Today we note Yom Ha-Shoah in Israel – Holocaust Memorial Day. This is a somber, solemn day to remember the six million Jews, men, women and children who were slaughtered by the Nazis, simply because they were Jewish.
It is equally important to remember that in the depths of evil there were some points of light that were not extinguished. In the midst of the horror of the Holocaust there were individuals who placed their lives and those of their families at great risk and saved Jews from the Nazis.
These individuals are recognized as Righteous Among the Nations and honored for generations to come.
Yad Vashem is the national Holocaust Museum and Memorial. One of the more striking features of Yad VaShem are the many trees that cover the grounds in Jerusalem. Each tree remembers and honors one of the Righteous. To date there are 24,811 cases of Righteous Among the Nations that have been recognized for their bravery during those dark times.
Last year I had the pleasure of touring with a family from Holland. One of their requests was to find the tree that had been planted for Joop Westerweel, a relative.
Joop Westerweel, a teacher, and his wife Wilhelmina, saved almost 200 young Jewish students by helping them cross borders and make their way to Spain. From Spain they were able to leave the dangers of Europe behind them and move to Israel.
He was captured by the Nazis and executed in 1944.
These brave deeds are memorialized in a display in the Museum itself and with a tree that was planted in their honor in 1964. The tree is located right near the entrance to the museum and stands as a witness and a sign of appreciation to the valor of the Westerweels.
For more information about Joop Westerweel see: http://www.yadvashem.org/yv/en/righteous/stories/westerweel.asp