true crime

Remembering the case of Marc Evonitz…

The featured photo is a screenshot of Richard Marc Edward Evonitz, a rapist, murderer, and coward who is no longer around to hurt people.

In early summer 2002, I was newly graduated from the University of South Carolina in Columbia, South Carolina. Bill and I were engaged to be married. He was working at the Pentagon. I was looking for a job.

We had just moved to Fredericksburg, Virginia. Why Fredericksburg? Because it’s a cute town, and because it reasonably offered me the chance to access work in Richmond, Northern Virginia, or Fredericksburg, itself. Also, Bill found a two bedroom apartment owned by the same (slumlord) apartment company that owned the building where he had been living in a studio apartment in Alexandria, Virginia. I think the rent in Fredericksburg was only marginally higher, and the complex offered more amenities.

So there we were in the summer of 2002. We were broke, but excited about our upcoming wedding. We had a new dog, a blue-eyed beagle/husky mix named CuCullain (C.C.). I was hopeful about the future, even if living in that apartment made me miserable. I’m definitely not cut out for communal living.

As I wrote cover letters and printed resumes, which I would then circulate, I watched a lot of TV– especially the news. During that summer, there was a true crime case that really intrigued me. It involved a man named Richard Marc Edward Evonitz.

Richard Marc Edward Evonitz is now long dead. He died by his own hand on June 27, 2002, at 38 years old. Looking back on it, Evonitz was probably smart to kill himself. He was not destined to enjoy the rest of his life. He had finally been caught, and if he hadn’t committed suicide surrounded by cops, he might have wound up on death row.

A true crime documentary about Richard Marc Evonitz’s crimes.

I remember hearing about this case when it happened, thinking it was so surreal that Evonitz and I had basically been in the same places within weeks of each other. I don’t think I would have been the type of victim he was hunting for, since all of his victims were teenaged girls. Still, I remember being really freaked out by this story. I’ve never forgotten this case after all of these years, mainly because I lived in the same places Evonitz did within weeks of his final criminal act.

Richard Marc Edward Evonitz was born and raised near Columbia, South Carolina, which was where I had lived from August 1999 until May 2002. He was born at Providence Hospital, a Catholic owned hospital in a part of Columbia near where I had done an internship. I used to drive past that hospital when I went to my social work field placement during my last semester at the university.

Known as Marc to avoid confusion with an uncle named Richard, Evonitz grew up as the oldest sibling in his family. He had two younger sisters, Kristen and Jennifer. He graduated from Irmo High School in 1980. I know where Irmo High School is. It’s not far from the university, either.

After he finished high school, Evonitz worked for Jiffy Lube for a time, then went on to join the United States Navy. He spent eight honorable years serving in the Navy, then left military service. He married twice, first to a woman named Bonnie Lou Gower, from whom he was divorced in 1996. Then in 1999, he married Hope Marie Crowley, and they were still wed at the time of his death in 2002.

There I was, back in the summer of 2002, living in Fredericksburg, Virginia, having just moved from Columbia, South Carolina, hearing about Marc Evonitz’s last crime on the news. Evonitz was of special interest in the Fredericksburg area. It turned out that he had kidnapped and murdered at least three teenaged girls who lived in Spotsylvania County, very close to the Fredericksburg area, during the 1990s. He is also suspected of a 1994 rape and abduction and a 1995 rape in Massaponax, Virginia, which is also very close to Fredericksburg.

But as of June 2002, when Evonitz died by suicide, no one knew that he was guilty of those crimes that had taken place in Virginia. At that point in time, it wasn’t known who had abducted, raped, and murdered 16 year old Sofia Silva on September 9, 1996. The May 1, 1997 rapes, abductions, and murders of 15 year old Kristin and 12 year old Kati Lisk were also unsolved. Authorities had been searching for clues for years, but they kept coming up empty handed. It took the actions of a brave and clever 15 year old girl– Evonitz’s last victim– to finally solve those crimes.

On June 24, 2002, Evonitz abducted 15 year old Kara Robinson. She had been in her friend’s front yard, minding her own business, just as the girls Evonitz abducted and murdered in Virginia had been. Evonitz approached Kara, friendly at first, offering her magazines. Then he brandished a handgun and forced her into a Rubbermaid container in the trunk of his car. He bound her hands and feet and gagged her, warning her not to scream. The whole time, Kara was paying close attention to everything. She was hyperaware of everything she was seeing, hearing, and feeling as they traveled to the apartment where Evonitz lived.

Evonitz took Kara inside his apartment, raped her, and tied her to his bed. She noticed the names on his mail, the red hair in his wife’s hairbrush, and the magnets on the refrigerator. She even thought to talk to Evonitz, and later described him as “cordial”. Prior to going to bed, Evonitz made Kara smoke marijuana with him, and gave her a Valium. While Evonitz slept, Kara managed to free herself, using her teeth. She fled the apartment in bare feet, still wearing fuzzy blue handcuffs, and went to the police, where she was able to identify Evonitz. Kara says that the police were initially kind of skeptical, but they finally called her mother. The deputies took Kara back to the scene of the crime before they took her to the hospital.

Upon discovering that his captive had escaped, Evonitz took off, eventually ending up in Sarasota, Florida, where his dash for freedom was ended by the police. As the cops surrounded him, demanding that he surrender, Evonitz cowardly opted to end his life. He put his handgun in his mouth and pulled the trigger.

Police searched Evonitz’s apartment, and soon found “trophies” that Evonitz had collected– evidence that Kara had not been his first and only victim. Richland County police officers discovered clues that would finally shed light on crimes Evonitz had perpetrated in Spotsylvania, Virginia in the 1990s… crimes that, in June 2002, had not been solved.

After Evonitz died, the police analyzed what was left of his life. In the course of their investigation, police found that Richard Marc Edward Evonitz’s hair matched hair that was found on the bodies of Sofia Silva and Kristin and Kati Lisk. They also found blue acrylic fibers from the “fuzzy handcuffs” that Evonitz owned, that matched fibers found on the three victims from Virginia. And then, five years after Kristin Lisk’s death, investigators found her fingerprints and a palm print in the trunk of Evonitz’s car. Finally, the families of those young victims could rest assured that the man who killed their daughters would never have the chance to hurt anyone else.

I remember seeing a news report about this case soon after Evonitz killed himself. Kara Robinson was interviewed at the time, and I remember hearing her say something along the lines of “Picking me was the dumbest thing Marc Evonitz ever did.” She sounded so tough and defiant. I was astonished by her bravery and ability to keep her wits about her. She was just fifteen years old at the time. I remember what I was like at that age… and I am just flabbergasted by how amazingly brave and strong she was… and apparently still is. YouTube tells me that Kara now thrives in a law enforcement career.

Here’s a somewhat recent interview of Kara Robinson Chamberlain. She is interviewed by Elizabeth Smart, who was also famously kidnapped in June of 2002, and also managed to survive her ordeal.

Actually now that I think about it, 2002 was a terrible year for abductions. I remember there was a lot of news about girls being abducted and murdered all across the country. Elizabeth Smart probably had the highest profile case, as she was abducted in June 2002, at just 14 years old. That summer, there were so many tragic and horrifying cases of girls being victimized.

That was also around the time of the Beltway Sniper case, which also had strong ties to Fredericksburg, as a couple of people were murdered there. I remember how Bill would never let me walk behind him during that scary time in October 2002, as the snipers had been randomly shooting people at gas stations up and down the I-95 corridor, seemingly without any rhyme or reason. We actually lived a couple of miles from a mall and a gas station where people were shot on different occasions. It was terrifying, and went on for a couple of weeks before the killers were finally captured.

Looking back on our brief time in Fredericksburg– a town that is about 90 miles from where I had grown up, and had always regarded as a really cute place– now makes me think of criminal behavior. That area is also near where Erin McCay George committed murder when she shot her husband for insurance money in 2001. I went to college with Erin, and was there when she embezzled money from our alma mater.

We also lived in Fredericksburg at around the time Erika and Benjamin Sifrit committed their crimes in Ocean City, Maryland. The Sifrits had ties to Fredericksburg, because Erika had gone to college at Mary Washington College (now known was the University of Mary Washington). They committed two very bloody murders just fifteen days after Bill and I moved to Fredericksburg, and their story was all over the news in Fredericksburg at that time.

Kara Robinson Chamberlain went on to become a police officer in Columbia, South Carolina. Below is a video of Kara speaking in Fredericksburg, Virginia, a community that is no doubt so grateful to her for helping to solve the cases of Sofia Silvia and Kristin and Kati Lisk. She truly is a heroine in every sense of the word.

What an amazing, brave, young lady she was, and still is.

I still think it’s so weird, how close I’ve been to some pretty horrifying true crime cases. After my car was broken into at our crappy apartment complex in Fredericksburg, and we had a brush with a creepy guy who was going door to door, casing the area, I started paying a lot more attention to the crime statistics in Fredericksburg. I discovered that the apartment complex where we lived was a hotbed of criminal activity ranging from drug busts to rapes.

I feel pretty fortunate that I managed to escape living there having only had my window busted in my car, as some lowlife thieves tried and failed to steal my aftermarket CD player. We moved not long after that happened. I see that now, the Fredericksburg Police Department has an office next to the complex where we used to live. It’s probably a good place for them to be, given the historically high crime rate in that neighborhood. Looking on Google Maps, I can see that where there used to a big field where I walked C.C., there’s now a landscaped road leading to the police station. The boulevard running past the complex is now a four lane highway. It had been a two lane road when we were there.

I’ve often thought that in another life, I might have been a true crime writer… and now I’m so grateful to live in Germany, which has its crime issues, but none as dramatic as those in Fredericksburg. I’ll never again think of it as a quaint, picturesque town.

Standard
healthcare, law

One brave Texas physician has already defied the new abortion ban…

The featured photo was taken at a Mexican restaurant in San Antonio, where Bill and I lived before we moved back to Germany, and where our absentee ballot votes go when it’s election time.

Abortion is probably the last thing I want to write about today. That’s why I reposted four book reviews. Trust me… this is a topic I’m getting really tired of revisiting over and over again. I feel like this issue should have been settled about fifty years ago. But it’s hot news right now, and too many people seem to think it’s right to deny women this basic right to determine what happens to their own bodies. So here I am, writing about this again…

Actually, today’s post may be a bit more upbeat than outraged. One of the first news items I read this morning was in the Washington Post. It was about San Antonio based OB-GYN Dr. Alan Braid, who wrote an op-ed about how, on September 6, 2021, he violated Texas’s new abortion ban law. A woman received an abortion from him. Although she was still in her first trimester, she was further along in the pregnancy than six weeks. According to the article:

“I understand that by providing an abortion beyond the new legal limit, I am taking a personal risk, but it’s something I believe in strongly,” Alan Braid, a San Antonio OB/GYN, said in an op-ed in The Washington Post. “I have daughters, granddaughters and nieces. I believe abortion is an essential part of health care. . . . I can’t just sit back and watch us return to 1972.”

As I read that part of the article, all I could think of was– wow… what a BRAVE man. This is a man who cares about women and women’s health. He’s put himself at great risk. I would say that not only is his career at risk, but his very life could be at risk. He practices medicine in a state where just about anyone is allowed to carry a gun, and there are many religious nuts running amok.

I had to read Dr. Braid’s op-ed for myself, so I clicked the link in the article I read about it. In his opinion piece, Dr. Braid explains that he started practicing medicine on July 1, 1972. I was eleven days old on the day Dr. Braid began taking care of women’s health. I will be 50 on my next birthday. This is a man who has been in his field for a LONG time, and has seen and done a lot.

Dr. Braid graduated from the University of Texas medical school, and during his time as a med student, he was taught that abortions are an “integral part” of women’s health care. However, when he began practicing, abortions were effectively outlawed. It was only legal for a pregnant woman to get one if a psychiatrist certified that she was suicidal. I find that limitation curious, given that some women have medical issues that would also call for terminating a pregnancy for the sake of her health.

In those days, if a woman wanted an abortion, Dr. Braid would advise her to travel to a state where abortion was legal– California, New York, or Colorado. Some would go over the border to Mexico, which incidentally just recently decriminalized abortion. That’s interesting, isn’t it? It used to be, people from Mexico would come to the United States for medical care; but now, thanks to the extremely high prices of medical care and ridiculous laws such as Texas’s S.B. 8, Mexico may soon see more American women coming into the country for medical care.

As of September 1, 2021, Dr. Braid found himself in a similar situation that he faced in 1972. A 42 year old woman came to see him. She was pregnant, though she already had four children, three of whom were under age 12. Dr. Braid told her she should go to Oklahoma, a nine hour trip one way. He even told her he could help with the funding. The woman said, “Who’s going to take care of my kids? What about my job? I can’t miss work.”

Dr. Braid wrote:

Though we never ask why someone has come to our clinic, they often tell us. They’re finishing school or they already have three children, they’re in an abusive relationship, or it’s just not time. A majority are mothers. Most are between 18 and 30. Many are struggling financially — more than half qualify for some form of financial aid from us.

Several times a month, a woman confides that she is having the abortion because she has been raped. Sometimes, she reports it to the police; more often, she doesn’t.

Texas’s new law makes no exceptions for rape or incest.

And I have noticed that Texas is also doing nothing to help pregnant women, either. I have not read or heard of any child or family friendly policies being put into place to help pregnant women get the care they need. I have not heard for a push for better sex education or making contraception widely available, easily affordable, and accessible to everyone. I have heard a lot of slut shaming, though.

Yesterday, I read another article about this new law. The focus was on Johnathan Mitchell, the main architect of this legislation that violates women’s self-determination and privacy. Mr. Mitchell is a graduate of Wheaton College in Illinois, a very conservative Christian school. I knew about it before I heard about Mitchell, since I once worked with a guy who attended there. It was back in the 1990s. I remember my co-worker was very smart, even though he was selling ice cream at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia. He was also VERY Christian. Anyway, I digress… except to say that I know Wheaton College is a prestigious, selective school, but it’s also a school for Christians.

Mr. Mitchell wrote, in a brief for the Supreme Court:

“Women can ‘control their reproductive lives’ without access to abortion; they can do so by refraining from sexual intercourse… One can imagine a scenario in which a woman has chosen to engage in unprotected (or insufficiently protected) sexual intercourse on the assumption that an abortion will be available to her later. But when this court announces the overruling of Roe, that individual can simply change their behavior in response to the court’s decision if she no longer wants to take the risk of an unwanted pregnancy.”

Based on this comment, I’m assuming that Mitchell doesn’t believe that women can get pregnant as a result of rape and incest. I’m guessing he’s akin to Missouri Republican Todd Akin, who famously said “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

Did either of these two men ever take a biology class? Have either or them ever studied sex education? Sure, women sometimes get pregnant because they, or their partners, or both parties were “careless”. But not all sexual intercourse is consensual and, in spite of what these men seem to believe, sometimes women DO end up pregnant afterwards.

Aside from that, sometimes pregnancy makes women very sick. Sometimes it even threatens their lives. I don’t understand why, in the age of healthcare privacy laws such as HIPAA, a woman should have to justify her need or desire for an abortion to anyone. But I haven’t heard or seen any provisions in the new Texas law that allows for that scenario, either. Instead, the law encourages neighbors to spy on each other and file lawsuits in healthcare situations that absolutely none of their business. What makes this law even more sickening is the fact that the people might theoretically sue haven’t suffered a personal loss due to a woman’s decision to have an abortion. But, by suing, they may stand to gain a financial incentive, which seems very unethical to me.

I will admit, however, that Mr. Mitchell is certainly correct that a woman can “refrain” (I hate that word) from having sexual intercourse. And, quite frankly, it would serve the men of Texas right if women went on a sex strike and denied them that pleasure. In fact, I hope Mitchell isn’t having sex and never does again. If I were his wife, I would certainly keep my legs closed around him. He should be deeply ashamed of himself.

In another article I read about this issue, author Chavi Eve Karkowsky writes:

“Every week, I see examples of morally necessary pregnancy terminations that, under the Texas law, could put doctors in legal jeopardy. In one case, a 14-year-old with brain damage had been raped by a caregiver. In another, my diagnostic ultrasound 15 weeks into a patient’s pregnancy showed that her fetus had developed an empty space where a brain should be and would not survive more than a few hours past birth. In another case, a patient, whose heart had become weak during her previous pregnancy and had never fully recovered, sought an abortion so she could live to care for her toddler.”

Can you even imagine? Can you fathom being a woman in any of those situations? Or a doctor? It’s sickening.

I totally get that many people find abortion distasteful and morally wrong. I find it distasteful, too. It’s probably not a choice I would make for myself, but I can’t say I would never make it. Because there are situations when it really is the right thing to do. I am lucky enough to be in a situation in which I could go elsewhere for an abortion if I needed one. I am also at a point in my life at which I won’t be affected by potential pregnancies.

However, this new law does open up a Pandora’s Box that could affect other people besides women of childbearing age. Who’s to say that, based on this precedent, lawmakers don’t try to screw with people’s healthcare privacy in other areas? What if a law was designed to deny vasectomies to men? What if we incentivized private citizens into reporting on the men who want vasectomies by offering a $10,000 bounty? That’s just one example off the top of my head. The same theory could easily extend into other controversial areas… say, gender reassignment therapy, or marijuana use, or euthanasia… I’m sure I could think of more if I tried.

Anyway, my hat is off to Dr. Alan Braid. I think he’s a hero. This may be one of the most lifesaving actions he’s ever taken in his entire medical career. I know he’s a good man. I knew it when I read this comment from him:

I have daughters, granddaughters and nieces. I believe abortion is an essential part of health care. I have spent the past 50 years treating and helping patients. I can’t just sit back and watch us return to 1972.”

What a dedicated, brave, inspirational, kind, and excellent doctor Dr. Alan Braid is. He deserves all of the respect and all of the support that is coming to him.

Standard
book reviews

Repost: Review of Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters by Chesley Sullenberger…

And here is a repost of a review I wrote on September 22, 2016. It appears here as/is.

How many times have you gotten on an airplane, tuned out the flight attendants’ safety briefing, and just took it for granted that you would make it safely to your destination?  I’m sure I’ve done it more than once in my lifetime.  I’m sure that many of the people who boarded US Airways’ Flight 1549 from New York to Charlotte on January 15th, 2009 also took it for granted that they would be taking a run of the mill flight.  There were 155 passengers and crew on that airplane that day.  How many of them had been lulled into a state of complacency?  How many of them are still complacent seven years after their flight landed in the Hudson River, just minutes after take off?

Like a lot of people, I very well remember reading and hearing about Flight 1549 and its pilot, Chesley B. Sullenberger, affectionately nicknamed Sully, who managed to ditch the aircraft in the river after its engines were overcome by a flock of Canadian geese.  This year, the film Sully is being released, with Tom Hanks playing the title role.  I suppose it was the buzz about Sully that made me decide to download 2009’s Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters.  Written by Chesley B. Sullenberger and ghost writer Jeffrey Zaslow, Highest Duty is basically Sully’s life story in book form.  But it’s also the story of what happened on that fateful day in January, when all of Sully’s years of flying and thousands of hours of training came down to one moment when he and his co-pilot, Jeff Skiles, had 155 lives in their hands.

Highest Duty begins at the very beginning, as Sullenberger describes growing up in Texas and being fascinated by flight.  He found early inspiration and training in a local crop duster, who taught him the basics of flight and rented him the use of his plane and air strip.  Later, he went on to attend the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where he was trained to fly bigger airplanes, skills he used as an Air Force officer.  I got a kick out of reading about Sully’s training, especially since it turns out he and my dad were stationed in England during the same time.  Sully was at Lakenheath Air Force Base and my dad was at Mildenhall Air Force Base; the two are very close to each other.  Of course, Sully is a lot younger than my dad, so they were not running in the same circles.

After leaving the Air Force, Sully began his career as a commercial pilot.  He writes about how difficult it was, even back before commercial airlines had to contend with the challenges they face today.  There were more pilots than open positions and everything an airline does is based on seniority.  Sully just happened to be at the right place at the right time when he scored his first job.

This man is a hero.

Like many people, Captain Sullenberger fell in love and got married.  His wife, Lorrie, has been along for the ride, coping with Sully’s many trips away from home.  They have two adopted daughters, Kate and Kelly, and live near San Francisco, California, which is where Sully’s first job was based.  As airlines began disappearing, swallowed by bankruptcies or mergers, Sully’s “home base” changed.  In 2009, he was based out of Charlotte, North Carolina, but still commuted from California. 

As he made his way to that fateful flight out of New York, Sully worried about his finances.  I’m sure he never dreamed that he’d one day write books… or be the subject of a major motion picture with Tom Hanks playing him in the starring role.  No… on January 15th, 2009, Sully was thinking about his looming mandatory retirement and the property he owned that had been leased by a Jiffy Lube franchiser.  The franchiser had decided not to renew the lease and Sully wondered how he would pay the mortgage.  Sully’s pension had dwindled down to being worth a fraction of what it once was.  And he lived in a very expensive part of the country.  It’s a feeling many readers will be able to relate to, even before he gets to the story about his historic landing in the Hudson River.

Those who do decide to read this book may want to know that it’s not all about that flight.  In fact, readers are “teased” throughout the book as he mentions the event that put him in the public eye, but writes more about what led up to that moment.  Some readers may find that technique a little tedious and frustrating.  I know I picked up Sully’s book because I wanted to read about how he ditched the airplane in the river, but I now appreciate reading about how Sullenberger became the man and the pilot he is.  Aside from that, he has spent so many years in the airline business that he offers some interesting trivia about it.  In fact, he even laments how sad he thinks it is that so few children are interested in seeing the cockpit anymore.  Nowadays, kids are plugged into any number of devices.  It doesn’t occur to them to want to stop in and see where Sully works.  He mentions that a lot of people seem to think pilots are not much better than glorified bus drivers. 

Anyway… I pretty much hate flying in airplanes and try to avoid them when I can.  But I can definitely appreciate a book about how the airline industry works, especially when it’s written by a man who could be credited with keeping so many people safe when they could have been so easily killed.  Think about it.  It’s a miracle that 155 people were able to go home to their families after Sully ditched their airplane in an ice cold river.  Through his talented ghost writer, Sully even describes how it felt to receive his personal effects months later, after they were found by the company contracted to take care of that.  He muses that most people who receive personal personal effects after a plane crash are the people who have survived the crash victims.  But there he was, receiving a box of his stuff that happened to be on the plane.  Everything was there, save for an $8 tuna sandwich he purchased and never had the chance to eat.  And he was the one to take possession of that stuff, not his wife and children.  It’s amazing.

I think Highest Duty is well worth reading.  I give it a solid four stars.

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.

Standard
book reviews, history

Repost: A review of Flory Van Beek’s book, Flory: Survival in the Valley of Death

Here’s another reposted book review. I read Flory: Survival in the Valley of Death in June 2018 and have decided to repost my review of it as/is today, since I hadn’t yet done it.

Every once in awhile, I go on a book buying spree on Amazon.com.  A couple of weeks ago, I was browsing Amazon’s suggested books for me and I noticed one called Flory: Survival in the Valley of Death.  Originally published in 1999, this book was written by Flory Van Beek, a Dutch Jew who survived the Holocaust thanks to good-hearted Christians who sheltered her and her husband, Felix, during World War II.  I downloaded the 2009 version of Van Beek’s book, never having heard of it before I read it.

Flory’s story…

Flory Van Beek was born in Rotterdam, The Netherlands in 1924, the youngest of four children.  She was her parents’ youngest child by quite a few years, and her father died in an accident when she was five years old.  Flory’s parents were Orthodox Jews who were close to both sides of their family.  After her father’s death, her mother moved to the town where she’d grown up, Amersfoort.  There, young Flory enjoyed a good education and proximity to her mother’s side of the family, which was reportedly much more religious than her father’s side had been.  Flory writes that everyone had faith in the Dutch royal family, led by Queen Wilhelmina.  Her mother reassured her that Holland would stay neutral and remain unaffected by Hitler’s hostility toward Jewish people.  She describes an idyllic upbringing in The Netherlands with plenty of exposure to music and sports.

As Flory grew into a young woman, political tensions developed between Germany and the rest of Europe.  Hitler had taken charge of the German government and was inexorably invading surrounding countries and systematically exterminating people who threatened him.  Jewish people were at the top of Hitler’s list of people to hate.  Flory Van Beek describes what it was like as Hitler gradually took over, confiscating businesses and homes of Jewish people and deporting them to concentration camps.

Sixteen year old Flory met Felix Van Beek one day while she was hanging out at the tennis courts; he had asked her to play a doubles set with him.  Felix was a twenty-five year old German man who had immigrated to Holland with his brothers and worked for an import-export grain company.  Felix and Flory became friends who eventually developed romantic feelings toward each other.  As their relationship bloomed, the Germans continued to threaten Holland. 

Many Jewish people tried to flee Europe.  In May 1939, the S.S. St. Louis, a large passenger ship, left Germany.  Some of Felix’s family members were aboard the ship, which was destined for Havana, Cuba.  Cuba had granted visas to German refugees; however, when the ship approached Havana, it was not allowed to dock.  The ship turned back toward Germany, with some hoping that the United States would allow the refugees to disembark in Miami.  Unfortunately, U.S. officials also refused to harbor the refugees.  Many of them eventually died in concentration camps, although some European countries did take in some of the refugees.  Among those who landed in Holland was one of Felix’s relatives.  By June of 1939, it became clear that Jewish people were no longer safe in Europe. 

Felix decided he no longer wanted to stay in Holland.  Felix convinced Flory’s family to let him take her by ship to Argentina by way of Chile.  In November 1939, the two were booked in separate cabins on the S.S. Simon Bolivar.  One night into their trip, the ship collided with a German mine.  Felix and Flory were both seriously injured, but they were among the 274 of the 400 passengers on the ship who were rescued.  The couple recuperated in England for several months before they went back to Holland, where the political situation had become ever more dire.

The Nazis had demanded that Jewish people start wearing Stars of David on their clothes so that they could be easily identified.  One day, Flory went to the grocery store, against her mother’s wishes.  The family needed food to eat.  She’d had to go during the two hours per day when Jews were allowed to shop.  At the store, she met the man who would save her and Felix from extermination.  A man named Piet, who had been riding a bicycle, stopped Flory and said, “What the hell are you doing here with that damned star on your blouse?  Take that damned thing off and follow me.”  Flory did as the man ordered.

Piet Brandsen and his wife, Dina, were a Catholic couple raising four young daughters.  He led Flory into his house and asked her to tell him her story.  He told his family that Flory was a Jewish girl who needed help, since the Germans were systematically executing Jews.  Piet said it was the family’s duty to help and that they must take her in and hide her.  Piet took Flory to her home, then returned the following morning to speak to Flory’s mother and take her to his house.  Felix had gone to Amsterdam in an attempt to get paperwork that would give them a stay before they were sent to Germany to “work”.  In June 1942, Flory had received a summons to Germany and Felix was trying to get her an extension. 

While Felix was in Amsterdam, among throngs of many desperate Jews trying to obey the insane laws put in place by the Nazis, the Germans arrived and started herding people to concentration camps.  Felix managed to flee and made it home, just in time to join Flory at the Brandsens’ home.  Since the Brandsens’ were observant Catholics, they insisted that Felix and Flory marry before they were allowed to share the one room they had available.

Three heroic families…

For the next few years, Felix and Flory remained in hiding, sheltered by kind and patriotic Catholic families who protected them.  Throughout those years, they quietly worked with the resistance against the Nazis.  They survived illnesses and dental traumas, thanks to compassionate healthcare providers who were willing to look the other way.  Piet was even arrested and sent to a camp at one point, although he was eventually released.  Flory lovingly writes the story of how through the efforts of decent people who cared, she and Felix were able to survive the Nazi occupation. Sadly, many members of Flory’s and Felix’s families did not live.  Several perished at Sobibor, including Flory’s mother.  A few died of illnesses.

In 1948, Flory and Felix were able to immigrate to the United States.  They lived in Newport Beach, California, where Felix co-founded a Jewish temple.  Both died in 2010. 

My thoughts…

This book was fascinating to me on many levels.  First of all, it was very hard not to see the parallels of what is happening in the United States with what happened in Europe during the 1940s.  While I’m not sure Donald Trump is going to be able to accomplish what Hitler did, there are a lot of similarities between his leadership style and Hitler’s.  Flory’s vivid descriptions of how Jewish people were rounded up and deported are eerily similar to some of the stories I’ve read about how illegal aliens in the United States are being treated now.

Secondly, my heart was warmed by the courageous Catholic families who did their best to resist the Nazi regime and help Jewish people who were being persecuted.  These families were fine examples of real Christians.  I was particularly moved by how close Flory and Felix were to the people who helped them. 

Thirdly, more than once, as I was reading this book, I couldn’t help but look at the place where I’m currently living and shake my head in disbelief.  It’s hard to reconcile the way Germans were in the 1940s to how they are now.  It just goes to show you that countries are made up of all kinds of people.  There is a pervasive sense of shame among Germans today about what happened during World War II.  They do not joke about those days.  And yet, as Flory said, “[The Holocaust] is history, and it should never ever happen again.  War, I don’t know. But persecutions? . . . If you die for your country, it is one thing. But to be persecuted because you have a certain religion is unbelievable.  What the Germans did, it can never be made good–ever, ever, ever, no matter what they say.”

I have noticed in the wake of Trump’s disastrous G7 meeting, many media reports of other countries getting fed up with Trump and his antagonistic policies.  Americans are commenting on those posts, hoping to remind people in other countries that not every American is an asshole.  Fortunately, it seems that many people understand that, despite the Twilight Zone political climate we’re in right now.  Still, I can’t help but worry about what’s going to happen if Trump’s bullshit isn’t reined in soon. 

Finally, Felix and Flory were an amazing couple.  They were married for over sixty years and managed to touch so many lives.  They were not able to have children of their own; a baby girl Flory delivered in 1946 was stillborn.  However, they did eventually adopt a son, Isaiah, who sadly died of brain cancer in 1970.  He was just sixteen years old.  They named the temple after him.   

Flory apparently tried many times to write her story, but each time she’d start her manuscript, she’d have to stop because emotion would overwhelm her.  In 1997, she finally decided once and for all to write her book.  It was published in 1998 and remains a very relevant book twenty years hence.  I’m so glad I had the chance to read Flory’s amazing story.  I hope you’ll read it, too.

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission on sales made through my site.

Standard