Cassuto story in the Netherlands in a nutshell
The first Cassuto to appear in the Dutch registers is Ephraim Cassuto. We don't know where he was born, but possibly he was a cousin of Moses Vita Cassuto (grandson of Moses Vita's brother Ephraim), jeweler and merchant at Florence (Italy), who wrote a diary about his travels to Palestine and through Europe. There is some evidence that Ephraim resided or was possibly born in London, according to a marriage notice in the Amsterdam registers.
It is possible that he or his father (Juda) travelled to London in the first half of the 18 century to represent jewel business affairs there. In the view of the Florence Cassuto's there was an amazing freedom for the Jews in England and Holland compared to the ghetto life in Florence (see http://www.robcassuto.com/documentsmoz7.html )
Possibly Ephraim had stayed in Amsterdam to research into business possibilities and maybe he decided to establish himself there. In 1794 his wife Hanna Savie deceased. The birth date of Ephraim is not known nor is the date and place of his death (probably outside of the Netherlands, anyway outside of Amsterdam). There is a marriage notice in the Sephardi registers in Amsterdam of a marriage in 1738 of an Ephraim Cassuto (witness mother Ester), born in London 1719, with Gracia de Nathan Cohen (born in 1720). Most probably this is the same Ephraim, who apparently married twice.
The relation to Ephraim, the brother of Moses Vita is unclear. As it was custom to name the oldest son after the grandfather, maybe he was his grandson.
From then on the descendants of Ephraim lived in the Netherlands, mainly in Amsterdam,
apart from the Hamburg branch founded by Juda Mzn, who moved there in the course of the 19th century). Little is known of their life in the 19th century. They were not rich and lived in the Jewish quarter of Amsterdam, mainly consisting of overcrowded slums and horrible living conditions, though also there was apart from the “sores” much “simche” and “gein” (humour).
To appreciate the atmosphere of the Amsterdam jewish quarter, one must read the books of Meyer Sluyser. Their professions are mentioned as tailor, diamond cutter, religion teacher, housekeeper.
My (our) great-grandfather Moses Cassuto Jzn., born Sept.22 1841, Amsterdam - 1900 , The Hague, was a hair dresser, diamond cutter, later the profession of stock broker is mentioned, He had 11 children with the beautiful Deborah Coelho. We know little of him except that family tradition says he had no luck with keeping a job; nevertheless, he was a joyous man, who loved opera singing. My grandfather Isaac, his youngest son apart from David, was very reticent about his past and the family from which he came.
Five children passed away before the beginning of World War II: three daughters were murdered in Auschwitz. Isaac, Daniel (Theo, though he died in 1946) and David survived.
I consider one of Isaac's life motives was that of breaking away from the bonds of the Jewish traditional life and the social control of the family and the community. He chose the way of assimilation.
He was supported by his much elder brother Ernest, who had resolutely turned his back to Judaism and paid (part of) his law study. Though one remarkable fact must be mentioned. A rare photograph survived the time. It is a picture of the participants in the seventh Zionist congress in The Hague, 1907.
(view http://www.robcassuto.com/familyphotoc.html )
Two of the participants are Isaac and his future wife Caroline Winkel! They probably met each other there (my hypothesis) - and married a few years later, in 1912. It is the only sign of Zionism in the family and Zionism didn't stay long with them. In 1915 they left for the Dutch East Indies to build a new future. There Isaac became a law teacher and later on director of a school educating Indonesian young men for civil administration. There he and his wife begot three sons, Max, Ernest and George (the latter was born during a stay in The Hague).
The three children enjoyed a happy childhood in those careless years of the late flowering of Dutch colonialism in Indonesia. Also, when Isaac became a professor of Indonesian law at the University of Utrecht in 1934, life continued to flow without many problems: except one shrill note, in 1937 Isaac stepped down as a professor after accusations of plagiarism, accusations due to a certain nonchalance of Isaac in circumscribing his sources, but ridiculously exaggerated, and I can't help suspecting hidden anti-Semitic motives. But so far assimilation seemed successful to a degree that the three sons didn't have any living notion of being Jewish. That soon would change.
Max studied at Utrecht University to become a colonial administrator in the Dutch East Indies, and he parted there with his newly wed bride Puck van Zuiden in 1939.
Ernest was a popular guy at the secondary school, played saxophone and guitar, composed his own songs and directed the school band, featuring as a singer his cousin and girlfriend Hetty Winkel.
George was a charming little boy, who looked up to his much older brothers.
Then came the war.
Of course the war and the virulent anti-Semitism of the Germans came as a shock for the family who thought themselves hundred percent Dutch: suddenly they were subject of persecution, hunted for animals. Isaac and Caroline went into hiding at the end of 1941 and passed through 29 different locations for hiding. For the episodes of those years view the many documents on my document pages: http://www.robcassuto.com/familydocuments.htm
Also the eldest son Max, his wife Puck and their son Rob became involved in the pacific part of the world war, which came to Indonesia in march 1942; Max had to work as a slave laborer at the Burma railway, Puck, her parents and Rob were interned in several Japanese camps on the isle of Java. See for extensive details on the aforementioned documents page.
A striking phenomenon, common to all three sons, appeared to be the turning to Christianity during and immediately after the war. Central to this development is the conversion of Ernest, who confused by the suddenly dangerous Jewish identity, desperately sought for an answer (together with his fiancée Hetty, who later was betrayed and murdered in Poland) to his existential questions and he found under influence of some The Hague protestant ministers (among which the Jewish reverend Rottenberg) the answer in a passionate recognition of Jesus as the messiah.
After the war he studied theology and after a short term as a minister in a Dutch village emigrated with his new found wife Elly Rodrigues to the US with the assignment to expand the Jesus message among the Jews over there.
Under his influence his much younger brother George also turned to Christianity, studied theology, and became minister in quite a series of Dutch cities.
As for my father Max, he told me that when in Burma he was put in the hospital room ‘for the deceased and the dying.' He had a vision of Jesus speaking to him, and he would be cured if he would follow him, and indeed he was miraculously cured of the almost fatal tropical disease. To his amazement, when eventually he and his reunited family (Puck and Rob) had been repatriated to the Netherlands, he found his brothers also transformed in the new belief. Isaac and Carolien also followed their sons.
What happened afterwards?
Max: after some decennia of enthusiastic dedication to church life his enthusiasm waned, especially in his older days. Though he kept studying the New Testament and his focus was the “Jewishness” of Jesus; he was a pious Jewish rabbi and the Last Supper was just a Seder, he kept saying and then he pointed out other relevant passages.
Also he was a passionate supporter of Israel and follower of Israeli politics and he and Puck spent many a holiday in that country.
His children were raised in a neat Christian way with Sunday school, etc.
As for me, Rob, as a boy I never understood the message of Christianity and the necessity of one man being killed for the sins of the whole world and then becoming a god. When I left home I left the Christian faith and became a kind of vague agnostic until in the nineties I became more aware of my Jewish roots and wondered about the strange turns of history in our family. I came to appreciate the Jewish heritage of wisdom and tradition and felt the heaviness and happiness of the Jewish destiny. Eventually I became a member of a Reformed Jewish congregation.
My brother and my sister remain rather vague in their religious notions. Judaism doesn't play an important role in their lives.
Ernest: he was a charismatic man, and together with his wife Elly he recruited a host of followers in the East of the US. His musical talents he used to underline his message about Jesus. He published a booklet entitled “The last Jew of Rotterdam,” which after a biographic introduction is a passionate account of his search for and belief in Christ during the years in hiding and in the penitentiary of Rotterdam, in which he was the last Jew, as in that time the transport to Westerbork had stopped. The book tries to convince the (Jewish) reader in accepting Jesus as the Savior; it is expanded and revised by his son Benjamin, who followed in his father's footsteps by accepting the theology of messianic Judaism.
What can be seen as remarkable is that gradually more and more Jewish elements were included in the services and celebrations that Ernest orchestrated. The Jewish holidays, like Pesach and Hanukkah, were celebrated. Ernest and Elly called themselves Hebrew Christians and maybe they would have been content with the name Messianic Jews, which later came up. Alas, he and his wife Elly met untimely deaths, Elly at fifty three, Ernest in his sixties, they both contracted lethal brain disorders. They had five children, among them two sets of twins, all kept some form of Christian belief, each falling somewhere on the spectrum of religious expression, but all firm in their Christian faith.
George: He ministered in several villages throughout the Netherlands. In his homiletics of the bible he developed a special focus on the original meaning of the message of Jesus, pointing to his Jewish roots. Actually he pondered half of his life about the relation Judaism – Christianity. At the end of his career as a minister, reflecting on his life and stimulated by his wife and an experience in a workshop for once time Jewish children in hiding, he decided to choose Judaism. Just before his retirement he stepped down as a minister - a courageous act – and he joined the Reform movement in the Netherlands.
Little time to enjoy his new status was granted him since he passed away of cancer at sixty seven. Both his (non-Jewish) wife and daughter did ‘giur' to Judaism. The daughter, Carine, is a journalist with great interest in and expertise about Jewish matters in the broadest sense. His two sons are interested in Judaic matters but are not committed to any belief.
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