By John Dunkelgrün.
Every Yad Vashem ceremony is special: it honours people, who with direct danger to their own lives and those of their families, try to save their fellow men. Yad Vashem is the institute in Jerusalem that honours those non Jews who, during the days of the Shoa, decided to risk all to save Jews. But it has a much wider relevance in that it teaches us all that there are situations in which we have to go against the crowd, even against direct orders, to “do the right thing”.
This was emphasised by Minister Timmermans in a ceremony to commemorate Mr. Joseph Willem Kolkman ,the under consul of The Netherlands in Vichy France. It was only the second time in the history of Yad Vashem that an organization (in this case the Dutch Ministery of Foreign Affairs) in stead of a person received the award for a deceased “Righteous among the Nations”.
Mr. Kolkman managed to get hundreds of Dutch citizens out of the camps where the French concentrated fugitives from the Nazi occupied countries. He housed and fed them in a large villa he had rented and furnished them with (often falsified) papers to transit Spain and Portugal and go to England, the Dutch West Indies or The United States. He facilitated the escape -and so saved the lives- of many Jews, young Dutchmen and women who wanted to join the fight against the Nazis (the so called “Engelandvaarders”) and others who just wanted to bring their families to safety. When he was ordered to “close shop” and leave, he refused because there were so many more people who needed help. After the Germans took over Vichy France in November 1942 he and his wife tried to cross into Spain, but were arrested. His wife was released but Kolkman was sent to the camps in Poland and perished.
More than 70 people gathered Monday in the stately Van Kleffenszaal of the Ministery of Foreign Affairs to hear the testimony by two sons of people saved by Mr. Kolkman and the archivist/historian Mr. S.F.M. Plantinga. The award was handed to the Secretary General Ms. Jones-Bos by the Ambassador of Israel, H.E. Mr. Haim Divon.