Sipora Groen, 95, a Holocaust survivor who lost nearly all of her extended family during the years the Nazis occupied the Netherlands and spent the last decade telling school students, congregations, and civic groups about her life, died Wednesday, April 19, at her home in Delray Beach, Fla., after a short illness.
Mrs. Groen and her late husband, Nardus, a member of the Dutch underground resistance who helped save her and others and later became a rabbi, lived for a time in Lansdale and Atlantic City.
“I'm 93,” she told the Inquirer in 2015 after speaking to seventh graders at Bala Cynwyd Middle School. “There must be a reason I'm getting that old. So I can talk to people. … You have no idea about it unless you’ve lived it. Nothing was normal.”
Marcel Groen, the eldest of her five children, is chairman of the Pennsylvania Democratic Committee.
He said that his mother was still driving until four weeks ago. He said she spoke and danced at his oldest granddaughter’s bat mitzvah at Beth Sholom Congregation in Elkins Park on March 24.
“She was the youngest 95-year-old person I ever met,” Groen said.
Born Sipora Rodrigues-Lopes in Amsterdam on Jan. 1, 1922, Mrs. Groen lost her mother when she was 13. She was a nursing student at the Jewish hospital in Amsterdam when war broke out and was living in the nurses’ quarters when the Nazis began rounding up Jews and sending them to death camps.
During the Nazi occupation, Mrs. Groen lost her father, brother, fiance, and most of her extended family.
She also met her future husband, who had trained in the national guard and could pass as a gentile. He helped her run and hide from detection.
During a period of three years, Nardus Groen took his future wife to seven safe houses, including a farm where Mrs. Groen spent 17 hours a day huddling in a windowless cellar for a year and a half.
After the liberation of Europe, Nardus Groen joined the Dutch marines, trained at Camp Lejeune, N.C., and was deployed to Japan.
The couple married after the war. They moved to the United States in 1955, living first in Cincinnati and then moving to the Lansdale area and Atlantic City.
Later, they returned to Holland, where Nardus became the head of a synagogue and took leadership roles in Jewish communities in six provinces. Mrs. Groen became director of a home for the aged in Arnhem, Holland.
The couple initially retired to the Dutch seaside town of Zandvoort but later moved to Florida. Mr. Groen died in 2007.
Their youngest son, David, of Oceanside, N.Y., recounted his parents’ story in the book Jew Face: A Story of Love and Heroism in Nazi-Occupied Holland, which was published in 2012.
Marcel Groen said his mother became a U.S. citizen in the late 1950s or early 1960s.
“She became a full-fledged American citizen and a very outspoken citizen in Florida,” he said, noting that his mother often assisted with elections.
He recalled her saying: “I went to the polls and helped the old people.”
In addition to Marcel and David, Mrs. Groen is survived by sons Leo and Ruben; a daughter, Deborah; 12 grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren.
Services are scheduled for Friday, April 21, at 1 p.m. at Goldsteins’ Rosenberg’s Raphael Sack's, 6410 N. Broad St. Burial will be at Shalom Memorial Park, Huntingdon Valley.