by Tricia White | Managing Editor
Ninety-two year old Holocaust survivor Marie “Rie” Spronk-Hughes may take a few extra minutes to get to the podium, and you may have to lean in to hear her quiet voice (which matches her elegant demeanor), but mention bullying of any kind and this lamb quickly becomes a lion.
Rie and her sister Katy are the heroines in The Red Handkerchief: A Holocaust Memoir by Y.M. (Yvonne) Ward-Hughes, who also happens to be Rie’s daughter. Ward-Hughes wrote the courageous true story of her mother and aunt and their capture and imprisonment by the Nazis. In 1941, the two Roman-Catholic sisters were employed by a raincoat factory in Amsterdam that was taken over by the Nazis, and the employees were forced to make Nazi uniforms. The girls, aged 19 and 20, protested in a nationwide strike and ultimately began to sabotage the uniforms. In 1944 they were arrested and sent to Vught Concentration Camp for their ‘crime’ of standing up against the injustice they witnessed daily at the factory, including the deportation of every Jewish employee.
Part of the uniform the sisters were made to wear at the camp was a red handkerchief. Rie, hoping to remember the brave women in her barracks, asked each of them to sign their names and messages on it.
Unwilling to speak of her harrowing experience for 57 years, Rie was finally persuaded by her daughter to meet with Dr. Ariel Levy, the historian at the Houston Holocaust Museum. Today, the red handkerchief is part of a permanent exhibit at the museum.
Yvonne and Rie speak at schools to share their anti-bullying message. Here are excerpts from a recent 8th grade presentation in Plano:
“Thank you for telling your story. I can’t imagine what it was like to be taken from your home. You stood up for what you believed…you are a really strong woman for never giving up, never regretting anything, and most important of all, for never losing hope.” – Itzel R.
“(Hearing you speak) taught me to stand up for what I believe in, even if it could be dangerous. Even the smallest action could make a great impact in the world.” – Iris L.
“Now, after hearing your stories, I can stand up to injustice. I want to help you put an end to it.” – Avery K.