Why One Family Took the Risk

IN the end, food got so scarce that Aart and Johtje Vos established a rule. No one - neither themselves nor the people they hid from the Nazis - could talk about food except for one hour each day. In fact, they made a game of that special hour. ``Who remembers what a banana is?'' Mrs. Vos recalls the children being asked. Only the older ones knew the answer.

For 4 1/2 years during World War II, the Voses endured Nazi raids and risked their lives to hide Jews and others.

``I think it was common decency,'' says Mrs. Vos in a phone interview. Like many rescuers, she refuses to call herself courageous. ``You don't say, `Let's go and rescue some Jews.' That's not how it happened. It came to you.'' First a little boy and, eventually, many others came. Over the course of the war, 36 people stayed with the couple six months or longer - some for the entire war.

Why did they do it? Vos stresses the strict Christian upbringing that she and her husband received. Rescuers often had strong moral teaching from a particular parent, adds Rabbi Harold Schulweis, who has met or read about dozens upon dozens of rescuers. Typically, they had a history of nonconformity, a humanitarianism that transcended religious or ethnic identity, and usually, some association with Jews.

Beyond that, ``it's just remarkable how different the motivations are,'' Rabbi Schulweis says. ``Some will say, `I did it because Jesus was a Jew and these are his people.' And some will say, `I didn't do anything because, after all, I know that crucifixion story.'''

The Voses, now living in Woodstock, NY, did not tell their story for 20 years. But they are talking now, every chance they get, in the hopes that they can influence their grandchildren's generation.

``What we see in the schools, in the families, is that they don't get the values that we got,'' Vos says. ``That's what we are fighting for. And that will be an antidote for what our children have learned up to now.''

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