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Righteous Gentiles honoured at ‘True Heroes’ gala

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TORONTO — Hero is a word too often thrown around lightly. But in the case of Marie-Francoise Borel, Cornelis and Heintje Roggeveen and Klaas and Boukje Feringa, it’s an appropriate choice of word to describe each of them.

Joost Roggeveen, second from left, and his brother Sjoerd, first right, accepted the Righteous Among The Nations award certificate and medal from Yad Vashem at the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem True Heroes Tribute Gala in Toronto.  Their late parents Cornelis  and Heintje Roggeveen and the parents of John Feringa, centre, saved Max Noach, seated in wheelchair, during the Holocaust in Holland.  From left, Event co-chair/Host on Newstalk 1010 John Tory; Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Jason Kenney;  chair of the Yad Vashem Directorate Avner Shalev; John Feringa; Canadian Society for Yad Vashem national chair Fran Sonshine and executive director Yaron Ashkenazi; Consul General of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to Toronto Hans Horbach; U.S. Consul General Kevin Johnson: John Feringa, Jr. and Sjoerd Roggeveen.

TORONTO — Hero is a word too often thrown around lightly. But in
the case of Marie-Francoise Borel, Cornelis and Heintje Roggeveen and
Klaas and Boukje Feringa, it’s an appropriate choice of word to describe
each of them.

They risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust, and recently they were honoured as Righteous Among the Nations at the True Heroes Tribute Gala.

The gala, organized by the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem, was attended by about 1,000 people, including a number of Holocaust survivors.

I can’t think of anything that’s much more important than the act of Holocaust education and commemoration,” said Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Jason Kenney at the event in downtown Toronto.

“This is really Canada’s opportunity to participate in some of the most important educational work done in the world.

“You feel like you’re in touch with living history. You watch Holocaust movies and read books, but it’s never the same as to actually touch someone who’s lived through this experience,” Kenney added.

As none of the honorees are still alive, they were represented by family members who live in Canada and in the United States. Each family member was given a standing ovation.

“I’ve spoken to some of the survivors here, and my conversations with them are more my absolute astonishment at their bravery,” said John Tory, who co-hosted the event with Ed Sonshine. Tory, the former leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, hosts a phone-in show on the radio station CFRB.

“I’ve just been in awe of these people and their relatives who did great things that we honoured here tonight,” Tory said.

Borel saved Eugene and Esther Kaufman, as well as their daughter, by housing them in her small home outside of Paris.

She also took care of Faiga Kwiatek and her two daughters, Paulette and Therese, raising them as though they were her grandchildren.

Borel’s grandson, Philippe, described his grandmother’s thought process.

“There’s a knock on your door,” said Philippe. “It’s your neighbour, and he fears for his and his family’s life.

“Do you turn him away, or at your life’s peril, do you welcome him into your home? You have come to a defining moment in your life. 

“You will take them in, and know you did the right thing.”

The Roggeveen and Feringa families took care of Max Noach during the Shoah.

Noach was supposed to do some land surveying work under the supervision of Cornelis Roggeveen. However, shortly after Noach started the work, all Jewish government employees in Holland were dismissed.

Roggeveen sent Noach a letter offering his help in hiding the Jewish young man in case things got any worse, knowing full well that the penalty for hiding a Jew in Holland was death for him and his entire family.

After a couple of years hiding at Roggeveen’s house, Noach’s living in the house became difficult. Roggeveen engineered a plan to take Noach as a “prisoner” by train to a houseboat, and when that became unsafe, he was hidden by the Feringas until the war’s end.

“These people have done something so extraordinary in saving people that you almost can’t believe that it happened,” Tory said.

“But that’s why these stories need to be told, and these people need to be recognized.”

And while the content of the evening was quite serious, there was very much an upbeat feeling to the night.

“While we need to be serious about never forgetting and about those who put others ahead of themselves, it’s also important that we celebrate the fact that we live in a country that protects people’s rights, no matter the religion or minority,” Tory said.

“There’s an air of celebration to these events, to celebrate what we have and how far we’ve come.

“We haven’t rid the world of genocide or crimes against humanity, but we’ve come a long way.”

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