Originally Posted Online: April 07, 2013, 11:21 pm
Last Updated: April 08, 2013, 12:31 am

Holocaust survivor regrets not saying goodbye to his parents

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By Jonathan Turner, jturner@qconline.com

More photos from this shoot
Photo: Todd Welvaert
Joseph B. Koek tells the audience of the 32nd annual Quad-Cities Holocaust Remembrance at Temple Emanuel, Davenport, on Sunday what it was like being a hidden child saved from the Nazis by the Dutch underground during World War II.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Todd Welvaert
Alexandra Cechowicz, the grandchild of a a Holocaust survivor, lights a candle at the 32nd annual Quad-Cities Holocaust Remembrance, or Yom HaShoah, at Temple Emanuel, Davenport, Sunday, April 7, 2013.

DAVENPORT -- When he was 12 years old, Joseph Koek and his two sisters were separated from their parents in the Netherlands, never to see them again.

"I do not turn around to wave goodbye to my parents," Mr. Koek, a Holocaust survivor, said at the 32nd annual Quad-Cities Holocaust Remembrance, or Yom HaShoah, on Sunday night at Temple Emanuel. "I never looked back. I wished I would have turned around and waved goodbye. Maybe that would have been too dangerous.

"Looking back, now that I'm in my 80s, what must have been going through my mind?" he said. "More than that, what could my parents have been thinking?"

In the years since -- Mr. Koek's parents were murdered by the Nazis at Auschwitz -- he said he's punished himself for not dealing with their parting better. He's often thought of the last day of their lives.

"I had no idea how much they must suffer," Mr. Koek, who now lives in Chicago, said. "I wonder why I'm still living and able to tell this story and share my feelings with you. I have so many conflicting thoughts and feelings.

"Is it all right for me at this late date to say thank you to my parents for all they have done for me? Of course it is," he said. "I love them more than they ever knew, and I still do."

Mr. Koek was a hidden child saved by the Dutch resistance. In 1942, his parents were ordered to be transported to a work camp. He and two sisters were sheltered by total strangers and moved around many times.

In1943, Mr. Koek broke his leg and was taken to the hospital. Even though his doctor was a Nazi, he never found out he was a hidden Jew, he said. Every Jew found in hiding and everyone sheltering them were taken by Nazis to the front of their house and shot."If I had not broken my leg, I would have been killed also," Mr. Koek said.

After the war, he spent six years in a Jewish orphanage, and his sisters also survived. Mr. Koek is a member of the Illinois Holocaust Museum Speakers' Bureau.

As part of the Sunday ceremony, the Yom HaShoah Committee of the Quad Cities presented the Richard A. Swanson "Hope for Humanity Award" to Ida Kramer, former executive director of the Jewish Federation of the Quad Cities.

The award only has been presented five previous times in the 21 years since its inception, most recently in 2008 to Alan Egly, executive director of the Doris and Victor Day and Rauch Family Foundations.Ms. Kramer, 86, was the first female executive director of the Jewish Federation in 1986 and served until retiring in 2001.

Ms. Kramer remains closely involved in the Jewish Federation by serving on its board of directors, including as board president from 2008 to 2011. "Ida has lived and breathed Holocaust education for decades," said Richard Weinstein, chairman of the Yom HaShoah Committee.

Her work has included teaching children important lessons of the Holocaust, promoting interfaith relations and promoting Israel's survival as the Jewish homeland, Mr. Weinstein said.

"I am so excited that all of these people have joined me in this quest to keep doing things that require help from the Jewish people," Ms. Kramer said of the honor.

Rachael Cupp, of Rock Island, an Edison Junior High School student, read her essay that earned a $500 scholarship in the "Children and the Holocaust" contest sponsored by the Holocaust Education Committee of the Greater Quad Cities Area.

She wrote about Syvia Perlmutter, whose family was forced to live in the Lodz Ghetto in Poland and who was 10 when the war ended. In her essay, Rachael shared what a typical day was like for Syvia and the "ongoing nightmare" of finding safer places to hide from the Nazis. According to Rachael, learning about Syvia helped her realize how "fortunate I am" and to complain less about the routine of daily life.

"I've come to realize my fellow neighbors and I do not appreciate how fortunate we are," she said. "I realize freedom is valuable and a privilege that should not be taken for granted.

"Syvia is truly one of my inspirations by the way she stuck through everything a young child had to go through." Rachael noted Syvia moved to Paris and later to Maryland, married and had grandchildren and volunteered for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

Temple Emanuel's Rabbi Henry Karp related recent results of a study documenting the Holocaust, showing there were tens of thousands more slave labor camps, concentration camps and ghettos run by Nazis than previously thought. That verifies what survivors have said, that it was impossible for the world not to know the extent of persecution and extermination of Jews, homosexuals, gypsies and other non-Jewish victims. In all, there were up to 20 million people killed by the Nazis, Rabbi Karp said.

The lesson of Yom HaShoah, he said, is: "I will not stand idly by while my neighbor bleeds. I will not let this happen again to any people, to any victim group. The Holocaust will be more than just a dark memory of horrible things in the past. It will be a warning and healing for us to build a better future."

Holocaust survivor to speak at Augustana

Joe Koek also will deliver the annual Geifman Lecture in Holocaust Studies today at 7 p.m. in Wallenberg Hall, 3520 7th Ave., Rock Island, at Augustana College. Born in the Netherlands in 1930, Mr. Koek was hidden by the Dutch underground during World War II.