Today Holocaust survivor James Van Ameringen turns 100, but the Tauranga great-grandfather claims no influence on his longevity.
"My life is in the Lord's hands. I have no say in it."
Jacobus Mozes - "James" - was born into a family of Orthodox Jews in Amsterdam in 1921.
He has felt "divine protection" many times in his life, but especially in the dangerous years after Germany invaded his homeland in 1940, as he was finishing high school.
Jewish people were required to wear yellow Star of David badges, but James refused.
He knew that to wear the badge was to be marked for certain death in a concentration camp. To not wear it risked being shot on the spot if discovered, but gave him a slim chance of escape.
James recalls it as an act of survival, but his sons say his stand was "courageous".
Almost two dozen members of James' extended family, including his parents Maurits and Sophia, died in concentration camps, or on the cattle trains transporting them to the camps, during 1943 and 1944.
His mother and sister, Helena, were arrested in early 1943 in their home, as James and his father hid - one in a cupboard, the other in the ceiling.
Maurits arranged for James' escape to France via Belgium with a false Dutch identity in the name of Willem Schnaap. Maurits then handed himself in to the Nazi authorities so he could join his beloved wife in the concentration camp in Poland.
Helena survived the war after the Germans put her to work as a seamstress. The siblings reunited after the war.
James immigrated to New Zealand in 1952 with his fiance, Alice. They married in Auckland and found work as farmhands in Whenuakite.
They had four sons - Marcus, Joel, Timothy and Samuel. James' varied career included periods as a soil and water researcher, carpenter, teacher and laboratory technician.
He and Alice moved to Tauranga in 1991, settling in Gate Pa. Alice died a decade ago.
Today, James is one of an estimated 25 known Holocaust survivors living in New Zealand, according to Holocaust Centre of New Zealand records.
Centre chief executive Chris Harris said the organisation was working to preserve the living memories of Holocaust survivors and refugees through recorded interviews.
James' family has started recording his memories, with son Marcus spending five years compiling a memoir published in 2019.
Both Marcus and brother Joel, who has taken James into his Welcome Bay home, said it had been a "privilege" to learn more of their parents' story in their father's later years.
Interviewed this week, James - a soft-spoken man with a Dutch lilt and bright eyes -spoke of happier times in his childhood: testing his miniature boats in the family bath; all four of them sitting around the family table with a radio prototype his father had built and tuning it to foreign frequencies.
It was painful for him to discuss the war, but he told the stories of escaping on a train to Antwerp, surrounded by farm animals, dodging and deceiving guards.
In 1944 in France he was lined up against a wall and almost shot by a rogue Russian patrol, saved just in time by a passing French patrol.
Marcus and Joel said their father had learned to forgive those responsible for the Holocaust murders, including those of his relatives. An estimated 6 million European Jews were killed.
James was philosophical about his birthday, saying he sometimes wondered about the "purpose of living so long".
He said he was grateful, however, to have been able to see his children grow up and take part in the lives of their children, and their children's children - his most recent great-grandchild is just a few days old.
He greatly enjoyed the cards of congratulations from Queen Elizabeth II and Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy.
His birthday will be celebrated this weekend with a congregation - Beth-El - in Tauranga on Saturday then parties in Tauranga and Hamilton with friends and family.
In his voice
The following are extracts of the memoir of James Van Ameringan about his experience in World War II, republished with his family's permission.
"By the end of 1940, all Jewish people were required to wear a yellow badge bearing the Star of David, but I along with many other Jewish people were supplied by the underground (Dutch resistance fighters) with false identity cards from those who had 'lost' them and had them replaced.
"My cousin Willem Lek from the Duveen side of the family, deserted the Dutch army in May 1940 and also 'went underground'. He survived the war. His father had owned a pastry bakery and made delicious homemade icecream.
"Later it became difficult to obtain food vouchers from the distribution centres.
"In 1941 it became more difficult to attend classes when there were razzias - sudden roundups by the Green Police, Nazi troops who terrorised every house on that street.
"Their goal: round up all young men from age 17 to 30 for forced labour in Germany. Teachers warned us to stay home some days.
"At the end of the year I was scheduled to sit for my final exams, but it took me three weeks to hear an all-clear sign.
"Despite the terror, I passed my exams."
"That year I received an 'invitation' to join a work camp that replaced army service.
"I tore it up, knowing what the outcome would be. Hiding at home was not easy since Dutch Nazis were spying on Jewish homes and the Germans would fully utilise their information.
"Staying in a cupboard or in a special room on the top floor of our apartment block became intolerable and dangerous, so I moved under curfew to live with friends on the other side of the city.
"In July 1941, I got an opportunity to hide out and work on a farm just outside of Amsterdam along a stream called Het Gein. For an entire year, (1941-42) I milked cows by hand in the fields while wearing wooden clogs.
"On this farm, I assisted with the production of 'Amsterdamer' cheese which the farmer took to market in a horse-drawn cart. The farmer's wife made butter for their own use.
"By the end of the year 1941 it became too dangerous to remain there as the farmer's 18-year-old son had to be kept hidden for fear of being rounded up by the razzias.
"I returned to my home in Amsterdam, but in early 1943 the Germans abruptly broke into our home, seized my mother and sister and shipped them to Westerbork."
Escape to France
"In early 1943 my father, fearing for my safety, sent me to a former customer of his in s'Hertogenbosch in Brabant where he arranged for me to be smuggled over the border to Belgium.
"This involved running and dropping into ditches to avoid detection by border agents.
"They put me on a train filled with peasants who brought their pigs, hens and vegetables with them to sell at the market in Antwerp.
"I escaped detection and caught a local train to Brussels, where I would board the 'international train' to Paris.
"The Lord protected me there (although fearful, I was aware of divine protection) when I was approached by a stranger on the station platform in Brussels.
"He invited me to join his firm that sent young Flemings (Flemish men) to France to keep them from being shipped to Germany as slave labour. I had to promise only to speak French to avoid detection.
"On boarding this train a group of Flemish men made a plan to keep German soldiers from climbing aboard to avoid interrogation.
"With a coordinated effort, they blocked the doors, giving the impression that the train was too packed to allow anyone else on.
"One leader of the underground group taunted a beefy German soldier who was belligerent - 'You can come on board!' - while at the same time the crowd was pushing him out. The soldier angrily fired his revolver into the air as the train departed."