Henk Zanoli is second from right in this 1942 family photo / Yad Vashem
It was at the insistence of Rivka Ben-Pazi that Henk Zanoli was deemed a “righteous gentile” by Yad Vashem, Israel’s state Holocaust museum. Ben-Pazi wrote a book about the Jewish boy that Zanoli saved, Elchanan Hameiri, and eventually got the museum to honor the Dutchman for hiding 11-year-old Hameiri from the Nazis.
Ben-Pazi, Hameiri’s niece, said she strongly disagrees with Zanoli’s decision to return the medal after six members of Zanoli’s extended family, the Ziadahs, were killed in Gaza last month. Now, she has written a letter to Zanoli explaining why she thinks he was wrong. She shared it with the Forward:
Open Letter to Henk Zanoli
Dear Mr. Henk Zanoli,
It was with great sorrow that I heard about the tragedy that befell your relatives in Gaza. I would like to express my sincere condolences to you and your family.
You, your mother, and your brothers saved my uncle, Elchanan Pinto, from the hands of the Nazis. You hid him in your home at a risk to your own lives and cared for him with devotion and love. My family and I are forever grateful to you and your entire family. The Zanoli family is a symbol and an example of charitable, moral people who are guided by their faith without fear, despite danger to themselves.
I was informed that as a result of the tragedy that befell your family in Gaza, you have chosen to return the Righteous Among the Nations medal that you received from Yad Vashem in 2011 in recognition of the courageous and humane actions of your mother, your brothers and yourself during the Holocaust.
I can understand the anguish you must be feeling which led you to reject the award that you received from the State of Israel, yet I would like to tell you our story, the story of the Jewish nation living in the State of Israel, as it has unfolded over the past several weeks.
Approximately two months ago, Hamas members, who had been elected to rule over Gaza by the citizens of Gaza, kidnapped three Jewish boys and murdered them in cold blood simply because they were Jewish.
Hamas activists, who were chosen to govern Gaza by the local population, and who rule over their own people with force and terror, built tens of underground tunnels leading from Gaza to Israel with the intention of entering Israeli border settlements and murdering multitudes of innocent men, women and children.
Furthermore, during the past fourteen years, thousands of missiles and mortar shells have been shot from Gaza to Israeli cities. The citizens of Israel have been forced to remain near bomb shelters and their lives are constantly in danger. The daily lives of Israelis have been compromised; parents don’t go to work, and children don’t go to school. Just today, when Hamas fired at a kindergarten attempting to kill young children, a four-year was killed and one of the fathers who jumped on the children in order to protect them was seriously wounded. While Israeli soldiers are protecting our citizens from the attacks of Hamas the terrorists in Gaza are coercing their citizens, women and children to protect the terrorists while they shoot missiles from kindergartens, hospitals, and UNRWA establishments.
The citizens of Gaza claim that they are forbidden from fleeing the areas that our army is attacking, so that Hamas can tell the world that Israel is murdering innocent people.
We are a nation that advocates peace. We want to live in peace and tranquility in our small country. It is Hamas who declared this war. However, the State of Israel, like any country in the Western world, has no choice but to protect her citizens from her enemies. That is why our army must fight the terrorist organization of Hamas until they put a stop to the shooting and terror against the State of Israel. We do not wish to murder the citizens of Gaza such as your family, but in war innocent people often die. Your relatives died because their government has decided to destroy the State of Israel; your relatives died because the terrorists of Hamas chose to reside in civilian homes.
I understand you and your fury at the State of Israel and I feel great sorrow about the fact that you decided to return the honor and recognition that you so greatly deserve.