One Woman’s Account of Surviving the Holocaust
Flory was just a young girl when the Germans occupied her homeland of the Netherlands during World War II. As Jews, she and her family soon began to experience the effect of laws restricting movement and work opportunities. An early attempt to escape the Netherlands on the SS Simon Bolivar failed when the ship hit two German mines and sank. Flory and her fiancé Felix were two of the lucky survivors but were severely injured and spent several months in England before being returned to the Netherlands. Together they watched as the situation worsened and relatives and friends began to ‘disappear’. Flory’s mother was taken off to Sobibor concentration camp, where she died in the gas chambers, but Flory and Felix were fortunate enough to survive the war by being hidden in the homes of patriotic Dutch families working for the resistance.
This incredible story of survival poignantly illustrates how even in the darkest times good people are willing to risk their own safety to save the lives of others.
Flory A. Van Beek: Author Biography
Flory A. Van Beek emigrated to America in 1948 carrying a suitcase full of papers and photographs that she had buried while in hiding in the Netherlands during the German occupation. The material now forms one of the largest collections from the Netherlands housed in the Holocaust Memorial Museum of Washington, DC. Today, Flory and her husband Felix still live in the United States.
Flory Van Beek was born in Rotterdam, Holland, in 1920, the youngest of four children. Her father died when she was five and the family moved to Amersfoort to be nearer their extended family, with whom Flory became very close. When Flory was six years old she began her studies at Hebrew school – Flory was raised in the Orthodox Jewish fashion. As a young girl Flory showed an aptitude for languages and music and loved sports. In 1935, when Flory was 14 years old, her mother took in a German Jewish couple fleeing Hitler’s regime. The couple recounted frightening stories of what was going on in Germany under Hitler’s rule. Flory’s mother was certain, however, that Holland would remain neutral throughout the turmoil. It was not until Flory met Felix, a German Jew who had escaped to Holland with his family, that she began to realise the scale of what was happening throughout Europe. In 1939 Felix offered to help Flory escape Europe, and with the blessing of their families, 18 year-old Flory and 28 year-old Felix boarded the ill-fated SS Bolivar bound for South America. The SS Bolivar hit German mines and sunk; 104 of the 400 people on board were killed. Barely surviving the wrecking of their ship, Flory and Felix were sent to England where they were hospitalised for over 6 months. Once recovered, they were returned to Holland.
In 1942, as the war raged, Flory and Felix were married and went into hiding. They were given new identities and taken in by three different Christian families, who felt it was their duty to help their fellow countrymen, even though it risked their own lives. Flory and Felix joined the resistance, and finally, in 1945, the good news about impending end of the war arrived. But with this news came the tragic information that Flory’s mother and many of her relatives and friends had perished in the Nazi gas chambers. In 1948, living in a post-war Holland they barely knew, and facing the threat of Communism to their small country, Flory and Felix once again braved the ocean for their trip to America, having secured visas with help from Felix’s two brothers who had served in the US Army during the war. Flory took with her a suitcase of papers and photographs she had secreted away while in hiding; the material now forms one of the largest collections from the Netherlands housed in the Holocaust Memorial Museum of Washington, DC.
Upon arriving in America Flory found work as a legal secretary and Felix in a furniture store and together they saved their money. “We had nothing when we came to America. The JDC (Joint Distribution Committee) gave us $1500. We have always wanted to make good for what they did for us…When the Dutch make $10, we only spend $5; however, Americans make $10 and spend $15… that is how we saved, like the Dutch,” Flory said. Eventually they were able to move into a small apartment in Los Angeles, and in 1951 they settled in Newport Beach – where they have lived since – and began a family, adopting their son Ralph in 1954. Now able to give back, they began a history of giving that has spanned over decades and exceeds hundreds of thousands of dollars. Organizations like the Technion, Jewish National Fund, Anti-Defamation League, Hadassah, and Hoag Hospital have all been beneficiaries of the Van Beek’s generosity. Sadly, in 1971 tragedy struck once again. After two years of pain and sickness, Ralph died of brain cancer aged 17. In 1974, Flory and Felix founded Temple Isaiah, in Newport Beach, Los Angeles; the founding of the synagogue represents the Van Beeks’ search for meaning in the years following the death of their young son. Flory’s years of the Holocaust are played out in her book, Flory: One Woman’s Account of Surviving the Holocaust first published in 1998.
“A simply-told testimony of much power.” — Jewish Week
“This has intrinsic value as a Holocaust survivor testimony.” — Publishers Weekly
“This moving story of courage and survival is a must read for everyone, so that future generations of the world should never forget the Holocaust.” — Rabbi Marc S. Rubenstein, Spiritual leader of Temple Isaiah of Newport Beach
“While the immediate association is Anne Frank’s attic, Van Beek’s straightforward account brings a fabled and singular Jewish culture to the forefront…her most striking touch is her account of the Dutch restoring their original street names after the defeat of Hitler.” — Forward
Editors: Flory A. Van Beek
Size: 234 x 153mm or 9¼ X 6 in
Pages: 208 pages