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Child survivors Holocaust remember their heroes at Toronto ceremony

Dutch widow took in Jewish boy

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

TORONTO, Ontario - A Dutch widow with five children who provided a home for a four-year old Jewish boy during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, was recently posthumously recognized with the Yad Vashem Award at a Toronto, Ontario ceremony. The ceremony also involved other awards for people who sheltered Jewish children from the Nazis in different countries.

Torontonian John Sanders, who emigrated to Canada in 1952 with his parents Ben and Sarah Sanders and his brother Hans, arrived at the Kooipark, Leiden doorstep of Catharina van de Berg-Develing with little more than a birth certificate and an envelope with 600 guilders, then a significant amount of money. John, who already had been in hiding at three different locations, quickly was adopted as a member of the family and stayed until after the Nazi occupation had collapsed.

Life at the Develing home was different from the other places John had been since leaving his Amsterdam home. Instead of hiding, John resumed a normal life, playing with the Develing children out on the street, although on reflex he avoided getting close to any German soldier. Anyone with questions about John was told that his mother was hospitalized with TB and that his father had been sent to a labour camp, reasons which sounded very plausible at the time. His brother Hans, who was blond, stayed at a minister’s home elsewhere.

The parents, Ben and Sarah Sanders lived behind a revolving closet in the house of a sympathetic neighbour.


Following the liberation by Canadian troops, John’s father, who only knew he had been living near the Kooipark, Leiden proximity, knocked on doors in search of his son and was amazed to learn that people in the vicinity had suspected all along that a Jewish boy was living among them. They soon directed him to the Develing house. Another surprise awaited Ben Sanders. In addition to his son, he also was given the birth certificate and all the money, of which nothing had been spent because, explained the widow, “it was not mine.”

John Sanders says he owes Mrs. Develing his life. Because of her, Sanders says, “there are 30 of us here now in my immediate family. It’s all due to her safeguarding me.”

The recent recognition climaxes close ties that span 66 years. The Sanders, when visiting the Netherlands, called on the Develings. When one of the Develing daughters and her family wanted to emigrate to Canada, the Sanders sponsored them. When the other Develings visited Canada, the Sanders home was part of their itinerary. The Yad Vashem honour was presented to 82-year-old daughter Catharina Develing-Knetsch, who settled with her family in Canada in 1966. Her mother died in 1986 at the age of 92. Her decision to shelter John had been a straightforward one, the boy needed to stay somewhere and she could help.

Develing-Knetsch does not think her mother was afraid. At 4-foot-5 she was a force to be reckoned with. She survived the Depression without a husband and she survived the war, remarked grandson Bill Knetsch. Her determination and her inner strength are something to be admired.