the
Lord demanded of him - to love his neighbor as himself, to help
those in need, to shelter those that are homeless and to save those
that were doomed for prison or even death.
As soon as Dad was taken away, mother sprang into action. She bundled the little Jewish boy in the baby carriage and told my sister and me to take him to her sister who lived close by. It was by now well passed the curfew time and we had to walk through alley ways and private properties to reach our aunt’s home. It was essential to get him there just in case the Gestapo would get a brain wave and have second thoughts about that little boy and that very pregnant woman. Also, the possibility of Dad being tortured came to our minds, so it would certainly be wise to move baby Jacques. We managed to make a safe delivery, and told the family about Dad’s arrest. They, in turn, phoned others that were, like Dad, involved in the Jewish Rescue Committee.
The following morning I retrieved the brief case from
the roof’s gutter, and passed it on to the wife of Dad’s partner,
Mrs. Ina Smit, who would know what to do with it.
So, here we were - Mother Hulstein left behind with 9
children, ages 2 to 15, and her husband somewhere in the custody of
the Gestapo. How she managed to keep sane, I don’t know. Within a
week she was informed that Dad was taken to the concentration camp
in Amersfoort, a town about 45 km west of us. By this time our food
supply had dwindled, but with the help of some of Dad’s customers,
many of whom were farmers, we managed to barter for some food
supplies. Our situation was certainly not as bad as they were in the
western provinces of Holland. There, people were dying by the
thousands. Many were so hungry so that they packed up some of their
personal belongings in baby carriages and hand wagons and walked for
hundred of kilometers through Holland to reach the farms to barter
their possessions for food. But in our situation we were at times
even able to share our food with those that came to our door begging
for something to eat.
The closer the Allied Forces came to us the more
brutal the Germans became. A terrible form of reprisal came to the
little village of Putten, which was just west of us. Some of the
Underground Forces had attacked a German Convoy. To teach the
populace a good lesson the Germans rounded up all the men in this
village, shot many of them and the rest were sent to the
concentration camp from which only a few returned. Then part of this
village was set ablaze. Today, this now much larger town, is often
referred to as “The Town of the Widows”.
Mother’s time for the delivery of yet another baby
came very close and arrangements had to be made for us children to
stay with family members. Some of the girls were lucky to stay in
one home together, others had to be alone, but all of us found a
place with relatives. Brother Henk and I stayed with one of Dad’s
brothers and we were okay. Also our little Jewish brother was with
us at our aunt and uncle’s. The younger ones had a hard time being
away from Mom and their own home. On the first of January 1945 it
was time for Mom to go the hospital, but there was no transportation
available to get her there. There were no taxis, no buses and all we
had were 2 old bikes with wooden wheels. Just at the right time, one
of our uncles turned up and took command. Looking out on the street
he saw a farmer with a horse drawn farm vehicle approaching and he
asked him if he would be so kind as to take this very pregnant woman
to the hospital. He agreed to do that, and with this my uncle picked
up our mother and heaved her on the wagon. We watched her slowly
disappear out of sight while still waving at us. I found this to be
a very sad scene and I remember that I felt so sorry for her and the
circumstances she found herself in. We returned to our relatives and
the following morning we heard that we had yet another addition to
our family. It was another girl, who was named “Irene”, a very
appropriate name as it means, in the Dutch language, ”Vrede”,
or as in our second language, “Peace”. She was born in the middle of
a very cold winter, in a war locked country, on January 2. Henk and
I went to visit mother in the hospital by walking 10 kilometers on
this very cold day in January. It was strange to see Mom in a
hospital bed. All the other children had been born at home. Irene
was the only one born in a hospital. There was no husband and
father was around to welcome the new birth and give mom emotional
Mother returned home with the little one first, but
within a week we were all home together again. Just being home again
made things look somewhat better, although it was the worse time of
all the 5 years of German occupation. Those were indeed very dark
days, when Dad was in the concentration camp and his future was
It was somewhere around the middle of March when one of dad’s brothers came to our home very excited with the unbelievable news that our father was released from the concentration camp and was walking on his way home. A lady who was biking along the road from Amersfoort to Apeldoorn had met with Dad and he had asked her to inform his brother that he had been released and was walking towards home.
I will never forget the happiness and joy of that
day! Our uncle and his son then went on their bikes to meet up with
Dad, but as the curfew time of 8 o’clock approached Dad had wisely
left the road and asked for night shelter in one of the farms along
the road. The curfew also made my uncle and cousin return home
without reaching Dad. It was very disappointing for them as they
had biked such a long distance. However, early the next morning they
were on their way once more and this time met up with Dad somewhere
on the road and had a great and joyful reunion.
Dad arrived home at midday and what a home coming this was. What a Day! We thanked the Lord for bringing him home to us! But we were all so shocked by the way Dad looked. He was very thin and looked so sick and remember that he cried very easily. Every time he would look at one of us, his tears started to flow. He never talked about his experiences in the camp or what happened to him and the others. All he would say was that all the prayers for him were heard and that it was the Lord who set him free. He did tell us that one day he was called into the office of the camp and was told to get his belongings together. He was told he was not being sent to Germany, as the others were, but that he was going home. After he gathered up his belongings, he was escorted toward the gate and literally kicked in the rear end and out of the gate.
After the war we often speculated a lot as to why he
was released and who was instrumental in this? Was it the soldier
that during Dad’s arrest showed some humanity? Some three years ago,
while meeting old friends in Holland, they told us that our next
door neighbor, while serving in the local police force, had signed
an agreement with the Germans to co-operate with the authorities. We
never knew this at that time. He was always a very good neighbor,
knew very well what Dad was doing during the war, and even knew that
this little boy in our home was not a child of one of our relatives,
but a Jewish baby boy. Today we think that this neighbor may very
well been instrumental in Dad’s release. The Lord indeed works in
Now, had this gentle and compassionate man learned
anything from this terrible experience in this concentration camp?
After his release the whole camp was transported to Germany and only
a few survived. That knowledge did not deter him and this became
apparent as only a few weeks later my brother and I were sent back
to our make shift bedroom. Apparently, things were back to normal
again and our parents opened their home once more to feed and
shelter those in need.
In April of 1945 the Allied Forces [mainly Canadians] came very close to the edge of our town. The southern part of town across the canal that divided our town was already in their hands, but it would take another 10 days of fighting before we would be liberated of the oppressor. Many months before this our family and our neighbors had constructed a shelter for our mutual protection. It was a very large hole in the ground, covered with several feet of soil. The inside was big enough to hold our family of 10 and the neighbor's family of 13 people. During the days of fighting and bombardments we all sat together in this shelter for many days and nights. I spend my birthday, April 16th in that shelter.
One night, Dad had to leave the shelter. He was still very weak and needed a more comfortable sleeping arrangement than the one that was available in this underground shelter. I went with him into our house and we both tried to get some sleep. Waking up early in the morning, we noticed that it was unusually quiet outside - no guns blazing and no bombs falling. There was only quietness. Dad went to the window and peaked through the black out curtains and on this morning of April 17th, 1945, he saw the first Canadian soldiers walking behind the trees, guns at the ready. What a sight! The long awaited moment has arrived. We were finally free! Dad quickly dressed and ran across the street. The first Canadian he accosted received a big bear hug! Then we started to yell, “Wake up, everybody, we are free!!! We are finally free!!!” And with that, a mass of people flooded the street. I am afraid we prevented those soldiers from doing the job they were supposed to do. They were surrounded by a huge crowd of people, all yelling, shouting, laughing, crying and hugging!!
The very next day, we had a Thanksgiving Service in our church and in many other churches in Holland - giving thanks to Whom all thanks belong!!! For freeing us from the terror of the last 5 years, for giving us our freedom back and giving thanks for saving Dad and Mom for us and keeping our family together.
For the next several weeks there were many house
parties and street parties. We were free!!!
But not all of Holland experienced this freedom at
that moment. It would take another 2 weeks before all of Holland
could celebrate with us.
Several weeks went by and we started to wonder what
would happen with our little, by now 3 year old, Jewish brother. We
had no idea where he had come from or who his parents were. Were
they still alive? Or had they died in a concentration camp like
millions of others? But about 3 months after regaining our freedom,
we were told that a couple were going through our town inquiring
about a 3 year old Jewish boy, possibly with the name of Sjakie who
was living somewhere within a very large family. During their search
they came to one of our neighbors across the street and our
neighbors were able to tell this couple that there was such a
little boy with that name living across the street. This couple
realized that their search had probably ended and, as this neighbor
had a flower shop, they bought a huge bouquet of flowers and so
arrived at our door. And here they met their 3 year old son who had
been taken away from them when he was only a few days old. He was
now their only child since their daughter, Esther, who would have
been 6 years old had been taken by the Germans while she was, like
her little brother “Sjakie” in hiding. But what a joyful reunion!!
What a blessing to see this father and mother, in hiding for so
long, being reunited with their only child. We all rejoiced with
them, but at the same time we realized that we would now have to
part with this little boy who had become so loved and had become so
precious to us all. But he had very wise parents. They understood
very well that it would take some time for this boy to become
accustomed to the fact that we were not his family and not his
brothers and sisters. To him, the Hulstein’s were his parents, and
we were his brothers and sisters. So, his parents, after staying
with us for a few days, returned to their own place in the Hague and
left Sjakie, whose real name we were told was Benjamin de Goede or
Bennie for short. After a week they returned to us again and spent
more time with their son. They would go out for a day, just the
three of them, to give Bennie time to get to know them better. But
again, they would leave our little brother with us. In this way, we
all became prepared for the day when we would have to let him go
with his parents. And that day came when Bennie left our home for
good. But we continued to have very close contact with the
deGoede’s, who were by now known to us as Uncle Flip and Aunt Borah
and their Bennie. We made many visits to their home and we were all
treated very royally by them.
In July, 1952 I, together with my fiancée, left
Holland for New Zealand, settled down there and were married the
following year. After the war Holland offered very little
opportunity for my generation.
Dad never recovered completely from the concentration
camp experience and decided for the sake of the children to leave
Holland as well. In 1955, Dad, Mom, my brother and 9 sisters
immigrated to Canada and settled in Vancouver. He did find work as
a carpet layer but it became increasingly more difficult for him to
work as the years went by. The letters we received in New Zealand
made us aware that father Hulstein would not be living for many more
years and for that reason we packed up once again, said goodbye to
many of our dear friends who had became like a family to us and we
once again joined our large family in Vancouver, arriving there on
Dec. 28th. 1959. Our two children Robert and Denise were born here
in Vancouver and we became Canadian citizens and today are blest
with 7 grandchildren and a great relationship with brother, sisters
and all the in-laws and their children. At this time of writing
there are now more than 155 descendants of Henk and Grace Hulstein.
As a family the Lord has greatly blessed us all.
In the early 1960’s, our Jewish brother Ben also
rejoined the family. He wanted to be with Papa Henk and Mama Grace.
He fit right back in again and joins us often at family gatherings,
birthdays, weddings and anniversaries.
In 1966 we were approached by the Jewish Community
Centre in Vancouver and they asked us about Dad’s wartime
experiences. The day of the remembrance of the Warsaw uprising was
approaching and on that day they wanted to honor someone who had
been involved in the work of saving the Jewish people in Europe,
someone who helped the Jewish people during those terrible years.
Having given them the information they requested, a great evening
was organized. All this was kept from our parents until the official
The whole family, including ‘brother’ Ben, was invited to the Jewish Community Centre in Vancouver. A large audience of about 350 people were gathered there, including many prominent business men and Rabbi Hyer, now living in New York. During a fantastic dinner, many speeches were given, all honoring our parents. Mom and Dad were sitting at the head table surrounded by their children. Dad was obviously and clearly uncomfortable!! This was not his cup of tea. After one of the speeches Dad was handed large envelope and urged to open it. He discovered that inside this envelope was the Deed and Mortgage papers of his home. Right across the amount still owing was written, “PAID IN FULL. WITH THANKS FROM ALL OF US!!” Dad stood up and in his halting English he thanked them for this great and timely gift. He ended his little speech by saying, “All I did was my duty to my fellow human being”. At this, the great gathering rose and gave our parents a rousing ovation and a thunderous applause. Being the oldest of the children, Dad had asked me to say a few words. I did relate some of the terrible moments of the war, but I also shared with them some of the funny and hilarious moments we experienced. I told the audience about that Friday evening when I came home and found the house on total darkness and our Jewish quests all sitting in that total darkness, and how they made me sin for them by turning on the lights. And I told them about the day we all sat around the dinner table and the children kept on talking and talking until Dad blurted out, “Kids, keep your mouths shut!! Where do you think you are? In a synagogue or something?” When I told this story I saw my mother flinch and she shook her head but this story produced a roaring laughter from the audience. Once again it proved that Jewish people love to laugh, even sometimes at their own expense.
At the end, I thanked them on behalf of my brother
and sisters for so honoring our parents. I also told them that we,
as Christians, were a little bit ahead of them by not only having
the Old Testament but also the New Testament and that we already
have the long awaited Messiah while they still were waiting. This
again produced a roaring laughter. I told them that the disciples of
Jesus found a man begging at the City gate. The disciples told this
man, “Gold nor silver do we have but in the name of Jesus stand up
and walk!” While I thanked them again for all this done for our
parents, I also stated that we also have no gold nor silver to
offer, no earthly possessions to give but that I would like to offer
something far more valuable than all the riches of the earth, which
is a prayer that Jehovah God may bless you and keep you and that His
face may shine upon you and give you His everlasting peace. As I
returned to my seat I saw them all rise and gave a thunderous
applause. But my biggest moment was when I looked at my parents as
they gave me a big smile and Dad was crying.
The very next day this story appeared in the
Vancouver Sun, “Jewish Community honors the quiet man and his
wife”. As well, the Jewish Western Bulletin carried a large story
about our parents and their courage during those terrible years of
1940 to 1945.
Dad’s health was rapidly deteriorating and he had to
stop working all together. But with his mortgage paid and a small
pension also offered by the Jewish Community, he could stay at home.
However, a little more than 2 years later Dad passed away after
suffering from emphysema and other camp related illnesses. Again,
several articles appeared in our local newspapers as well as the
Jewish Western Bulletin about the “Quiet Man” that had passed away.
Many letters of condolences were received. Many were from the Jewish
community, the Dutch Consulate, from Holland and some from New York.
All praised this courageous man, his sacrifices and
his love for his neighbor. Mother Hulstein lived to the ripe old
age of 91 and quietly slipped away to join Dad again - to be
together with the Lord whom they had served together.
Looking back, I feel during all these happenings that
Dad was more in the limelight than Mom. Often forgotten is the
amount of support she gave her husband in order that he could do
what he felt he should do. She stood by him all the time. Never will
I forget her courage when facing the Gestapo man in her home. Yes,
they were a team, and I am proud to have been their son. I am now
already many years older then when Dad died at age 65, and I hope
that I also have, and will show, some of that conviction in my life.
Let’s all remember what Dad said when facing those
that were honoring him in the Jewish Community Hall, “I was only
doing my duty. God tells me to love Him and my neighbor. My
neighbor is anyone in need and anyone who needs help”.
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