Jan Kasper Klein was a Dutch gym teacher who hid seventeen Jews in his small home during the German occupation of Holland.
Jan was born in the picturesque town of Delft, Holland in 1912 to a Christian family. Naturally athletic, Jan excelled in multiple sports as a child and as he grew older began to coach. After he completed his schooling, Jan became a high school gym teacher and gymnastics coach. He was longtime friends with Bob Denneboom, a Jewish diver who became Dutch champion of platform diving from the three meter springboard.
After the Nazis invaded the Netherlands in 1940, Bob went into hiding at his family’s cottage in a remote area of North Holland. After safely avoiding detection for two years, Bob’s safe haven became safe no more after the Nazis began evacuating the entire area. Desperate to avoid deportation, Bob contacted his old friend Jan Klein, who invited Bob to move into his small home in Amsterdam. Jan was already sheltering another Jew, Mischa Elkan, originally from Latvia.
As Bob settled into Jan’s humble cottage, the Nazi deportation of Dutch Jews intensified. Bob had a large extended family who were in imminent danger of arrest. Despite the small size of Jan’s home, he invited Bob’s entire family to take refuge there. The Denneboom clan included Jan’s parents, sister and brother-in-law, and various cousins, fifteen people in all. Including Bob and Mischa, Jan was harboring seventeen Jews in a very quiet neighborhood where everybody knew everybody else’s business. He managed to prevent his neighbors from finding out what was going on by making sure his Jewish guests maintained complete silence. Some of them huddled in the house behind drawn curtains; others stayed in the attic and an additional secret hiding spot underneath the roof. The one giveaway was the large amount of bread people saw Jan carrying, so he told his neighbors that he was starting a breadcrumb business.
It was exceedingly difficult for eighteen people to live together in the small cottage, and Jan’s mother offered her home in a bombed-out section of the Hague as a second sanctuary. Several of the Jews traveled there in the dead of night and Mrs. Klein fed them and provided for their needs, as did Jan for the Jews he was hiding in Amsterdam. Jan forged relationships with members of the Dutch Resistance movement, and was able to obtain extra food ration cards to feed all the people in his care.
Somehow, the Germans found out about the Dutch mother and son who were secretly sheltering Jews. On February 16, 1944, the Gestapo raided both Klein households. They arrested all seventeen Jews, as well as Jan and Mrs. Klein. In the chaos of the raid Bob Denneboom managed to escape, perhaps using his exceptional physical prowess to outrun the Nazis. Everybody else was taken to concentration camps.
Bob’s parents, sister and brother-in-law, and other relatives were murdered in Auschwitz. Jan Klein was sent to Dachau, and his 65 year old mother went to a work camp in Vught, Holland. Thankfully, both Jan and his mother survived the war and returned to their homes. Of the seventeen Jews who were hidden by the Kleins, only three came back alive, including Roza Vos-Rijksman, who later married Bob Denneboom.
After the war, Jan went back to his quiet life as a gym teacher, and didn’t talk much about his heroic actions during the Nazi occupation. Bob and the other Jews saved by Jan told everyone they met about the generous Dutchman who opened his home and his heart to seventeen Jews, most of whom had been complete strangers to him before they moved into his small cottage.
Jan Kasper Klein was honored as Righteous Among the Nations by Israeli Holocaust Memorial Yad Vashem in 1974.
For hiding seventeen Jews, at great personal sacrifice, we honor Jan Kasper Klein – and his mother – as this week’s Thursday Heroes.
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