Janny L. Manasse: Dutch resistance, Holocaust survivor
1918-2008 | Carried messages, weapons throughout Holland before capture, torture by Nazis

September 23, 2008

BY LARRY FINLEY Staff Reporter/lfinley@suntimes.com
It was painful for Janny Manasse to tell strangers about her days in the Dutch resistance during World War II and the almost 20 months she spent in a German concentration camp. But she did it for her sons and for history.

“After the movie ‘Schindler’s List’ came out [in 1993], I applied to Steven Spielberg, who wanted to document all of the surviving Holocaust people,” said her son, Joseph. “They sent a film crew to do a video of both my parents. That was what Spielberg wanted to do — to help educate the next generation.”

Mrs. Manasse told about torture and depravation at Ravensbruck camp in Germany. Her Jewish-born husband, Henri, told about his escape from Westerbork camp and his months in hiding in Holland.

Mrs. Manasse, 90, died on Sept. 8 in the Coventry Village retirement community in Northbrook. Her husband died in 2003.

“The filming [in 1996] was very difficult for them,” he said. “My mother did it more for me, at my urging. My father was more open for it. If you watch these tapes, you can still see the pain.”

His mother was born Jannigje L. Borst on March 21, 1918, in Lopik, Holland. She was in nursing training in 1940 when the Germans bombed and invaded her country. She became a member of the Dutch resistance, carrying messages and weapons, and providing hiding places, fraudulent identification and ration cards for Dutch Jews, her son said.

“Men were not allowed to travel,” said another son, Robert. “Males were picked up and put in work camps. She was smuggling information from her home in Amsterdam to the Hague to Rotterdam. She also provided illegal ration cards and hiding places.”

She married in early 1942, a non-Jew marrying a Jew, shortly before a Nazi edict that banned the marriage of Jews and non-Jews, and was arrested by a Dutch collaborator after she lent her passport to a Jewish woman who tried to use it to flee to Switzerland.

“My mother was arrested in Amsterdam and taken to prison,” Robert Manasse said. “For six months, she was tortured and interrogated to extract information, but my mother said she never divulged anything about the resistance movement.”

Her husband had escaped from a camp that was a staging point for transit to the Auschwitz death camp, in Poland, the son said, and stayed in hiding until the liberation of Amsterdam in May 1945.

The couple and their four sons came to the United States in 1954 on a program sponsored by a church group in Holland. She worked as a housekeeper until becoming a nurse’s aide. Her husband got a job as a carpet layer.

“Her passion became the Selfhelp Home” on West Argyle, Robert Manasse said. “It was founded for refugees and Holocaust survivors, and that became her calling — to help them.”

He said that, after six months in a church basement, the family lived in a small apartment in Lake View and acted as a clearinghouse for families arriving from Holland.

“She would stretch a can of Spam and a box of macaroni and an onion into small portions to feed everyone,” he said. “She would ask the butcher for bones to put in the pot for soup. It was like war rationing.”

Mrs. Manasse enjoyed traveling, “swimming at the ‘Y’ three times a week” and riding her bike “like Dutch people do,” he said. “Then, in June, she had a stroke, which left her left side paralyzed.”

The morning she died, she asked for her usual bath and put on clean clothes, he said.

“She said, ‘Let me lay down,’ ” her son recounted. “They put her in bed. She put her arms over herself, and she died.”

Mrs. Manasse’s survivors also include two other sons, Henri and Casey; seven grandchildren; and one great-grandchild. Services have been held.