The parsonage that became a sanctuary:

Dutch family sheltered 200+ Jews during WWII

The 2017 English translation of this stirring diary of a pastor’s wife in the Netherlands during WWII was a good thing waiting to happen. Andrew Healey, an Australian (with considerable knowledge of the Dutch language) took it upon himself to translate Johanna Ader-Appels’ autobiographical book, A Groninger Pastorie in de Storm (T. Wever B.V., 1947). The title goes something like this: A parsonage in northern Holland (Groningen) in stormy weather. This riveting book was translated into German and Finnish but never into English. In Dutch it saw 13 editions over the years!

Early in January 2017, Andrew sent me a copy. The chosen title is House of Defiance: One Family’s Stand against the Holocaust published in the U.K. by Mirador Publishing. I was thrilled with the appearance of this 456-page book and especially with the quality of Andrew’s translation. It is also available on Amazon.

I was 10 years old in the year 1944, and I remember seeing trains with long rows of cattlewagons coming through Winschoten, where I lived in the Netherlands. Only later did I learn the truth . . . that one of those trains carried Anne Frank and her family, and thousands of others, to Nazi death camps like Auschwitz, Bergen Belsen, Sobibor and Theresienstadt.

My town was only minutes away from Nieuw Beerta in the eastern part of the province of Groningen, in the north of the Netherlands. The town of Nieuweschans, at the German border, was also very near. The train station there was the last stop in Holland for the German-bound trains carrying thousands upon thousands of Jews rounded up by the Nazis. They would first be kept in the Nazi holding camp of Westerbork, about 50 kilometres away.  

Bastiaan Jan Ader and Johanna Ader-Appels moved into the spacious parsonage near the Reformed Church in Nieuw Beerta in 1938. They welcomed two children there. Basjan was born in 1942 in my hometown, Winschoten. Erik was born in 1944. Sadly, by then Bastiaan, his dad, was pining away in the notorious Gestapo jail on the Weteringschans in Amsterdam. After years of intense involvement in the Dutch underground resistance, Bastiaan had finally been caught by the Nazis. He never returned home again and he never knew little baby Erik.

The courage to help
The Aders became involved in the underground movement when a former acquaintance of Jo, of Jewish origin, asked the family if she could come to stay in Nieuw Beerta to hide from the Germans. It was the beginning of the Aders’ courageous work saving many, many people from certain death. Bastiaan’s underground name became “Domie” (the Dutch word for reverend is “dominee,” hence “Domie.”) His wife was simply referred to by many as Tante (Auntie) Jo.

All during the war, the parsonage became a haven for all the people who were brought by Domie from cities throughout the land. He travelled extensively, by train or bike, keeping in touch with other resistance leaders. He concealed his identity, often wearing workers’ clothes and disguising his features. He and some of his trusted church elders performed miracles inside the large parsonage, creating hiding places and underground passages. Amazingly, the church community never knew anything of what transpired in that house during the war!

Notably, Yad Vashem, the Jerusalem-based holocaust martyrs’ and heroes’ remembrance authority, reckons the Nieuw Beerta parsonage managed to save between 200 and 300 Jewish compatriots.

Resistance and sabotage
Johanna Ruth Dobschiner, a young Jewish girl from Amsterdam, was contacted by Domie and taken up north. The Grüne Polizei had taken her parents and a brother away. She escaped by hiding in a secret cove in her Amsterdam home. She never saw her family again.

This young girl, hiding at the parsonage in Nieuw Beerta, also started a diary of her time there and what happened to her afterwards. Her underground name was “Hansie.” The book she wrote, Selected to Live, was published in 1969. It is a powerful testimony of her courage and how she left the Jewish faith after accepting Jesus Christ as her Lord and Saviour. (Note: Years ago I wrote an article about Domie and Hansie online. Here is the link: http://sensedejong.newmaker.net/Sense/DomieAndHansie.shtml)

How sad it was to read that in 1944 someone of the “non-pure” Groningers (i.e. friends of the Nazis) exposed the Aders for concealing Jews in their home. These betrayers often collected a reward for revealing the Jews’ whereabouts to the occupiers. The Grüne Polizei raided the place and, unfortunately, found some of those in their hiding places. They were transported to Germany never to be seen again. The Germans subsequently raided the parsonage, stealing what they could find and forcing Tante Jo and her two babies to live elsewhere. The parsonage was later demolished.

Letters from prison
But what about Domie? He, too, was betrayed and walked into a trap. He was abused, if not tortured, in that awful Gestapo jail located on the Weteringschans in Amsterdam.

From there he wrote beautiful letters to his wife, which testified to his strong faith and the knowledge that his Father in heaven would always be there and would take care of him and his family. He wrote long epistles on rolls of toilet paper with a bit of a pencil. These were smuggled out by trusted members of the Dutch police to his wife. A selection of them are published in this book.

At that time of his incarceration, the Allied Forces were already in the south of the Netherlands. Domie was told by his friends among the Dutch police that the day of liberation was near, and that he would likely be freed soon. However, at that time, the Dutch Resistance had again been very active, making the Nazis furious! In retaliation the Germans announced they would pick six hostages from various jails. They picked three from a Utrecht prison and three from the Weteringschans jail. And, yes, Domie, was one of them. All six of them were taken to a remote part in a forest and summarily shot.

Their bodies were left behind in the pouring rain. Some residents of nearby Veenendaal found them there and gave them a proper burial.

While still in Amsterdam, Domie spent his last days talking to other prisoners, reading God’s word to them, praying to take comfort and assuring them of the promises of his coming kingdom.

When later they dug up the bodies for reburial, they found in Domie’s sack a Bible full of notes and a hymn book with his wife’s name in it and a few letters. That’s how they identified the body. In the hymn book Domie had put a crease through the last verses of a hymn:

No sparrow falls on earth without Your will
And Lord, my heart finds comfort and is still
Because You watch with care o’re all my ways.
So God, my shield and help shall surely be
Nought do I fear in sky, on earth and sea,
He maketh all things good throughout my days.

  • Stan de Jong is a member of Jubilee Fellowship CRC in St. Catharines enjoying his retirement years. He’s the former business manager (from 1984–1999) of Calvinist Contact (Publishing Ltd), the forerunner of Christian Courier.

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