Spokane woman honored for life-saving resistance work during World War II

holocaust survivor

SPOKANE, Wash. — A Spokane woman who stood up to unspeakable evil during World War II has been named Washingtonian of the Year.

Carla Peperzak was a teenager in her home country of Holland when Germany invaded. Nazis soon began to deport Jews to German concentration camps. While there is no singular document that cited how many were killed, scholars believe about 6 million Jews were murdered during this time.

“It is almost impossible to convey what life was then and how difficult it was,” Peperzak.

As Nazis picked people off the streets, Peperzak’s father took a step to protect his family. Peperzak said he managed to get her an ID without a “J” on it, thereby helping her hide her Jewish heritage.

While Peperzak didn’t wear the Star of David, she was determined to help those who had to. So she joined the Dutch Resistance. Peperzak recalled hiding people away, creating new IDs for them, and helping them get food. She also published a newsletter that highlighted the work of Allied forces.

“One actually could say it was my way of fighting the Germans, but it was much more than that,” Peperzak said. “It was really if you can help people and you see there is a terrible need and you can do it, do it.”

So, she spent years helping. Peperzak helped save dozens of lives.

Peperzak lived a lifetime during those wartime years. For decades, what happened was too painful to share. Then, Peperzak came to a realization.

“Fifteen or 20 years ago I started to realize that it was important because so many people know nothing about the Holocaust,” Peperzak said.

New data backs that up. A recently released Pew Research study showed fewer than half of U.S. adults can correctly answer multiple-choice questions about the number of Jews who were murdered or the way Adolf Hitler came to power.

Peperzak works to change that with each speaking event at local schools and other events. She said it’s a chore every time, but it’s terribly important. She believes her stories can help prevent the past from repeating itself.

“They have to know,” Peperzak said.

With that knowledge comes power. Peperzak said despite having seen so much evil, she still believes most people are good.

“Maybe only a handful of people who can make miserable for everybody else. But, most people try to be good and I really believe in that,” Peperzak said. “So I try to see the pest in a person.”

The 96-year-old will be recognized as Washingtonian of the Year at a special event in Olympia February 20th. Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig called her a hero.

“This recognition is a fitting tribute to a remarkable and courageous person that continues to make sure we never forget the atrocities of the Holocaust,” Billig said.

Billig and other community members are encouraging the Spokane School Board to name a new middle school after Peperzak. You can read Billig’s letter to the board here.

Read more about Peperzak’s life in this memoir.

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