Around the corner from Anne Frank

Most people in my life know that writing is one of my biggest passions and ever since I was a little girl I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. But then I did grow up, and well, life happened and becoming a writer didn’t.

But when my wonderful Elisabeth was born I decided that I was not ready to let the dream go and I would somehow become a published writer one way or another. A lot of writing projects were started but very few were finished, apart from one. One that meant an awful lot to me because of the person I wrote about.

Just writing the story was incredibly satisfying, but I wanted the world to know about this amazingly brave person, and I was over the moon when ‘Dutch Magazine’ (dutchthemag) was willing to publish it.

This is the story of how Anna Elisabeth Van Nes-Visser, my beloved grandmother, saved the life of a young jewish girl during the second world war.

 

Around the corner from Anne Frank

Everyone knows the story of Anne Frank and “Het Achterhuis”, but Miep Gies, who looked after the Frank family, wasn’t the only one who, during the Second World War, risked her life by hiding Jews. There were thousands of them. It is estimated that 25,000 Jews survived the Second World War because they were offered a hiding place. Some people hid Jews to make money, some did it because they thought it was the right thing to do and some because not doing it didn’t even occur to them. Anna who lived at the Leliegracht in Amsterdam, around the corner from where Anne Frank was hiding, was one of those very brave people. She was also my grandmother.

In the summer of 1943, the house where Liesje, a young Jewish girl from Amsterdam, and her family lived was raided. Liesje was the only one who managed to get out of the house before the German soldiers took her whole family. She was hidden by the family who lived next door but they couldn’t, or wouldn’t, keep her. They put her in touch with someone who moved her to Utrecht where she found a place to hide, but in the winter of 1944 she was no longer safe there. This is when Anna was asked if she would take in a Jewish girl who had nowhere else to go.

Just over a year before, Anna’s father had been executed in Camp Vught. He was given the choice to either tell where Klaas, Anna’s husband, was hiding or to die. The Nazis did manage to find Klaas in the end, and he had been in Camp Vught for almost a year when Anna was asked to take Liesje in. Anna felt she needed to do something because of what the Nazis were doing to her family, and she agreed. After the war she often struggled with her reasons for this decision. She came from a very religious family and feelings of revenge weren’t generally accepted.

Liesje moved into Anna’s attic room. Anna tried very hard to accommodate Liesje’s Jewish traditions and Liesje tried to be as little a burden as she could. From March 1944 until May 1945 Liesje lived in Anna’s attic. She would only come downstairs for dinner, this was risky of course and the door to the attic was always left open just in case she had to go back upstairs quickly, but Anna insisted that dinner was eaten at the dinner table. This was her way of bringing some normality into the girl’s life.

Liesje helped out where she could. Anna had three children under five and had to go out every day to queue up for food. One day when the two youngest were ill and it was freezing cold outside, she left her three children with Liesje. All went well until someone she had known for years, and who knew that her husband had been captured, asked her: “Anna, where are your children today?” Anna didn’t expect the question and didn’t know what to say. She made up an excuse about her oldest looking after them. Luckily her lie had been believed, but that was the last time she ever left the children with Liesje.

Liesje lived in the attic until the end of the war without ever going outside. If she ever looked out of her window, she could have seen “Het Achterhuis”, but she wouldn’t have known there was a girl hiding there, just like her, living through the same fears. If they had both looked at the same time, they could have seen each other, and maybe even given a careful wave.

The stories of these two girls, Anne Frank and Liesje, are very similar. Both of them were Jewish, both were scared, but both of them were lucky enough to find a woman brave enough to risk their lives by hiding them. But the end of their stories couldn’t be more different. The Franks were betrayed and arrested. Little Anne died in March 1945, two months before the end of the war aged only 15. Liesje on the other hand struggled to walk normally when, on the 6th of May 1945 Anna took her outside for the very first time since she arrived 14 months earlier. Little Liesje, or Auntie Lies as she would later be known to us, died a happy woman aged 82.

After the war there has been some debate over what actually happened. Two parts of the story have different versions. The first is what happened to my great grandfather. My grandmother’s account is that he was executed because he wouldn’t give up my grandfather’s location, but my grandmother’s sister has always insisted that he died of pneumonia in Camp Vught. The other part where there is some doubt, is how Liesje ended up with my grandmother. The story that she has always told her children is that Liesje was living next door and escaped into my grandmother’s garden when their hiding place was raided. She hid in her coal shed overnight and knocked on the back door in the morning. A written account that we have from Anna however, tells us that she was asked whether she would take Liesje in. This document also mentions my grandmother’s struggle with the reasons why she decided to hide a Jewish girl. We do not know for sure what actually happened, but in my opinion the way I have written it here makes most sense. It seems likely that the execution of Anna’s father would have instilled the feelings of revenge that made her decide to help Liesje and that she later struggled with. This could also explain why she told a different story of how Liesje came to live in her attic. If she would have found Liesje in her back garden it almost takes away the conscious decision of taking her in and therefore the hiding of the girl is not a decision based on feelings of revenge.

We will never know for sure what really happened, but regardless of which version describes history most accurately, the plain truth is that Anna, without a shadow of a doubt, saved Liesje’s life, and so did so many other brave souls who risked everything by offering innocent people a place to hide in their homes. Their stories need to be told. And never forgotten.

 

 

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I’m back!

Wow, you know you’ve been busy when writing is one of your favourite things and still you haven’t posted for 5 months! I know! Five whole months without as much as a word. Without trying to make excuses, the main reason I haven’t been blogging is that we have had a lot of illness over the last few months. I was ill pretty much from just before Christmas up to nearly the end of February with one nasty cold and/or flu after the other. And as soon as I was better, yes you guessed it, the kiddos got ill.

Jacob got off lightly the first time with just a cold that was gone within a few days, but Elisabeth was not so lucky and she was poorly for almost two weeks. We even got worried we might have had to cancel her birthday party, but she got better just in time…..or so we thought. Last week she again came down with high temperatures, sore throat and ear ache. Poor girl.

Because she is far too ill to go to school I have taken today off work (unpaid, eek!) to look after her. Normally I work from home when Elisabeth is not well because she is such a good girl and she happily lets me get on with what I need to do, but we have had so little sleep this week that I decided that and trying to work and looking after a poorly girl was just a bit too much. So a day off it is (which was a good decision because even writing this is making my eyes wanting to shut quite desperately!).

Anyway, winter won’t last forever so in theory the colds will go, and hopefully that means I will have a little more time (and energy) to write. In the next few days I would like to share with you my first ever published article about how my super brave grandmother saved the life of a Jewish girl during the Second World War, so watch this space!

The end is near….

Elisabeth is getting towards the end of the first term of big girl school. And she is tired. She is very tired. She is very very tired. She is very very very tired. She is tired to the stage where if she drops a pen she bursts out in tears poor little lamb.

It is hard to see her get so upset and there is not a lot I can do about it, apart from making sure she rests as much as possible and she is in bed at 7pm sharp! But even worse than this are her strops. Oh my, does she throw a strop when she is exhausted. It is hard to believe that this is the same little angel who never really had her terrible twos abd who didn’t really strop or misbehave until she was 3! And again because she is so tired it is almost impossible to calm her down and sometimes it seems best to let her get it out of her system and just make sure I’m around and ready for a cuddle when she is done.

Apart from the tiredness she is doing really well at school. As expected she is super excited about learning to read. She now reads us a story at bedtime! Last night I heard her spell her brother’s name whilst she was on the toilet. J-A-C-O-B J-A-C-O-B J-A-C-O-B so sweet!

But I tell you what, I am so glad this term is nearly over. A few more weeks until she can relax and re-energise……..ready for the next term!

So you want to be a vegan?

Well, not really. So what is your point then, I hear you ask. I tell you what my point is, my point is we eat too much meat and dairy. All of us (well apart from the veggies and vegans amongst us of course).

I was raised on a 90% vegetarian diet and I can tell you this for fact, you and your children do not need meat to grow. Those of you who know me in person are aware that I did quite well in the growing department. For the rest of you kindly reading my little blog, I am 6ft tall (that is 1.83 meters if that’s your bag), now that is a little on the tall side for a woman. Admittedly it helps that I am Dutch (we are the tallest in the world aparantly) but even for Dutch standards I am tall. Which surely proves my point quite nicely, you do not need meat to grow!

You also don’t need meat to be healthy, my mum is the proof of that. She isn’t tall, but she did suffer from high blood pressure and was put on medication which, she was told, it’s almost impossible to come off. Now, my mum is a bit like me (or I guess I’m a but like her), tell her she can’t do something and she will do anything in her power to prove you wrong. So after checking with her doctor she cut out the following foods:
– all meats
– salt (almost all cause you need a little bit)
– most dairy apart from a bit of soft cheese every now and then
– most processed foods
– most refined sugar
Now 6 months later she has not only lost nearly 2 stone (about 10kg) she has also been taken off her medication completely! Within 6 months she has brought her blood pressure down to a normal level purely by changing her diet! That’s amazing right?

So you don’t need meat to grow or be healthy. It is also very very bad for the environment and the way most animals are treated is just damn cruel! I have watched a few documentaries lately about how our food affects our lives, the lives of animals and our planet and there are bits that I just don’t want to be a part of anymore. Meat is the first thing, but also milk, cheese and eggs. I have always used free rabge egss thinking, that’s fine right? Well, I guess it is if you are happy for the little male chicks to be chucked in a massive grinder when they are still alive! If you want to know what I am talking about watch Vegucated (it’s on netflix) and is very interesting.

From childhood we have been overloaded with messages like:
“Milk makes your bones grow strong.”
“You need meat for protein.”
“Eggs are healthy.”
Our parents also grew up with these messages so it is hardly our fault that we build our diets around what we have been told is healthy. But who are these messages coming from and how factually correct are they?

It isn’t until you educate yourself properly that you can make informed decisions on what you want to feed yourself and your family. There aren’t many things we have control over in this life, but one of the things that is completely in our control is what we decide to eat.

My decision was that I wanted to cut my own meat and dairy intake by 90% and I can tell you, it isn’t only easy, it makes you feel great! I have more energy, my skin looks better, I have lost quite a bit of weight without being hungry for even a second and I feel better for choosing not to be such a big part of an industry that should be ashamed of itself!

If you want to live a long and healthy life (and who doesn’t want that) you need to start by giving your body what it needs. Make sure you know what you put in your body, read labels and if it is full of stuff you don’t recognise, don’t eat it. Don’t assume you need meat and dairy (cause you don’t) and I promise you will feel better for it!

If you want to find out more about veganism, healthy eating or how we can use nutrition to fight disease, the following documentaries are a very good place to start (all are on netflix)
– Vegucated
– Hungry for change
– Food Matters (this is my favourite and will really open your mind)

Happy eating everyone!

Whasaaaaaaaaat?????

Jacob has finally decided to have a real go at this talking thing that we all seem to be doing. After months of just saying “ball”, “wow” and “mama” (which meant fruit, not me!) he is expanding his vocabulary.

After a 10 minute session last Friday where we discussed: “this is a banana” and “this is mama” he finally got it and he now actually calls me mama! Although he also still calls all fruit mama, but hey I can’t have everything.

He has been a very inquisitive little munchkin as well. If I had a penny for every time he points at something and says: “Whasat?” I would not have to go to work. Sometimes it is a bit tiring, most of the time it is cute and every now and then it is just hilarious.

The other day I went to the toilet and he came in with me. He was playing with some water in the sink, perfectly happy. As soon as he heard me do a wee, he turned round to look at me, pointed and shouted from the top of his lungs: “WHASAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT?!?!?!?”

Love this little man, he is so funny.

Where’s mamma?

Even though my two lovely kiddos look very much alike, they couldn’t behave more differently if they tried.

The most noticable difference at the moment is talking. Elisabeth never really did baby talk, she was almost silent until she could discuss the political situation in Africa (so to speak). She talked so well that when she was two and a half I got asked what scholl she went to (it also helped that she is rather on the tall side). Jacob on the other hand doesn’t stop jabbering, but at over 18 months he is in no hurry to start talking.

He has his own way of saying Elisabeth – Elily – and is still very keen on the words ‘wow’ and ‘ball’. But that is about it.

A few weeks ago I thought he finally started saying ‘mamma’ only to find out he was saying ‘banana’. And soon after that all fruit was ‘mamma’. Funny little man.

The other night at dinner we asked him:
– Where is Elisabeth? – Jacob points at Elisabeth.
– Where is daddy? – Jacob points at daddy.
– Where is mamma? – Jacob points at something in the conservatory and says: ‘ball!’

Ha ha, funny little man.

The First Kiss

The first time someone kisses you is always special. I remember the first kiss with my husband, it was in a nightclub in Clacton-on-Sea. This is 14 years ago and I still remember it as if it was yesterday.

Elisabeth gave slobber kisses for ages when she was little (you know the ones that are more like licking than kisses 😃). And no matter how wet and slobbery, they were lovely.

And then yesterday. Yesterday was great. Yesterday was awesome. I came home from work and gave both kiddos a cuddle. Then Jacob climbed on my lap, grabbed my face with both his hands, pulled my face towards his and gave me a big proper kiss right on the lips, and then another one, and another one and another one. My day, which didn’t start particularly well, brightened up immediately and I couldn’t stop smiling for quite some time.

I don’t think I will forget this first kiss in a hurry!