Fred van Vliet and Piet Meerburg
Fred van Vliet is the youngest of the saved children in Secret Courage;
Piet Meerburg was the leader of the Amsterdam Student Resistance Group, also featured in the film.
Fred and Piet both live in the Netherlands, but met for the first time during the Premiere week-end
in Massachusetts in September 2005.
On the morning after the Premiere Event, Ries and Netty Vanderpol kindly hosted all of the
VIP guests for a brunch at their home in Newton. Piet and Fred sat together in the living room,
eating and talking. As they talked about the rescue effort, Piet told Fred that his group was the
only one with a connection in the village of Sneek where Fred was taken, and that because Piet’s
false identity card showed that he was an employee of the Dutch railroad, he always escorted the
young women who carried babies via trains from Amsterdam to families in Sneek.
As the connection sank in, the two men realized that it had been Piet who was responsible for
saving Fred in 1943 and delivering him to the family who adopted him after the war! 62 years later,
there they were – sitting side by side on a couch in Newton.
Frank Epstein, Etty Dolin and Louis deGroot
Karen Morse went to High School with Joanne Crowell; years later, they reconnected while
living in Carlisle MA and working on school music programs together. When Joanne learned that
Secret Courage was in production, she referred Karen to another music colleague, Mary Epstein.
Mary is married to Frank Epstein, a percussionist for the BSO and a Dutch Holocaust survivor.
Frank kindly agreed to be interviewed by Karen & Tim at Tanglewood, the summer home of the BSO.
On the week-end of the interview, Frank was visited by a childhood friend, Etty Dolin of
California; Etty’s family also survived the Holocaust in Holland. Etty’s and Frank’s families
were friends in Amsterdam and continued their relationship when both families moved to
California after the war.
Etty also agreed to be interviewed by Karen & Tim on that week-end at Tanglewood.
She became very enthusiastic about the film project and referred Karen & Tim to her friend Louis
deGroot in California. Through emails, we learned that Louis had also been a saved child from
Holland, though not part of the Suskind rescue effort. He was, however, aware of Suskind’s
heroics and expressed great pleasure that the film was being created as a tribute to a man
whom Louis had always admired.
Louis has been promoting the film in California and was the first person to purchase a DVD.
After weeks of emails back and forth, he wrote to tell us that he and his wife had watched the
film for the third time and that he had something to share with us. In one scene, showing Jews
being put on trains at Kamp Westerbork, there are several women standing in the open doorway of
a cattle car. One of those women was Louis’ mother. He knew that the footage existed, but he
never had a copy of it until Secret Courage.
Helen Lion and Felix Halverstad
Helen Lion is one of the saved children in Secret Courage; Felix Halverstad was the
forger who was Suskind’s right-hand man, altering and destroying children’s ID cards
to facilitate their escape. After the war, Helen was adopted by an uncle; her family and the
Halverstads became close friends. Felix designed the artwork for the invitations and programs
for the Bar Mitzvah’s of Helen’s two sons.
Sieny & Harry Cohen and Baby Remy’s brother
Sieny and Harry both played a major role in the saving of children, Sieny as a crèche nurse and Harry as a messenger
for the Jewish Council. Baby Remy was the adorable orphan who was beloved both by the staff at the crèche and by
Commandant Aus der Fuenten; because of the attention paid to him by the Germans, Remy could not be rescued and he
perished at Auschwitz.
About 11 years ago, Sieny was contacted by a man who identified himself as Eddie Gezang, the older brother of Remy.
The family had been separated during the deportations and both Eddie and his father had survived. A photo of the two
boys had been placed in a safe and forgotten for almost 50 years. When Eddie discovered the photo, he began a search
to try to find his brother, harboring the hope that he could be found alive.
Through journalists, Eddie was sent to meet Sieny and Harry. Though Sieny was able to share photos of Remy at
the crèche and to give him much first-hand information, Eddie persisted in following leads for several more years.
Just two years ago, he finally accepted the reality that Remy had not survived in 1943. Eddie and the Cohens have
become good friends and he often visits them from his home in Sweden.
Esther is on the board of the World Federation of Jewish Child Survivors of the Holocaust;
the WFJCSH screened “Secret Courage” at their International Conference last summer in Detroit,
Michigan. Although she was not able to attend that screening, Esther knew that she had a
connection to the story, so she ordered a DVD. After watching it, she was motivated to
learn the fate of Karl Hess, a resistance worker who, in coordination with Walter Suskind,
had rescued Esther’s family from the Schouwburg. She initiated a search through
Allgenerations.org and found Karl’s twin children Stefan (now Steven) Hess and Marion
Hess Lewin, both of whom live in the U.S. Esther communicated with them and sent them
a copy of “Secret Courage”; we have since had a series of nice emails from Steven.
Here is an excerpt of Esther’s story as she posted it on AllGenerations.org:
“The third time that we were about to be deported, we were sitting with other Jews,
near the open end of the truck on the way to the railroad station. The truck was waiting
in front of the Schouwburg because it was forming a convoy with other trucks. It was late
at night, probably May 24, 1943.
Marion and Stefan's father, in his role with the Joodse Raad (Jewish Council) came
to the truck and said softly "Who is here on the truck?" and my father answered with his
name: "Fritz Rose" and the man said "Quickly, jump off" which my father did, pulling my
mother and me behind him.
It was a terribly foggy night and no one saw us. No one followed us. We ran across
the street to the Creche and spent the night there. The next day, my father arranged for
us to go into hiding.
The (Hess) family described above also survived the war and came to the US.
I remember visiting them once and they had an ashtray which had been engraved
around the border with the following saying: "Vanavond worden we niet gehaalt"
meaning (roughly), "Tonight we will not be picked up."
I would very much like to reestablish contact with that family. The children
may not even be aware of this story and I would like to share it with them.”
So - she did find them, and now they, too are a part of our “film family”.
But the connection doesn’t end there! As it turns out, Esther has a cousin through
her mother’s side named Ralph Suiskind; he is a second cousin of both Walter and
Bernie Suskind. (We phoned Bernie in New York and he explained the relationship
to us.) So she is not only connected, she is actually related to our story.
Florence and Una
You may remember from the film that Walter had a foster brother; his name was
Robert Salzberg. He was able to emigrate to the U.S. before the Dutch borders
were closed. He died in 2003, but one of his daughters, Florence Salzberg
Thorpe, lives in California and was "Googling" when she found the website for
"Secret Courage". She phoned her sister, Una Salzberg Greenaway who lives in
Hawaii and Una sent us an email. Both women have ordered the film and we’ve
had a nice long phone call and a series of emails with Una. Robert was the
relative who arranged for the headstone to be placed in Geissen, Germany.
Like Robert, Una and her mother have great respect for Walter and they are
very pleased that the film has been made. Una also has a series of letters that
Walter wrote to Robert after Robert emigrated; she is having them translated
and will send us the English versions when they are complete.
We received this email from Irene in Israel:
“First of all, I would like to congratulate you about the wonderful film you made. I happened
to come across it this week, and was very moved, for this happens to be my personal story. I was
taken to the Schouwburg and Creche with my family and the next day someone from the underground,
who had contacted my father (he came from the same neighborhood and recognized and approached him)
handed me over in the early morning hours to our neighbor - I remained in hiding at her and her
brother's home until the end of the war. My father was the only survivor of my family and we were
reunited after the war. I never had the opportunity to tell my story to any organization or authority,
and I wonder whether there is a list of the children who were saved by Walter Suskind - if so,
I would like to be on that list, if only in order to be historically accurate about the numbers.
I would very much appreciate it if you would let me know whom to contact on this matter. I have been
living in Israel since 1960.
With best regards,
Jack “Pim” Wynberg
As we greeted people in the lobby at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival, a gentleman whose
name now is Jack Wynberg approached us to say that he believed that he had been in the
crèche. His birth name was Isaac Menno Wijnberg; when his war foster family changed his
name to protect his identity, they chose to call him “Pim” - Jack believes that they
named him after Henriette Pimental, the Directrisse of the crèche!
Fred van Vliet's story has recently been published (in Holland) as a chapter in a book
about children who were taken to the village of Sneek in Freisland (north of Amsterdam)
and stayed with their families there after the war. Another "child" in the book has
become acquainted with Fred and he emailed us to ask for a copy of the film. His name
is Louis Godschalk and he now lives in Amsterdam. From what we know of his story, we are
quite sure that it was Piet Meerburg's group that rescued him and delivered him to Sneek.
At the NYC screening in September 2006, we were approached by a woman who had seen the
advertisement for the screening and was in the audience that night. She told us how
amazed she was to view the film – that her story was also intertwined – and that she
would like to tell us her story as well. In December 2006, on a family trip to NYC,
Tim, Jen and I enjoyed a luncheon with Margrit at a restaurant on (appropriately enough)
Amsterdam Avenue. She shared her stories of the Creche, of deportation, the loss of most
of her family and the survival of Margrit and her sister through three camps. There were
so many interconnections with the stories portrayed in “Secret Courage” and we are truly
grateful to Margrit for giving us yet another layer of understanding about the Holocaust