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Temple volunteer escaped Holocaust

Obituary

Local author published story in 1990 of how she and her husband hid from the Nazis.

July 02, 2010|By Tom Ragan
  • Flory Van Beek in May, 2006.
Flory Van Beek in May, 2006. (MARK DUSTIN, Daily…)

Flory Van Beek, a longtime Newport Beach resident and author who immigrated to the United States after escaping the Holocaust by hiding in Nazi-occupied Holland, has died of cancer. She was 95.

Van Beek, a faithful volunteer at Temple Isaiah in Newport Beach, died Wednesday at her Newport Beach home, said the temple's Rabbi Marc Rubenstein, who was by Mrs. Van Beek's side at her death.

"She was a wonderful woman, very warm and generous," Rubenstein said Friday. "I want to honor her memory. It's important that we honor her memory."

Born Dec. 3, 1914, Van Beek eventually chronicled her story in a book in 1990. It was called "Flory: Survival in the Valley of Death," in which she describes how she and future husband, Felix Van Beek, tried to flee the Germans in November 1939 aboard a 400-passenger ship.

However, the ship, the S.S. Simon Bolivar, which was on its way to South America, struck a German mine in the North Sea. More than 100 passengers perished. Felix and Flory were among 274 survivors, who were eventually treated in England.

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They later returned to Holland, where they were forced into hiding by the Nazi occupation.

Ultimately, the couple was taken in by a pair of Dutch Christian families, who risked their own lives to save the couple. The Van Beeks immigrated to the United States in 1948, eventually settling in Newport.

According to the book, Mrs. Van Beek came here with only a suitcase full of papers and photographs, which she had buried while hiding out during the Nazi occupation of Holland.

The material now forms one of the largest collections from the Netherlands housed in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., according to Mrs. Van Beek's biography online.

"They were married for over 60 years," Rubenstein said.

Mr. Van Beek died on Jan. 27 at the age of 97.

He founded Temple Isaiah in the 1970s, making it the second-oldest Jewish temple in Orange County. Mr. Van Beek was involved in real estate and was a businessman for most of his life, Rubenstein said, adding that Mrs. Van Beek ended up becoming a secretary at the temple, where she faithfully answered the phones for decades.

Mrs. Van Beek, who also worked for a law firm, was the director of the temple's choir and a member of the board, Rubenstein said, adding that she had always considered Temple Isaiah a "friendly congregation."

The couple never had children of their own, but they did adopt a son, Isaiah, after whom the temple has been named. He died of brain cancer.

Rubenstein said a funeral will be held at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday at Pacific View Mortuary, 3500 Pacific View Drive, Corona del Mar.

"She has one of the greatest stories around, and she was a one of the biggest givers in Orange County," Rubenstein said. "I will be eulogizing her life."

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