Given a Chance

Utrecht, Netherlands

The Kindjes Haven employed local girls from the neighborhood to work as assistants, and one of those girls was Jannie Spier. Jannie was sixteen years old at the time and ended up taking Philip home with the intention of asking her widowed mother, Jantje Spier, if she might be interested in taking care of him. Jantje Spier was faced with a difficult decision and rejected the idea because the penalty of harboring a Jew could be death. As Philip and Jannie were about to return to the orphanage, she told her mother that the boy’s name was Philip. Her mother hearing his name gave her pause, because her late husband’s name was also Philip. Jannie recalled her saying: “God took one Philip and brought another--we will take him.” That’s how Philip was taken in by the Spier family. He became familiar with his foster mother and would come to call her “Tante.” He became close to his foster siblings, Tiny (eighteen), Jannie (sixteen), Ans (fourteen), and Jopi (nine). With Jopi being the youngest, she spent most of her time with Philip. Jantje declared that she could not keep Philip inside the house all the time, so they were instructed to go outside and play. However, she told them to always be moving as to not cause any suspicion. When he was outside with Jopi, Philip admired the German soldiers when he would see them, because they were marching in their beautiful uniforms while singing. Philip told Jopi that when he grew up he wanted to be a German soldier.

The neighbors did not know any better and believed that Philip was just a kid from Indonesia staying with the Spier family. Philip blended in, but they needed to remain cautious and attentive at all times. There was one day when Philip peed in the bushes. A little neighbor girl saw that he was circumcised, which was not usual for non-Jewish boys. She had never seen anything like that, and mentioned it to her mother, who then confronted Philip’s foster mother—wanting to know if she was harboring a Jewish boy. Tante rejected that notion and explained to Philip he should do his business in private from then on.

Philip and his new foster family endured a challenging life throughout the remainder of the war. They had survived the “Hunger Winter” of 1944 and 1945, by using wood as their source for heat instead of coal, which was no longer available. During the freezing winters they did not always have heat. When they had no food, they would eat tulip bulbs to satiate themselves. The family also took another approach to obtain food and supplies. Philip’s foster sisters rode bicycles with no tires or they walked to farms. They would stay in farmers’ barns to sleep. Then the following day they would come home with food and sometimes covered in lice.

The Spier family lived near a German Depot which stored ammunition and supplies. There were times when the English troops would destroy nearby railroad tracks with machine guns, and they would bomb the German depots. There was a nearby bunker that was made for one person. Jopi threw Philip down and then threw herself on top of him to avoid getting hit by bullets. There were sirens that would signal if the Allies were coming or if it was safe. There weren’t any newspapers or radio broadcasts, so the family was not able to keep up with the latest news of the war. Philip lived with his foster family from 1942 through 1945, from the age of two through the age of five, when the Netherlands was finally liberated.