Righteous Among the Nations: Award-winning Rustington woman celebrates 103rd birthday with family

An award-winning Rustington woman whose family helped Jewish people in Holland during the Second World War has celebrated her 103rd birthday.

Anna-Maria van der Vaart, known as Riet, was awarded the title Righteous Among the Nations in 2006 by The Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority at Yad Vashem, Israel's official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, in 2006 in honour of the help her family gave.

Riëtte Ardern, her daughter, said: "A certificate and medal were awarded, of which she is very proud, with her name being added on Righteous Honor Wall at Yad Vashem.

"The family hid a Jewish girl and a man at great risk, particularly since both were highly conspicuous among the Dutch, having jet-black hair and darker complexions.

Anna-Maria van der Vaart, known as Riet, celebrating her 103rd birthday with family at Rustington Hall

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"After many frighteningly close-run events, happily, they both survived the war. The girl, having moved to Australia, lived to be 100, remaining in close contact with Riet."

Anna-Maria van der Vaart, known as Riet, was born in Holland

Riet was born in Holland on July 22, 1919, and was married around the time of the German occupation, when there was increasing hardship for the whole population.

Riëtte said: "Everybody was preoccupied with finding food and many virtually starved. There were many deeds carried out by the Dutch resistance which meant that if caught, the ultimate punishment was metered out – being shot."

Riet's husband worked for Unilever in Holland and the UK until he retired, then they moved to south-west France. After he died, Riet came to Rustington to live close to daughter Riëtte and her husband Graham Ardern. Her other two daughters are still in Holland and visit when they can.

Rustington Hall hosted a 103rd birthday party for Riet, with guests including Riëtte and Graham, Riette's sister Marjolein, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, neighbours, friends and some of the dedicated carers and nurses.