Visitors to Pontypool Touched by Local Connection to Dutch Rescuers during WWII
There was scarcely a dry eye in Pontypool’s Community Centre on Sunday August 14th as Sylvia Amesbury described the brave actions of her parents in Holland during the Second World War. Sylvia and her husband John spent 38 years of their married life in Pontypool, and on Sunday her family’s connection to the Jewish community was front and centre during the “Memories of Pontypool” event.
The action of Dutch residents in the rescue of Jews in Nazi-occupied Holland is an extraordinary story of silent courage. Sylvia’s parents embody this courage and she was happy to provide a few details about this difficult period in the life of her parents.
Her father, Pieter Miedema, a Dutch Reform Minister in the Dutch province of Friesland, and during the occupation of Holland, many Jews hid in their village many helped by Sylvia’s parents.
While they worked quietly, they were not silent about their views. In one of his sermons, Pieter told his 1,550 parishioners: “If you refuse to open your house and heart to an innocent fugitive, then there is no place for you in the community of the righteous.” He and his wife soon put their convictions to work, first housing a young Jewish man in their home, then his older brother. Pieter managed to find safe homes for 14 young Jewish tuberculosis patients from an evacuated sanatorium, and later housed a family of four which was later moved to an underground hideout in the woods for their safety. When one of their fugitives was identified and executed, the couple realized that the danger was too great and decided to leave their home with three year old Sylvia and her younger brother. Peter was then forced into hiding until the war ended. The number of people they helped directly through this difficult time approaches 50.
Their efforts were recognized by the World Holocaust Remembrance Centre which endowed the Miedemas with the honourary title of “Righteous Among the Nations” used by the State of Israel to recognize non-Jews who risked their lives during the Holocaust.
Consistent with her parents’ self-effacing style, Sylvia sat quietly answering questions posed by eager and appreciative visitors with World War II stories of their own. Sylvia and her husband continue to exemplify the values of her parents in their connection with St. John’s Anglican in Ida where the couple works to help refugees. KG