Dutch Physiotherapist Coss Weber in action at the Alyn Hospital.

faces of israel

Following his family legacy, Coss Weber, grandson of a Righteous Gentile, came to Israel to establish his life, which is dedicated to helping others. 

Coss Weber is a unique face on the Israeli scene.

The head physiotherapist at the Alyn hospital pediatric and adolescent rehabilitation facility in Jerusalem, Weber is the grandson of a Righteous among the Nations, a person who risked his life to save Jews during the Holocaust.

Bravery in the Holocaust

Weber was born in a small village near Amsterdam, Holland. His parents were farmers, and his grandparents, Jacobus Jonker and Henrika Jonker-Vendel, were leading figures in the Resistance against the Nazi occupation during World War II.

They were approached in the spring of 1944 with a dangerous request – to hide two Jews in their house. They agreed and hid Alexander de Groot and Dea de Groot-Vlessing, a Jewish couple in their 40s.

Later on, in the summer, the Gestapo arrested five members of the underground. One of them gave up Jacobus’s name after prolonged torture. That night Jacobus and the de Groot couple were arrested.

The de Groot family was deported to Auschwitz, where Alexander died during one of the death marches. Dea survived and returned to Holland, where she lived until her death in 1976.

Jacobus was sent to several concentration camps throughout Europe. He died in Bergen-Belzen after contracting Typhus.

Coss (Jacobus) Weber, named after his grandfather, had known some of his family story. “As a child, the story of my grandfather was always there somewhere in the background, especially around Dutch Remembrance Day on May 5, when my mother would lay flowers at the monument where my grandfather is commemorated,” Weber said in an interview with United with Israel (UWI).

“I must have been around 14 when I asked my mother to tell me what exactly happened to her father. She told me whatever she knew, or whatever she wanted to tell, which was not a lot. In hindsight, this probably made me curious and may have triggered my interest in WWII and the Holocaust from that age on.”

Righteous Among the Nations

Weber decided to visit Israel in 1989, spending the year as a volunteer at the Alyn children’s hospital. “What I remember from that period was an almost complete ignorance about Israel’s complicated society, both socially and politically. During the year I became much more aware about reality and how difficult it will be to change things. I lived here for a year on a no-budget but in hindsight had the time of my life and especially enjoyed living in and exploring Jerusalem,” Coss told UWI.

While in Israel he learned about Yad Vashem, the world’s central memorial for Holocaust victims, and their project to honor the Righteous among the Nations. After hearing his full family story, Coss decided to submit his grandparents’ names for the title. They were recognized by Yad Vashem in 1997.  “Only during my year as a volunteer did I find out that there is something that is called “Righteous among the Nations,” Coss said. “I spent quite some time in Yad Vashem; it was only then that I started to realize the extent of the Holocaust and the recognition of non-Jews as ‘Righteous among the Nations.'”

“It was also only then that I started to realize how much people appreciate and show gratitude for what my grandparents did in order to try to save Jews and the ultimate price my grandfather paid in doing so,” he continued. “Up till today I get these same reactions whenever I tell the story of my grandparents. Realizing the importance of Righteous among the Nations in Israel made it more important for me and my family to have my grandparents recognized.”

Weber visited Israel a few times until he finally decided to stay. He was invited by Alyn for a “temporary” position, which has lasted since 1995 until today.

Coss married an Israeli woman and has two daughters. He lectures on the Holocaust and has recently begun to pursue a Master’s degree in Holocaust Studies at the University of Haifa.

Israel – His True Home

Coss feels he has finally found what he had been looking for. “My grandparents’ story has become in some ways my story,” he explained. “I came here because I wanted to work with children and save them, and because I had a special attraction to Israel after what happened [to my family]. I feel I belong here, and I don’t see myself going back to Holland. For me, being here in Israel and doing what I do at the Alyn hospital, that is the closure I have been looking for, for a long time.”

Weber encounters the most difficult and outstanding cases while treating the children at Alyn, including those who had survived devastating accidents. “We actually give back to them some of the life they have lost,” he said. “There is nothing more satisfying. The work is tedious, and in most cases our successes provide us with satisfaction and hope. I come to work and leave work with a smile each day. I am not sure many people can say that.”

Author: Aryeh Savir
Staff Writer, United with Israel