CORNELIA Zwart “was all that it means to be human”, Emanuel Synagogue’s Rabbi Jacqueline Ninio said at a ceremony last week awarding the late Dutch immigrant as Righteous Among the Nations.
Zwart took a then 13-year-old Bela van Praagh into her parents’ home in 1940 when it became unsafe for her to remain with another family she had been staying with, the Brinkman family, due to their involvement in the resistance.
Bela joined Cornelia’s 11 siblings and was raised by their parents, Marinus and Maria Josepha Zwart. The family also took in another Jewish child, Bea Hartogs, and the two girls slept in a loft behind a hidden door in the back of a cupboard.
As the situation became more and more dangerous, the Zwarts ensured Bela’s safety by moving her to different locations while during one Nazi raid, she hid under a wooden floor for 12 hours.
At times the Zwarts also hid Bela’s parents.
“A well-known saying goes that the road to Auschwitz was built by hate and paved by indifference,” interim Israeli ambassador Jonathan Peled told Zwart’s daughters, Anke and Frouke de Reuver, at the ceremony at Emanuel Synagogue last Thursday.
“We are gathered here today, a long distance and time from Europe in [the] darkest hours of mankind thanks to a few glimmering lights of humanity that were not indifferent to what was transpiring. One of those few lights that made a difference was your family, the Zwart family.
“On behalf of the State of Israel and of the Jewish people, I wish to express our profound gratitude for the enormous courage and selflessness of Cornelia Zwart.”
Rabbi Ninio said Zwart was a mensch.
“She risked so much to save the lives of others and when so many around her had lost their humanity, she held on tight; she stood strong in that place of courage and faith,” she said.
“She reminds us of the good of humanity, the beauty within each of us, the spark of light in the human spirit. We are all inspired by her courage, her strength, her fortitude; risking all to save another.”
NSW Jewish Board of Deputies CEO Vic Alhadeff spoke of how Turkish diplomat Selahattin Ulkumen saved 42 Jews – including members of Alhadeff’s family – from the Nazis on Rhodes Island.
“It is people such as Selahattin Ulkumen, the Zwart family and Cornelia Zwart, who give us hope for the future,” he said.
“Her willingness, her courage, to save fellow human beings from being murdered for no reason other than their identity, is beyond inspiration.”
Anke and Frouke de Reuver recalled their mother’s “humanity and deep love of people”.
“One of her sayings which she often said to us was ‘it’s easy to give when you don’t have to give anything up to give’,” they said.
“She was always a very positive person, she was a very cheerful, an optimistic person … She really kept our family together, she was the strength that we grew up with.”
They recalled her telling them about her experiences during the war and hiding people in the walls and floor.
“As you get older you get more interested, and because she’s been dead for 40 years you realise now you want to ask all these more details, so it’s wonderful that Bela has been able to fill in a lot of that for us and [Bela’s son] Lex as well. So thank you.”