7. Chaim and Sophia de Zoete
When the Nazis invaded Holland, the de Zoete family decided to go into hiding. The couple had three daughters, Mirjam, Judith, and Hadassah. They split the family up and found different places for their children to hide, but they had difficulty finding a place for themselves. Mirjam remembers not seeing her parents for almost three years. She knew the first family that hid her. They changed her name and cut off her long braids to help conceal her identity.
Mirjam was sent to live with two more families during the war and finally ended up staying with a woman named Tante Nel. She was a single mother who had a child of her own, and she was hiding another Jewish boy. She hid Mirjam underneath her kitchen floor. Food was so scarce near the end of the war that Tante Nel had to feed them mashed tulip bulbs to keep them from starving.
Chaim and Sophia desperately tried to find places to hide. Finally, a coworker of Chaim’s from before the war brought the couple to Rotterdam’s Breeplein church and introduced them to the church’s minister. He and the church’s caretaker hid Chaim and Sophia behind the church organ, where they stayed for two and a half years until the end of the war. They had to lay in bed all day because people in the church would be able to hear them if they moved.
Chaim gave his wife sleeping pills to keep her calm, and after the war, she struggled with an addiction to them. A few months before the war ended, they were very close to being discovered when Nazi officers came to the church looking for weapons. Breeplein church still stands today, featuring a plaque that highlights the church’s role in hiding Jews during World War II.
After the war was over, the de Zoete children were removed from their hiding places and reunited with their parents at Breeplein church. Mirjam, who lives in Connecticut as of 2015, remembers that because of where they were hiding, her parents hated the sound of organ music for the rest of their lives.