Local Woman Tells Story of Taking in WWII Jewish Refugees

by LAWSON ROBINSON

Anneke Burke-Koistra was born in 1938, a year and a half before WWII started. Anneke and her family lived in Utrecht, Holland in the Netherlands. Throughout the events of WWII, Anneke’s parents Wop and Heil Koistra managed to hide eight Jewish refugees in their home and kept them safe from the Nazis.

“My parents were only 27 when they decided to house one Jewish refugee and that was long before they knew it would increase to eight,” Anneke explained. “They were unsure of whether or not we would have food. My mother had so much faith that she decided to take in all of these people.”

Wop and Heil managed to keep the presence of the Jewish refugees a secret from Anneke and her two sisters, Rommy and Riet. They were unaware of the hidden refugees until the war ended in 1945, when their mother brought them into the same room as the refugees. Now that time has passed, Wop and Heil have received the proper praise. They were not only honored by the Queen of Holland, but were also honored with a tree on the Avenue of the Righteous in Jerusalem.

“People believed that what you did not know, you could not share.”

Anneke spoke to why her parents were secretive about their actions. “Since these were truly matters of life and death, it would have been irresponsible for us to know. Our parents had to lie to us and tell us ‘you did not hear that’ and ‘you did not see that’.”

These heroics seemed to run in the family, as both of Wop’s brothers and Heil’s sister hid Jewish refugees. Many of these people worked in part with an underground system which Anneke discussed in detail. “Not only did my father and mother help with the hiding, my father was working full-time with this system. We knew someone close to us that ran a business had refugees, but it eventually became too dangerous for him to continue. There were members of the church who had sons working with the underground system and one of those sons was killed for his involvement.”

The Jewish refugees hidden in Anneke’s house spent most of the time in their old dining room. When Heil would put her daughters to sleep, she would lock the door quickly after. This allowed for the refugees to enter the larger living room and for them to have a bit more freedom within the house. The refugees were only required to hide underneath the floorboards when Nazi soldiers came to inspect the house.

Wop and Heil even managed to hide the presence of the refugees from their neighbors. “No one was fully aware of what was happening in our house, not even the next door neighbors. So many miracles happened in our home and if not for these miracles, I would not have been able to tell this story.”

One miracle Anneke spoke to involved a lack of food in their home. One particular day, her family found themselves with 13 people in their home, but no food to feed anyone. That night, there was a knock on the door. When Heil answered the door she saw no one. Instead, she noticed a small package of food sitting on her doorstep. “I have told this story 2,000 times and one time I spoke at a Synagogue in Bay City. A little boy raised his hand asked if an angel had brought the food. I told him that we knew it was an angel.”

There were also several close calls with Nazi soldiers. In one instance, the local church decided to create a flag for their church that mirrored the Dutch flag. People in her neighborhood then put this small flag onto the wall of their house for all to see. Wop put this flag on the outside of his house as well.

At night, the Jewish refugees entered the larger living room per usual. While this was happening, Nazi soldiers went around to every house in the neighborhood and broke out the windows. When the soldiers reached the Koistra home, they did not knock out the windows. Instead, a soldier came to the front door and simply asked for Wop to remove the flag from his wall.

If there is one idea that Anneke would like for people to take from her story, it is that individual actions are important. “It only took two people to stand up to evil. My parents did this out of their love for Jesus and also their love of the Jewish people. It is important for people to know that we can make a difference in the world.”

Anneke continues to preach that love is the only answer to hate. “It is so urgent now, looking at what is happening in the world. If love is in your heart, then there is no room for hate.”

Anneke Burke-Koistra will tell her story at the Rochester Hills Public Library on October 19 at 7 p.m. You can also find a documentary made about her parents on Youtube titled: They’re Not Here. She has also offered her phone number for organizations that would like her to speak at events: 989-843-6824.