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Amsterdam Book Launch Draws Hundreds
Over 280 people attended the release of ‘Gewone Helden – de Dutch-Paris ontsnappingslijn 1942-1945’, the Dutch translation of ‘Ordinary Heroes – the Dutch-Paris Escape Line 1942-1945’, at the Amsterdam Hilton on November 10. It is the first fully-documented book on what the US government considered the “most efficient and effective escape line” of WWII and its rescue work.
Those attending included many relatives of Jews, downed Allied airmen, “Engelandvaarders” (those escaping to England), resistance members and political refugees rescued by the WWII Dutch-Paris Escape Line.
The day’s events featured an afternoon Symposium on the “meaning” of Dutch-Paris, followed by a presentation on the new book by author Dr. Megan Koreman. Koreman previously published ‘The Expectation of Justice: France 1945-46’. Following the panel discussion, the first copies of the book were presented to 17 direct relatives of ‘gewone helden’ (ordinary heroes). One of the ordinary heroes, the famous Dutch resistance member Mrs. Joke Folmer (93), was present to accept a first copy.
The day ended with a “closed” evening meeting, attended by 70 relatives of those who served on the line despite the great risk to their own lives and the lives of their families.
Gewone Helden (Ordinary Heroes), published by Boom Publishers, is the first fully documented account of a WWII escape line. The line was composed of over 300 Dutch, Belgian and French families who opened their homes or offered help in other ways to those fleeing Nazi occupation and persecution. In all, at least 1500 Jews, downed Allied airmen, ‘Engelandvaarders’, resistance members and political refugees used the line to escape to Switzerland or Spain. Shelter was provided to at least 1500 other fugitives. The line was established and managed by John Henry Weidner, a Dutchman living in Lyon, France when the Nazi’s took control. Weidner, the son of a Seventh-day Adventist minister, was high on the Nazi’s most wanted list. Arrested and tortured, he managed to escape and continue managing the line through to the end of the war. This despite the Nazi’s holding his sister hostage.
The book represents ten years of research into European and US archives by Dr. Koreman. Koreman conducted research at 26 archives in Europe and the US as well as at The Dutch National Archives at The Hague and at NIOD, the Dutch National War, Holocaust and Genocide Research Institute in Amsterdam. The Weidner Foundation, founded in 1994 after the death of Weidner, partially underwrote the cost of research into the escape line.
Prior to the book launch at the Amsterdam Hilton, Dutch newspapers described the work of the Dutch-Paris rescuers in a series of articles. The Dutch public television program Andere Tijden (Different Times) presented a special program on Dutch-Paris in its November 5 episode.
The panel discussion was hosted by Max van Weezel, political scientist, journalist and radio anchor. Panel Members involved were Prof. Dr. Hans Blom, historian and former director at NIOD, Ad van Liempt, author of a series of books on WWII in the Netherlands and television producer, and Onno Sinke, a historian specializing in transgenerational effects of war action.
The entire celebration was planned by Maarten Eliasar, the son of a Jewish fugitive who reached Switzerland with the help of Dutch-Paris. Eliasar is the European President of the John Henry Weidner Foundation for the Cultivation of the Altruistic Spirit and opened the symposium with the following words:
“There always have been, and always will be, destructive forces. However, there is an upside to that medal. There are always people who are willing to offer help, regardless of the personal risks. I, for one, am the living proof of that upside. But there are many birds of this feather assembled here today. And this, dear friends, is exactly what Gewone Helden, Ordinary heroes, is all about.
None of the people of Dutch Paris could have ever imagined that, over 70 years later, their joint efforts would result in bringing this magnificent group of people together, here in this room in Amsterdam today. Had they known, it would have filled them with great joy.”
The English edition of Ordinary Heroes will likely become available in March of 2018. Its release by the Oxford University Press will be celebrated at The Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University in California. The Hoover Institution Library & Archives houses the Weidner Collection containing Weidner’s personal files. These will be opened to historians, researchers and the general public at the same time that the book is released.
Naomi Weidner, John Weidner’s widow, called the publication of Ordinary Heroes “testimony to the human capacity for compassion, courage and principle in the face of hatred and intolerance. I am grateful to Maarten Eliasar for the energy and skill that he has shown in organizing this tribute to the many brave people who rescued so many.”
The Anti-Defamation League presented the ADL Jan Karski Courage to Care Award posthumously to John Henry Weidner for “heroic efforts to save Jews during the Holocaust”. The award was presented by Abraham Foxman, ADL National Director, and Barry-Curtiss-Lusher, the ADL National Chairman, at the February 7 National Executive Committee Meeting held at The Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach.
Jan Karski was a Polish Roman-Catholic diplomat who witnessed the Nazi’s treatment of Jews in ghettos and concentration camps. He travelled to London and Washington to alert Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt with an urgent plea to save European Jewry. Karski was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1998.
Accepting the award for the John Henry Weidner Foundation was Weidner Foundation Board Member Dr. Kurt Ganter. In his acceptance on behalf of Naomi Weidner, John Weidner’s widow, Ganter presented the three beliefs that motivated Weidner to risk his life for over 1000 complete strangers- Jews, downed Allied aviators and political refugees.
”Moral Courage can be Learned.
In the 1920’s, the Swiss government began requiring all students to attend classes on Saturday. John was a Seventh-day Adventist. Adventists carefully observe the Saturday Sabbath. John’s father, an Adventist pastor serving in Switzerland, said that his son could not and would not attend classes. The government responded by requiring that John’s father spend one day in jail for every Saturday that the boy did not attend school.
Watching his father being jailed each Saturday, cemented in John’s mind the second truth: When You have a Profound Conviction and Follow your Conscience, You have to be Ready to Accept the Consequences.
Weidner was high on the Gestapo Most Wanted List. In an attempt to get Weidner to surrender, the Gestapo arrested his sister Gabrielle while she was attending Sabbath Services in Paris. In one of the more agonizing decisions of his life, Weidner was forced to choose between continuing his rescue work or surrendering himself in exchange for Gabrielle’s freedom. He chose to continue his work. Gabrielle Weidner died in the Ravensbruck Concentration Camp in February of 1945.
The Third Belief: Each of Us Comes to the Moment When we have to Exercise our Courage. After the war, Weidner was asked why he risked his life for so many strangers. He said, “during our lives, each of us faces a choice- to think only of ourselves, to get as much as we can for ourselves, or to think about others, to serve, to be helpful to those in need. I believe it is important to develop our brains, our knowledge, but it is more important to develop our hearts, to have a heart open to the suffering of others.”
An interview with John Weidner can be found on YouTube under the title Meer Dan 1080.
Thanks to the leadership of Indianapolis resident Bill Ervin, a Weidner Foundation board member , Rotarian, and Adjunct Professor at Butler University, the Weidner Foundation has awarded Scholarhips to the following “student altruists” over the years.
The Rotary John Weidner Award for Altruism
2007 Katie Doane
2008 Tony Liszewski
2009 Hannah Wysong
2010 Julie Williams
2011 Christina Tatara
2012 Dan Peterson
2013 Ryan Ward
2014 Taylor Clark
The Butler Endowed John Weidner Scholarship for Altruism Award
2008 Cory Hall
2009 Kristen Lohe
2010 Stuart Harvey
2011 Jessica Strong
2012 Troy Gulden
2013 Coleen Quilty
2014 Alex Petersen
2015 Blake Moskal
2016 Matthew Pauszek
The University of Indianapolis Rotary John Weidner Award
2009 Curtis Ward
2010 La’Kia Moore-Scott
2011 Michelle Burke
2012 Maura Scudder
2013 None Selected
2014 Lauren Shafer
2014 Elizabeth Hale
The John Henry Weidner Foundation Board of Directors honors these young people for their “unselfish concern for the welfare of others.”
A TIME TO TIME NEWSLETTER OF THE JOHN WEIDNER FOUNDATION
Dedicated to the promotion of Altruism and Moral Courage and standing as another witness to the reality of the Holocaust
2nd Edition AUGUST 9, 2012
Frank Mazzaglia, Editor in Chief,
Kevin O’Rourke, Managing Editor
ONE FAMILY’S HOLOCAUST STORY
By Frank Mazzaglia
When the German Luftwaffe bombed the helpless population of Belgium on May 10, 1940, hundreds of thousands of dazed and bewildered refugees crowded the roads to reach England and safety. However, German paratroopers and glider-borne special forces moved quickly. They seized key bridges and blocked any hope for escape. So, the refugees turned themselves around and walked back home.
For the Chapnik family, home was next to the majestic gothic Saint Waudry’s collegiate church in Mons. Charles and Jeanne Chapnik and their five children Simone, Anna, Jacques, Louis and Maurice were Jewish. As it happened though, the location of that house next to the largest Catholic church in Mons may have played a part in their survival.
Maurice Chapnik now lives in Natick and although years have passed since those dark days, his story is worth remembering. Maurice was only seven years old and in the second grade of the public school when the Nazis occupied Mons. Because the school stood next to a railroad track, however, it was often bombed and the children were sent off to a nearby Catholic school until the building was repaired.
Even before the occupation, children used the courtyard next to Saint Waudry’s as a playground and frequently raced up and down the aisles of the huge church. Nobody seemed to mind. Maurice, of course, joined in with the other kids. He observed them dipping their hands into the holy water and making the sign of the cross. Soon he learned how to do it himself. As a child, he listened to Catholic prayers so often that they became familiar to him. Moreover, he loved watching the weekly religious processions before Sunday services. People got used to him being there whenever they were. In other words, Maurice blended in.
His father, Charles, earned his living as a tailor who spoke German as well as French. In fact, it was not unusual for German soldiers to come into his shop to have their uniforms tailored. The income from the shop plus a small patch of land where they grew potatoes helped the family get by.
All of that, though, was before 1942 when the Nazis began to deport Jews in earnest. Jews were instructed to register at city hall where they would be issued yellow stars to wear on their clothing. A family friend, however, advised Mr. Chapnik not to register. Nonetheless, a night never passed without fearing the real possibility of the Gestapo knocking at the door. Still, despite the almost nightly roundups nobody denounced the Chapniks to the Gestapo.
Then one day, a well dressed German officer entered the school and announced that all Jewish students should register at the principal’s office. Being a good boy who had been taught never to lie, young Maurice signed his name to the list that very morning. However, when he told his older brother what he had done, Jackes quickly informed their father who immediately rushed to the principal’s home. The principal, a member of the underground, erased Maurice’s name from the list and danger passed over them once again.
History records that the German occupation was particularly harsh. The black market thrived and the bare necessities of life were scarce. Nevertheless the Chapniks survived. Acting over the anxious concerns of his parents, however, seventeen year old Jacques joined the resistance. Sadly he was later arrested, sent to a concentration camp and never heard from again.
Liberation came on August 25th when the 3rd Army Division cut off 40,000 Nazis and captured 8,000 prisoners in Mons. Maurice smiles as he remembers making up for lost time as American soldiers lavished the children with candy and chocolates. Simone became a war bride and soon thereafter the family joined their daughter in the United States. Maurice was drafted during the Korean conflict and became an American citizen while serving in the army. He remains active in the Metro West Jewish War Veterans.
In every dark time in our history, certain selfless, conscientious individuals have emerged to put their lives at risk for those in great need. These individuals often go unnoticed as they do not seek the spotlight. They feel that they are only doing what is right. These individuals appear today in Burma, Iran, the Sudan, China and other areas where basic human rights are at risk.
The John Henry Weidner Foundation seeks to identify, support and emulate the behavior of these quiet altruists who brighten the darkest periods of history and darkest corners of the planet to speak for the voiceless, even at the risk of losing their lives.
The Weidner Foundation was established in 1996 by John Weidner’‘s wife Naomi to commemorate the lives of those people with whom he heroically worked as well as those for whom he courageously provided solace, refuge, and safety during the Holocaust of World War II and thereafter.
Mr. Weidner gave the Weidner Center his personal letters and effects, intending them to illustrate and encourage a life of human compassion, encouraging Foundation leadership to use them as potential models and teaching tools toward promulgating selfless, independent, non-institutionalized behavior that ensures the dignity and safety of others.
It was the intention of the Weidners that the extensive collection of letters and documents related to the Dutch-Paris Escape Line be made available to college and university students, community researchers and scholars world-wide.
The Foundation operates The John Henry Weidner Center for Cultivation of the Altruistic Spirit, which generates creative activities that discover, investigate, and encourage pro-action of the sort that Weidner practiced and believed in during his life. The Board of Trustees is a diverse group of men and women who represent the various constituencies John Weidner helped, worked with and believed in to maintain his vision for a community of pro-active, independent thinkers and doers.