CCJ SE London Branch Meeting 5th November 2019 – ‘Growing Up in the Country of Anne Frank’ A Talk by Rabbi Chava Koster

Posted Fri, 11/15/2019 - 13:06 by MCS

On Tuesday 5th November, Rabbi Chava Koster told us the extraordinarily rich story of Dutch Jewry at a different level.

The Amsterdam community grew to be significant from the remnants of the Spanish and Portuguese Jewish communities (the Sephardi Jews, the Jews from Spain) and the Jewish converts (“conversos”), who were welcomed to Amsterdam initially for their trading connections at a time when the Dutch were breaking free from Spanish and opening up trading companies both in the East and in the West.   Rabbi Chava’s own family came from Portugal, and set up in the diamond trade.   

Later, Jews came to Amsterdam from eastern Europe, the “Ashkenazi” Jews, fleeing pogroms, often poorly educated. Due to the gap in education levels, the two communities tended to live apart initially. 

In the Nineteen-Thirties, there was a further influx of Jewish refugees, from German speaking Europe; Anne Frank’s family was part of this group of recent arrivals.

So it was, by the start of the second World War, there were 155,000 Jews in the Netherlands, mainly in Amsterdam and The Hague. 

The efficiency of the Dutch state apparatus and railways, in a small and densely populated country, enabled the Nazis to gather most of the Dutch Jews for deportation to collection points at Westerbork and Vught and onward to the death camps.   Only 25,000 Dutch Jews survived the war, just over 15%.  Rabbi Chava said that, out of her own family members of 80, only 7 survived on account of her great-grandfather bribing an official to remove the classification “Jew” from his family’s passports and going into hiding.

Out of Anne Frank’s family, only the father survived.

As for the non Jewish community, many participated in the removal of their Jewish co-citizens. The Dutch railways even made the Dutch Jews pay for tickets to the death camps.

Others did what they could to protect the Jews. Rabbi Chava referred to the Amsterdam Dockers strike in 1943, an attempt to protect the Dutch Jews, which delayed the transports by a few days.

One of the non Jewish Dutch whom we know from the Anne’s diaries protected the Frank family, for as long as she could, was Miep Gies.   When Rabbi Chava was a teenager, she contacted Miep to ask her to tell what had happened to the Dutch Jews. Miep invited young Chava to her apartment and told her whatever she could, the Jewish Community preferring on the whole not to talk about what happened. 

Rabbi Chava talked about 2 other Jews in the period, older than the teenage Anne, whose highly spiritual writings survived their deaths in the camps: Etty Hillesum and Edith Stein. 

This was a remarkable talk, deepened by first-hand testimony and quotation from Hillesum and Stein, which enlightened all of us.

Thank you to Bromley Reform Synagogue for hosting, and to our Chair, Rev Bernhard Schunemann.

Rabbi Chava Koster Profile

Rabbi Chava Koster is the first woman from the Netherlands to be ordained as rabbi.

From 1999 – 2016, Rabbi Chava Koster was the rabbi of the Village Temple, a congregation in the Greenwich Village district New York City. Before joining the Village Temple as rabbi, she was Associate Rabbi at Temple B’nai Abraham in Livingston, New Jersey. Rabbi Koster studied at the Academy for Jewish Religion in New York and was ordained as rabbi in 1997. In 1993, she was awarded a Masters Degree in Jewish Studies and Jewish Education from JTS, The Jewish Theological Seminary for Conservative Judaism. Rabbi Koster has served since the start of this year as Rabbi of Bromley Reform Synagogue.

Death of our Branch Life President and former Chair, Father Tom Creagh-Fuller

Since last night’s meeting, we have heard the very sad news of the death of our Branch Life President and former Chairman, Father Tom Creagh-Fuller, after a short illness. Robert Weaver is writing an appreciation of Father Tom, who generously offered his remarkable gifts of wisdom and experience for service to our Branch. We are enormously grateful for Father Tom’s life, and for his contribution to the lives of so many of us in SE London. May Father Tom’s memory be for a blessing.


Stephen Weil

CCJ South East London Co-chair

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