have an image indelibly etched in my mind. We are at the Huntington
Library and Gardens a few years back, Coby and Hans, myself, and
their two German exchange students. The Siegenthalers are ahead
of me on the dirt path, walking hand in hand like a couple of teenagers,
Hans holding Cobys purse by his side. I cant resist,
pull out my camera, and take the photograph that will continue to
warm my heart every time I look at it. True love.
The Dutch pair
emigrated to the United States from Holland in 1955, and in 1961,
they officially became naturalized U.S. citizens. Since then, the
Siegenthalers have become a highly esteemed, almost celebrity, couple
within the vegetarian, animal welfare, and environmental communities,
and deservedly so. Whether hosting monthly vegan potlucks, Green
Party meetings, or alcohol-and-meat-free New Years Eve parties
in their distinctly European-flavored home, no participant leaves
without feeling as though theyve been on a brief trip to the
Netherlands. Tea and grain-based fake coffee are served
at regular intervals from Cobys mobile tea table; an antique
Dutch spinning wheel sits in the front hallway; cuckoo clocks interrupt
conversation every hour on the hour to remind you how time flies
when youre having fun. A steady flow of illustrious house
guests--including adopted sons Howard Lyman & Michael
Klaper, M.D., the late biochemist and leading world authority on
fluoride toxicity Dr. John Yiamouyiannis, sports nutritionist Douglas
Graham. DC, and anti-vaccination activist and scientist Dr. Viera
Scheibner--have all stayed in the Siegenthalers spare Lincoln
bedroom. Their house with elastic walls has also acted as
Los Angeles vegan youth hostel to exchange students
and foreign travelers alike, who have found their way to this mecca
for animal lovers.
the Siegenthalers activities are by no means limited to anywhere
near home. The calendar on their desk is scribbled to the edges
with a myriad of commitments year-round, from demonstrations to
protests to health lectures and international vegan conferences.
Not just compassionate and conscious folk, Coby-a retired registered
nurse--and Hans--a former chemical engineer--are intelligent, educated
people who share a passionate interest in a wide range of subjects:
politics, human rights, nutrition, alternative medicine, solar energy,
organic foods, sustainable agriculture.
The common thread?
Their ultimate goal is to end all suffering on the planet, with
animal welfare and liberation coming out on top of the list. Friends
who rub elbows with the Siegenthalers get used to having petitions
thrust into their hands for a signature advocating this or that
cause, and can depend on encountering a variety of fliers, announcements,
and newsletters spread across the living room table. It is their
common values and lifestyles, their love for all living creatures,
which Coby & Hans claim are the key to their rock solid relationship
of over half a century.
burst into this world from the finest of gene pools and were nurtured
from birth in supportive environments of compassion and service.
Both were fortunate enough to have been raised by parents who were
members of the Dutch Vegetarian Society, as well as devoted Theosophists.
However, appreciation for their comfortable and abundant life here
in America comes well-earned. Zuerneet!, they exclaim
in Dutch, Dont complain!
in ravaged Europe during World War II, it is riveting to hear them
tell stories about the hardships, famine, danger, and political
unrest they courageously endured, not to mention the tales of how
their parents bravely harbored Jewish refugees in their homes during
Hitlers regime. Both families risked their own safety to assist
a steady flow of displaced souls escape capture, concentration camps,
and extermination. Hans recollects the hungry winter
of 1944-45 when food was scarce and he exchanged his suspenders
and textiles from his fathers factory for something to eat.
He remembers having to stand guard when allied bombers were flying
overhead, and the rainy night when a fire bomb fell on our
house, through the thatched roof and ended up in the toilet.
His social activist mother was eventually imprisoned for wearing
an inverted Star of David as an act of protest against Nazi genocide.
(Note: On February 17th, 2002, Hans proudly accepted an honorary
award for his parents, Hugo & Wijbrigje Siegenthaler, from the
1939 Club, in cooperation with the Los Angeles Consulate
General of Israel and Yad Vashem, at the Beverly Hills Hotel, recognizing
the couple as righteous among the nations in tribute
to their noble sacrifice and service toward the Jewish community
during the Holocaust.)
that their meeting was by design. Having met in Amsterdam
through a vegetarian youth group called Witte Guilde
or the White Guild, their early relationship was fraught with both
romance and adventure, but always tinged with a no-nonsense practicality.
Hans loves to
jokingly recall an incident during their courtship when they accidentally
stumbled onto German territory during an innocent Sunday bicycle
ride through a pretty forest in 1949. After resting on a bench inscribed
with the phrase Nur pour lamour (translated as
Only for Love), they ignored the sign marking the border
(as they had always done in peacetime) and continued on with their
excursion. But war changes things, and this time they were in for
trouble. We were stopped by a German with a gun, taken to
the local police station, and then to jail in Gronau. We stayed
two nights and days in separate cells. Coby put her make-up mirror
through the bars on the door window so we could wink to each other.
Their eyes still sparkle when they look at each other.
year, having secured steady work as a chemical engineer in Zaandam,
Holland, as well as a place to live amidst a terrible housing shortage,
Hans finally proposed to his bride-to-be in a little rowboat and
they wed within the month. I picked up Coby with my bicycle
at the hospital, she (sitting) on the luggage carrier on the back
of my bike in her white nurses dress. Up to the town hall
for our marriage license. We married on December 22, 1951, the first
day of the year when it starts becoming lighter.
beginning for a loving union that has continued to become more radiant
with each passing day, brightening not only each others lives,
but those of everyone lucky enough to stumble across their path.