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Holocaust Rememberance Day 2016: Rachel Harel

A WIZO Israel leader's amazing history as a Jewish Holocaust heroine

May 04, 2016


רחל רוס הרץ הראל

WIZO's connection to the Holocaust does not begin and end with the terrible fact that its European branches and their members were destroyed during the Holocaust. WIZO became a second home to many Holocaust survivors after they immigrated to Israel and rebuilt their lives.

On the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel, we would like to bring you the story of Rachel Harel (Roos), a Holocaust heroine who joined the ranks of WIZO's leadership in Israel.

Rachel Roos was born in 1923 in Rotterdam, Holland. Two years after the Nazi takeover of Holland, amid rising danger, Rachel and her family were hidden by their employee Marta Nagtegaal, who also provided them with false documents and ration cards. 

Rachel, with her new Christian-Dutch cover, joined the Dutch underground forces in the countryside, as a courier. Traveling inconspicuously from village to village by bicycle, her main role was as a liaison between the partisan forces and activists who were involved in rescuing Jews and Nazi objectors.  On November 17th 1944 she was captured by Nazi forces and imprisoned in a facility for political prisoners. Despite repeated investigations, beatings and torture, Rachel did not reveal the identities of her comrades. Only because she had not been identified as a Jew or resistance combatant, she was not killed.

As the war progressed, and German forces lost control over territory, Rachel was transferred to the Westerbrook Camp with other political prisoners, where living conditions were especially dire. In April 1945, faced with oncoming Allied forces,  German troops abandoned the camp and forced the inmates on a death march, during which Rachel escaped. Rachel spent a night hiding with a Dutch farmer; the next day Holland was liberated.

Rachel went on to marry her longtime fiancé Marcel Hertz.  In 1946 she was awarded the United States Medal of Freedom and in 1948, the United Kingdom King's Medal for Courage in the Cause of Freedom. In 1950 Rachel and her husband moved to Israel, changing their family name to "Harel."

Rachel Harel joined WIZO in 1956 and was elected Chairperson of the Herzliya branch in 1980. She only told the entire, amazing story of her life in 1983, to an English-speaking group of WIZO women, (a recording of which is featured in this post's video).

Rachel died in 1989, on the way home from a ceremony in the Netherlands in which Yad Vashem recognized her saviors, the Nagtegaal family, as righteous gentiles.

On this Holocaust Remembrance Day WIZO would like to honor the memory and stories of its own heroes like Rachel Harel as well as all of the Holocaust victims and survivors in Israel and around the world.