‘We will be eternally grateful’

Israeli ambassador Mark Sofer (right) presents the medal and certificate to Johanna (Anneke) Winkeler (left) and Petronella Zinsmeester. Photo: Gareth Narunsky

TWO more names were added to the list of those who saved Jews during the Holocaust at an emotional ceremony last week.

Willem and Elisabeth Zinsmeester were recognised as Righteous Among the Nations for hiding and protecting families including the Boas clan, relatives of whom were present for the event at the Sydney Jewish Museum.

The couple’s daughters, Petronella Zinsmeester and Johanna (Anneke) Winkeler, collected the awards on their behalf.

In a moving speech, Israeli ambassador Mark Sofer said the Zinsmeesters had made “an incredible sacrifice”.

“They risked their lives for the wellbeing of a young family and for the sake of those around them,” he said.
“On behalf of the State of Israel, we will be eternally grateful for people like your parents, who demonstrated rare courage and compassion in the face of such cruelty and calculated destruction.

“It is because of them and wonderful, righteous people like them that there are generations alive today.

heir determination to love those around them and to bring a little light into the gaping darkness is what we recognise here today.

“So I just want to say thank you and nothing more. Because if I say anything more, that will detract from the gratitude.”

Petronella Zinsmeester spoke of how when sorting out her parents’ papers after they passed away, she found testimonials confirming “what we as children had always known, namely that they had risked their lives to shelter Jewish people”, including Samuel Boas and his family.

“Our parents stood up to be counted during the Holocaust and we are proud today that they have been acknowledged by Yad Vashem,” she said.

“They sought neither fame nor glory and they would not have considered what they did to have been in any way extraordinary. They did what they did simply because they were good people in bad times.”

Both the Boas and Zinsmeester families emigrated to Australia after the war, where they remained in close contact.

Ken Moschner, a relative of the Boas family, said it was an honour to pay tribute to the Zinsmeesters, whom he knew well growing up.

“We just have the most joyous memories of those times as I was a child growing up seeing the Zinsmeester family,” he said.

“If it wasn’t for them we would have family that didn’t survive the war.”

NSW Jewish Board of Deputies CEO Vic Alhadeff also addressed the event, detailing how a Muslim Turkish consul-general on Rhodes Island, Selahattin Ülkümen, saved 42 Jews, including five members of the Alhadeff family.