Book shines light on heroism of little-known Catholic couple during Holocaust

by Jenara Kocks Burgess

North Texas Catholic

3/2/2017

This is the cover of Two Among the Righteous Few: A Story of Courage in the Holocaust by Marty Brounstein.

“Two Among the Righteous Few: A Story of Courage in the Holocaust,” by Marty Brounstein. Tate Publishing. (Oklahoma, 2011). 192 pp. $12.99.
 

Two Among the Righteous Few is more than a dramatic tale of heroism in the Holocaust, it’s a challenge.

It makes you ask yourself hard questions like: “Would I be willing to put my life on the line for what’s right? Would I be willing to protect innocent people who were considered outcasts or were scorned?”

The book tells the true story of a married couple’s unwavering ‘yes’ to those questions in the midst of the deadliest genocide in human history, an answer which put them at great risk.

Franciscus and Hermina Wijnakker, known simply as Frans and Mien, both Catholics, were living in the Netherlands when the Nazis were carrying out the systematic killing of 6 million Jews. The couple’s lives would change drastically after one of Frans’ business trips to Amsterdam. On one trip, a business associate asked Frans to take a 14-year-old girl, Shulamit “Shula” Laub, who was called by the false Dutch name, ‘Freetje DeGroot,’ back to his home in the rural town of Dieden.

“Frans innocently says yes,” said Marty Brounstein, author of the book, whose home base is in San Mateo, Calif.

By offering their hospitality the Dutch couple saved the girl’s life.

Brounstein, in an interview with the NTC, said until then, Frans had never even met a Jewish person and because he lived in a rural area, hadn’t yet experienced much of the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. At first, Frans also didn’t really know what the Germans were doing to the Jews.

The rescue of Freetje was only the start. For two more years, Frans and Mien never wavered in their conviction, protecting the Jewish refugees in their care despite many challenges and dangers, including raids on their house, threats of forced labor, and other perils — all while raising their own family. At the height of their rescue efforts, Frans and Mien often had eight to 10 Jewish refugees in their home, along with their four young children.

Marty Brounstein, author of Two Among the Righteous Few.

Brounstein, who has 25 years of experience in management and communications consulting and has written and co-written various business books, has a very special connection to this book. His wife, Leah Baars, is one of the people Frans and Mien Wijnakker hid and saved over the two-year period of Nazi occupation in that area of the Netherlands.

“This is very different. Here is a story out of history of true courage, compassion, and rescue, and this is the most special of anything I’ve ever been involved with,” he said.

Brounstein calls the writing of the book “a journey” which began in May 2009 when his wife — known as baby ‘Ineke’ in the book — wanted to reconnect with the Wijnakker family 25 years after immigrating to the U.S. from the Netherlands. During their visit, she and Brounstein were given a self-published book about Frans and Mien written in Dutch.

“I always say it was a jigsaw puzzle with pieces missing,” Brounstein said. “A friend of the family, whom I acknowledge [in the book], sat Frans down maybe in the last couple of years of his life. He interviewed him and put it into some audio interface. It wasn’t well organized. It’s got holes in it and all that, but you’ve got the gist of the story,” he said.

Brounstein details this visit in the book’s first chapter, called “May 2009 Historic Moment” and written in the format of a letter to his wife’s daughters.

Even though the book is nonfiction, Brounstein said, many people misuse the word “novel” to describe the book.

“It’s not a novel but it reads like a novel,” he said. “And that’s great because I’m trying to tell a story of Frans and Mien Wijnakker and their courage and compassion. They got involved when most, [because of] the dangers of Nazi Germany’s brutal occupation, didn’t. They saved over two dozen Jews from certain death.”

Brounstein also explained that the title is a very important part of the book. 

“Righteous, as the term is used here, comes from Yad Vashem—that’s the Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Jerusalem, Israel,” he said.

Brounstein, who has visited the museum three times, said Yad Vashem includes a section called “Righteous among the Nations” that honors non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.

Brounstein pointed out Oskar Schindler as one of the “righteous” with whom most people are familiar. “Frans and Mien Wijnakker are two Oskar Schindlers.”

Details about Yad Vashem and the plaque there honoring Frans and Mien are given in the brief introduction of the book. The book also includes maps of Europe in 1939, prior to the start of World War II, and under Nazi domination. At the center are photos of Frans and Mien, their own children, as well as photos of the Jewish children they saved.

In addition to being a story of courage, faith, and conviction, Brounstein points out that it’s also a story of interfaith connections. Later in the book, for instance, Frans teams up with local Catholics and Protestants in order to take in more Jewish refugees.

Brounstein is a member of a Jewish synagogue in the San Francisco Bay area.

In the six years since the book was written, he has told the story of Frans and Mien in a variety of venues, to a wide range of audiences — Christian, Jewish, and Muslim. He said, “People are very inspired by this story.”

Brounstein said his wife Leah has been his biggest supporter on this journey, and when he reveals his personal connection to the book at the end of his presentations, many people say it’s her story.

Brounstein said his wife is part of the story, but clarifies that it’s really Frans and Mien’s story.

“I’m the humble messenger of these two heroes, and I’m very grateful for it,” he said.

To learn more about the book and the author, visit MartyABrounstein.com/the-book.html

Two Among the Righteous Few is more than a dramatic tale of heroism in the Holocaust, it’s a challenge.

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