NEW YORK (Jan. 27)
A 93-year-old great-great-grandmother received a Yad Vashem Medal of the Righteous here, with four generations of her descendants attending the ceremony at the Israel Consulate. Wilhelmine Asbeek Brusse, who sheltered many Dutch Jews in her home during World War II, was presented with the Yad Vashem certificate and medallion by Moshe Yegar, Consul General of Israel.
One of Asbeck’s two daughters, Marian Leisen, had married a Jewish doctor before the war. She was 25 when the Nazis occupied Holland. Dr. Leisen was a leader of the Dutch underground, and the entire Asbeek family was active in the resistance movement. In an act of defiance against the Nazis, Marian and her sister Wilhelmine (later Esther) converted to Judaism in 1941.
Asbeek’s underground activities started as early as the beginning of the war in Holland, when she took Jewish refugees into her home. She also performed dangerous tasks outside her home for the resistance movement. She hid not only people but their possessions. After the war, she returned to Jewish friends the valuables she had hidden for them in her attic. Asbeek, whose code name was “Tante Cos” or “Oma,” was arrested for her resistance activities. After escaping from Westerbork Concentration Camp on September 3, 1944, she concentration Camp on September 3, 1944, she continued to shelter Jews until liberation in May 1945.
After the war, Asbeek’s daughter Esther married Manfred Klafter, one of the Jews her mother had hidden. The couple’s adopted son, an orphaned concentration camp survivor, made aliya in 1967. The Klafters followed him and moved to Israel, where Esther died six years ago.
Asbeek now lives in Scotch Plains, New Jersey, as does her daughter, Marian, her granddaughter Daisy Wexler, some of her five great-grandchildren, and some of her six great-great-grandchildren. As all of these generations watched, Asbeek, the only non-Jewish member of the large family, accepted her Yad Vashem medal.
In remarks before the presentation, Consul General Yegar said there were now about 3,000 names of the Righteous registered at Yad Vashem. “These people show it could have been different,” he said. Saving Jewish lives under those circumstances “called for a special kind of character. Mrs. Asbeek has such character, and her actions preserved human dignity.”