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Research: Courage, Sacrifice, and Survival

News Story

Professor Elliot Hearst and Angelica Roman ’19 embarked on a student-faculty research project that tells the remarkable story of a Holocaust survivor from Amsterdam.

“Professor Hearst was in connection with Elly’s daughter—he wanted to write something about it and do more research, and asked me to come aboard—he knew I was really passionate about World War II and remembering stories of Holocaust survivors, and I was very excited to take on such a journey.”

Those are the words of Pforzheimer Honors College and Philosophy and Religious Studies major Angelica Roman ’19. Roman assisted Professor Elliot Hearst in the research paper titled Escape from The List: Courage, Sacrifice, Survival, which tells the story of Holocaust survivor Elisabeth (Elly) Rodrigues Lopes de la Peña, a Jewish girl living in the Netherlands, whose family had escaped Spain during the Spanish Inquisition.

Elly, who was able to survive the Holocaust in part through the generosity and courage two separate Dutch families, had a similar upbringing in Amsterdam to Anne Frank. As Hearst notes however, his mission was to bring to light stories that might not be as well known, or even undiscovered, and thus embark on a story of “courage, sacrifice, and survival.”

Aided in part with a student-faculty research grant from the Office of Student Success, Hearst began by taking a trip right down the block to the Anne Frank Center with his ENG 120 students, which included Roman, in the spring of 2016. At the time the class was studying Frank’s writings and the brave citizens that helped hide her.  

“We took a trip to the Anne Frank Center, which is only a block away from the New York City Campus. There I made a contact with the education director who provided me with an introduction to the folks who run the Anne Frank House over in Amsterdam,” says Hearst.

From there, through a serendipitous connection, he was able to establish contact with Carolyn Stewart, Elly’s daughter.

“Carolyn and I started corresponding, and that’s how I learned about Elly’s story. Carolyn traveled up from Maryland to New York just to meet with myself and Angelica,” says Hearst.

Hearst then proceeded to travel to the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam and uncovered a number of artifacts and details related to Elly’s story, and he and Roman began piecing together a narrative.

“We had an entire layout of the story of Elly, given to us through meeting with Carolyn,” says Roman. “What I primarily did, was I looked more into the stories that needed to be explained more thoroughly.”

Among these stories include that of Bert Bochove, a Dutch pharmacist who managed to hide 37 Jews in his own home in over the course of the Nazi occupation. Bochove and his wife, Annie, initially hid Elly, her brother, and her parents as the conditions around Amsterdam grew dangerous. As Roman uncovered, Bochove hid the Rodrigues family in an attic above his store which they shared with another family—and as the paper notes, the family had to lie still for eight hours when Bert’s store was open during the day.

This is just one among the many other heartbreaking, courageous, and inspiring anecdotes that make up Elly’s story. In the 40 page research paper, Hearst and Roman chart the progression of Elly’s time in hiding, culminating in the Nazi defeat, her subsequent adoption by her caretaker Margriet Bogaards, and her eventual marriage to fellow Holocaust survivor Ernest Cassutto—with whom she moved to America.

The paper is a detailed exploration of one of the world’s darkest times, and highlights a number of individuals who displayed remarkable courage in the face of grave danger.

Roman, who hopes to attend law school following her time at Pace, viewed this research project as an invaluable experience that will help her along her Pace Path.

“I can definitely say that I went into some legal background concerning WWII, and included that in the story of Elly. I came into Pace wanting to go to law school, and after researching with Professor Hearst, I definitely want to continue that pathway to law school.”

All in all, the mentor-mentee relationship that was fostered through this student-faculty research project proved extremely fruitful, and produced an end result Hearst and Roman are quite proud of.

Says Roman, “Professor Hearst’s goal was to tell this story in a compelling manner. We spent countless hours e-mailing, working, trying to really do justice to such a beautiful story. Seeing the end result—seeing our final report all together—has made me immensely proud in being involved in a Dyson Humanities Studies research project.”