West Tisbury man’s parents honored for WWII heroism

Displaying the medal and certificate given to the van Raan family to honor their parents who harbored Jews during World War II are (left to right): Heleena van Raan, Gil Lainer - Consul for Public Affairs at the Consulate General of Israel in New York, Sig van Raan, and Yvette Daoud, Deputy Consul General of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in New York. — Photo by Maxine Dover

West Tisbury resident Sig van Raan’s parents, Gerard and Gerda van Raan, were honored posthumously by The Consulate General of Israel in New York and the American Society of Yad Vashem “for their selfless and courageous actions during the Holocaust, saving Jewish lives.” On Thursday, May 10, they were named “Righteous Among the Nations.” Mr. van Raan’s sister, Heleena van Raan, accepted the certificate of honor.

The ceremony, which honored four other families as well, was attended by over a hundred people, including several friends of the van Raans from the Vineyard. The ceremony was at the Bronfman Center for Jewish Life at New York University. Yad Vashem is the world center for documentation, research, education, and commemoration of the Holocaust.

The award recognizes “those people who upheld morality and human values in the midst of a moral vacuum and attempts to convey the gratitude of the State of Israel and the Jewish people to those who stood by their side during a time of persecution and great tragedy,” according to a press release from the Israeli Embassy. The van Raans are to be commemorated on the Mount of Remembrance in Jerusalem.

In her acceptance remarks Heleena van Raan described her parents as humble and understated. “There was no ideological or political bent on their actions other than the firm belief that this was the right thing to do,” she said.

She recalled a TV interview with her parents a number of years ago. The interviewer asked why they had helped. “Gerta looked annoyed and was silent for a minute. Finally she said, ‘What kind of question is that? — we didn’t ask ourselves that question. The real question should be why didn’t more people do more?'”

The van Raan’s were a newly married couple in 1943, according to Sig van Rann, and had been involved separately in the Dutch Resistance. They were asked to take in a young Jewish boy whose parents were hiding on a farm outside of Amsterdam. It was customary to break up families who were in hiding to give them a better chance of surviving if one were caught. They took in a nine-month-old baby later that same year.

After the War, one of the children was later reunited with his mother and the other with both parents, a rarity according to Mr. van Raan, one of the very few Jewish families to survive the Holocaust as an intact family.

The van Raan’s moved to America five years after the War with their two young children. The elder Mr. van Raan worked as a laborer and went to night school, studying drafting, and began a long career as a draftsman. Mrs. Van Raan, who had a nursing degree, worked as a psychiatric nurse in for almost 25 years.

Sig van Raan, who was a psychologist and restauranteur on the Island, is writing a novel about his parents and their involvement in the Dutch Resistance. “It’s a love triangle with tragic consequences and based on true events as shared with me by my dad.”

“The stories of the War while in Holland became part of the family legacy,” said Mr. van Raan. “The Jewish boys who lived with us — it was never presented to us as ‘We rescued these boys.’ The humility and the understated way that my parents presented this story is to me as profound as the very act of saving them.”