Cornelia de Reuver (nee Zwart), mother of the Manning's Anke de Reuver, was given one of the highest honours the State of Israel can bestow at a ceremony at Emanuel Synagogue at Woollahra on Thursday, May 13.
Forty years after her death, Cornelia was awarded Righteous Among the Nations, a title that recognises courage and bravery of non-Jews to protect and rescue Jews from the Holocaust during WWII.
Anke and her sister Frouke attended the ceremony to accept the award on their mother's behalf from Israel's interim Ambassador to Australia, Jonathan Peled, watched on by members of their immediate and extended family, and dignitaries.
"It was fantastic. The people were so lovely and welcoming. It's a really special thing for them, because I think they've only done quite a limited number of these ceremonies in Australia," Anke said.
Cornelia was honoured for helping to save the life of Bela van Praagh, a young Jewish girl who was hidden by the Zwart family in the Netherlands during the Holocaust.
Bela, her parents and her siblings lived in the Netherlands when the Nazi army invaded the country in May 1940. The family went into hiding in separate locations, with all four children going to different families. Bela was taken in by Mieke and Paul Brinkman, who were active in the resistance. At the time, Cornelia was working as an au-pair for the the Brinkman's five children. As the Nazis constantly raided and searched homes of resistance members, Cornelia decided to take Bela to her family home in another village. Bela, along with another young girl, Bea Hartogs joined Cornelia and her 11 siblings and were raised by their parents.
Bela and Bea slept in the loft behind a hidden door in the back of a cupboard. During one of the Nazi raids, Bela and Bea were moved from the loft and laid under the wooden floors for 12 hours.
As the situation became more dangerous the family ensured Bela's safety by moving her to different locations.
After the war Bela was reunited with her family but remained in contact with the Zwart family.
Bela is now 93 years old and lives in Israel.
It's a really special thing for them, because I think they've only done quite a limited number of these ceremonies in Australia.Anke de Reuver
"It was a family effort. Mum was just one of the siblings. They all were very much together with this and supported it," Anke said.
Anke's grandparents were honoured with the same award two years ago. Her uncle in Queensland accepted on their behalf, and Anke attended the ceremony.
"Bela's son and his wife came over two years ago to be at the ceremony so we met them, which was lovely. But they couldn't come now, of course, because of COVID and now (the situation in) Israel."
Anke had already met Bela "years ago" in the Netherlands.
"It was lovely. I was really tickled pink because we'd heard so much about her from our mum."
It was Bela who was determined the family should be honoured as Righteous Among the Nations.
"She really wanted to have the family recognised before she died. One of her son's helped her very much, because it's quite a long process, it took two years before they got the one through for the grandparents. They have to do a lot of investigating to make sure that it's all kosher and that it really happened," Anke explained.
Although none of the members of Bela's family could be present at the ceremony, Bela herself appeared in the form of a video.
"It brought me and my sister to tears," Anke said.
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