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Remembrance

The Shoah Victims' Names Recovery Project

Connections and Discoveries

Closing a Circle

Rescuer and survivor meet thanks to the Names Database

Jan and Bella OpdamJan and Bella Opdam
Yehudith Heymans as a young girl during the ShoahYehudith Heymans as a young girl during the Shoah

In February 2007 the Hall of Names at Yad Vashem received a request from Peter Krans, representing a Mr. Opdam of the Netherlands, for assistance in locating a woman by the name of Yehudith Heymans.  “He wrote to us that Mr. Opdam had rescued Yehudith when she was a baby and had recently identified her by means of the Page of Testimony she filled out for her father (Yaacov Judema Van Amerongen) that is now located in Yad Vashem’s online Central Database of Shoah Victims’ Names,” relates Rima Lerman, who works in the Hall of Names. A few days later, Rima obtained Yehudith’s telephone number and informed her of Opdam’s request.

“I was very anxious, I didn’t know how to handle it,” recalls Yehudith.  “I knew of another family that had hidden me, but I knew nothing about the Opdam’s.  I never knew my parents. When I was a baby they left me outside in the freezing cold with a warm bottle in my diaper so I wouldn’t die of cold.” A day after she received the call from Yad Vashem, Yehudith called Opdam:  “It was very quiet on the other end of the phone.  He almost had a heart attack; he’s an 86 year-old man!  I couldn’t wait to meet him. Two weeks after our conversation, I went to Holland.”

Jan Opdam lives in Borger, a small town in northern Holland. “Our meeting was indescribable,” Yehudit continues.  “In the bitter cold, an elderly couple came out to greet us. There were hugs and kisses. He looked at me and said: ‘You know what?  You look just like your mother. Exactly the same face.’ And then he continued, ‘But you act like your father; he was also energetic and spontaneous.’”

Yehudith learned that Opdam, who had been her parents’ neighbors before the war, not only brought her to a safe place, but also did everything he could to keep her alive. Due to her Jewish status it was impossible to obtain the food rations distributed to citizens during the war.  “Mr. Opdam would steal coupons for me, so that I could survive,” says Yehudith.

The story actually began in May 1989 when Yehudith came to Yad Vashem with her son Oren, then a soldier: “Together we filled out Pages of Testimony for my parents and brother. The image of my son in an IDF uniform helping me fill out the Pages is still etched in my memory,” Yehudit recalls. “I was so proud at that moment; all the painful scenes of my life passed before my eyes, and I felt as though a circle had been closed.” And thanks to those Pages of Testimony, Jan Opdam and the baby he saved were able to meet once again.

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