A couple that hid a Jewish baby during the Holocaust has been posthumously named Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem.
In World War II, Johanna and Godefridus Hakkens raised little Elli Mantegari in their home in Amsterdam, after the girl’s father died at Mathausen and her mother fled to Switzerland. Ultimately, the Hakkens became citizens of New Zealand while an adult Elli moved to the US, and the families lost touch.
Gloria Hakkens, the now-deceased couple’s daughter in law, took up the cause of finding Mantegari in 2010. Using Skype and the Internet, she eventually tracked the lost child down and the families reconnected in New Zealand at the grave of the Hakkens.
Their memory was honored at a ceremony Wednesday, as Israel’s ambassador Shemi Tzur presented the Yad Vashem honor to the Hakkens’ children.
“They will be part of us and their memory will last forever in our capital city Jerusalem,” Tzur said.
Mantegari was not able to attend the event, but she wrote an address that spoke of the couple’s “bravery, altruism and kindness.”
“Fritz and Jo saved my life,” she wrote. “We are not linked through blood, but we are linked by the love and memory of this brave couple.”
Gloria Hakkens spoke at the ceremony, saying, “It may seem the end of a long journey, but for my children and grandchildren I see it as a new beginning as they take hold of the legacy, the challenge that their grandparents and great-grandparents have given them.”
The Hakkens are the first citizens of New Zealand to be named Righteous Among the Nations.