Along the Flower Bulbs

The Fellowship  |  September 14, 2016

Fourteen members of the Zeestraten family posing together for a family picture.
Along the Flower Bulbs

Hein and Antonia Zeestraten

Hein – July 5, 1885 – June 23, 1965
Antonia – May 24, 1896 – February 5, 1963

Why you should know them: Hein and Antonia Zeestraten were a Dutch couple who grew and sold tulip bulbs. As World War II began, the Zeestratens’ nine children (ages 10 to 27) lived and home and helped with the family business. The Zeestratens were a Christian family who were against not just the German occupation of their homeland, but the Nazis’ treatment of the Netherlands’ Jews, as well.

So when Hein’s bookkeeper asked if the family would shelter two young Jewish men, David and Louis Benima, the couple quickly agreed, despite the danger it posed to them and their family. While the Jewish brothers were only supposed to stay with the family for a night, their next hiding place fell through.

“Oh well, then they will stay here,” was the response.

Regardless of the risks of sheltering Jews from the Nazis, as well as the difficulty of keeping such a secret in a home that already housed eleven people, the Zeestratens’ Christian duty to protect these two persecuted Jews was most important.

The family rearranged their living situation, moving all of their daughters into one room and their two guests into another. No one outside of the house knew of the Benima brothers’ presence. A system of alarm bells was rigged up, which alerted everyone when someone came to the door. A special hiding place next to the hearth was also created, where the Jewish brothers silently hid when needed. The rest of the brothers’ family was caught and deported to concentration camps. But the Zeestratens loved and cared for David and Louis as if they were part of their own family, and the two brothers reciprocated, helping the children with their homework and doing puzzles with them, as well as doing household chores.

During the harsh winter of 1944 and 1945, the Zeestratens not only continued to shelter the Benima brothers, but also planted vegetables along their flower bulbs in order to feed the hungry.

David and Louis Benima stayed with Hein and Antonia Zeestraten for 992 days, and kept in close contact with the family after they had been liberated and the war was over.

Because of their selfless actions, Hein and Antonia were posthumously named Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem in 2007.

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