Righteous Among Nations: A story of bravery

Yom HaShoah is commemorated throughout the world as the most significant day for Holocaust remembrance. On this day, we remember the six million Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust, and we invite the Jewish community and all Canadians to reflect on the past and continue to take a stand against hate and antisemitism. This year, the Jewish Federation of Ottawa is honoured to have Hannah Steynen as our keynote speaker for a Yom HaShoah Commemoration on April 17, at 7 pm, at the Soloway JCC. 

During the Second World War,  Steynen lived with her parents, Bart Rijpstra and Wytske Keverkamp in Zaandijk, a small town located 11 kilometres northwest of Amsterdam, Netherlands. From the street, their house looks like any other brownstone townhouse. With its well-kept rose garden, large bay window overlooking the lawn, and courtyard in the back facing the adjacent neighbours. Yet, this house, Meidoornlaan 2, was the hiding place for more than 20 Dutch and German Jews hiding for their lives in Nazi-occupied Netherlands.  

“As we were preparing for this event, I was honoured to share several conversations with Hannah as well as receiving a beautiful scrapbook she had created in honour of her family,” said Anne Read, Federation’s Director of Community Collaboration. “Her story and the accomplishments of her family are so moving. Their bravery and compassion were extraordinary.” 

During the war, Steynen’s parents, both teachers by trade, belonged to a small group of primary school teachers, who hid or arranged hiding for Jews during the war. The numerous German and Dutch Jews who found shelter in the Rijpstra-Keverkamp home were introduced to Hannah as relatives. It was only well after the war that Hannah learned these aunts and uncles were not her blood relations, but Jewish men and women hiding to save their lives.  

In 1944, before the end of the war, Steynen’s father, Bart Rijpstra, was imprisoned in a German Prisoner of War camp, after attempting to assist the survivor of a plane downed by the Nazis to return to the United Kingdom. After the war, when the camp was liberated, Rijpstra walked all the way back to the Netherlands to be with his family. After the war, Rijpstra was honoured by U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Air Chief Marshal Arthur W. Tedder of the UK for his acts of heroism, courage and bravery.  

In 2019, Steynen was invited to Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Centre in Jerusalem to receive the award of Righteous Among the Nations on behalf of her parents Bart Rijpastra and Wytske Keverkamp, for their acts of heroism. The Righteous Among the Nations is awarded to those families and individuals who risked their lives to save the lives of Jews seeking refuge.  The medal, which is awarded to these families, is inscribed with the saying "Whosoever saves a single life, saves an entire universe" (Mishnah, Sanhedrin 4:5).  

Remarkably, each of the 22 Jewish individuals who found refuge in Hannah’s family home, survived the war – often the sole survivor of their birth family, as a result of the heroic actions of the Rijpstra-Keverkamp family. 

Join us on Monday, April 17th at 7 pm at the Soloway Jewish Community Centre to hear this extraordinary story of inspiration and bravery. The talk will be moderated by Ottawa's Dr. Hartley Stern, whose family survived the Shoah by being hidden by a family in the Netherlands. In addition, we will be joined by six Holocaust survivors who will participate in a candle-lighting ceremony.  

To register, visit here.

There will be an additional Yom HaShoah commemoration at the National Holocaust Monument on April 18 at 11 am, which will pay tribute to the 80th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Read more here.