Nicolette Bruining was a truly remarkable woman and her legacy still lives on to this day, although in ways not necessarily how she had envisaged.
Nicolette Adriana Bruining (27 August 1886 – 12 April 1963) was a Dutch theologian and founding president of the Liberal Protestant Radio Broadcasting Corporation (Dutch: Vrijzinnig Protestantse Radio Omroep) (VPRO).
She was also a teacher and humanitarian, assisting Jews during the Second World War. Her aid was acknowledged by the state of Israel, which posthumously awarded her as Righteous Among the Nations in 1990.
The VPRO is still broadcasting and has a number of controversial shows. Some of the programs are very cutting edge and often just go too far and I presume they don’t really reflect what Nicolette Bruining had envisaged. It showed the first nudity on Dutch TV in 1967.
Nicolette Adriana Bruining was born on 27 August 1886 in Stompetoren, Netherlands to Aida Helena Elisabeth (née Huygens) and Albertus Bruining.She graduated from Barlaeus Gymnasium in Amsterdam and decided to follow in her father’s footsteps, pursuing her university studies in theology. She enrolled at the University of Amsterdam, where her father was a professor, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in 1912. That same year, she began teaching religion at various schools, including the teacher training school of the Haagsch Genootschap (The Hague Society) In 1916, she presented her dissertation on the Dutch dogmatic Lutheran theologian Franz Hermann Reinhold von Frank (De Theologie van F.H.R. von Frank).She joined the Association of Liberal Protestants and served as chair of The Hague’s chapter. She also began preaching in various municipalities for both the liberal branch of the Dutch Reformed Church and the Netherlands Protestant Association.
In 1923, she helped establish the Vrijzinnige Geloofsgemeenschap NPB(Liberal Community of Faith NBP)to broaden the scope of the church. In particular, she proposed that the new medium of radio be used to disseminate the liberal Christian view.In 1925, Bruining and E. D. Spelberg set up a committee to investigate the possibility of broadcasting programming in support of their cause; they discovered that the government body responsible for broadcast licensing would only grant airtime to legally established organizations. As a result, the Central Committee went on in 1926 to establish the Vrijzinnig Protestantse Radio Omroep (Liberal Protestant Radio Broadcasting Corporation, VPRO); Bruining was president, and Spelberg secretary.Bruining publicized their approach both in their broadcasts and in the articles frequently published in the radio magazine Vrije Geluiden (Free Sounds), advocating non-sectarianism and inviting all intellectual movements to participate.
During the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands during World War II, VPRO was banned from broadcasting.
Bruining had been teaching Hebrew to upper level classes at the municipal high school in The Hague, but in 1941,
all Jewish students were expelled and she quit teaching in protest. She transferred the course to her own home so that all her former pupils could continue studying Hebrew after school hours. After a while, Elisabeth’s former classmates stopped attending Hebrew lessons.
However, Nicolette insisted that Elisabeth should continue studying with her, on a private basis, and the two became close friends. In July 1942, when Elisabeth’s father refused to report for work in Germany, he was forced to find a hideout for himself and his family. He turned to Nicolette for assistance. For the following three years, Nicolette became the intermediary between Elisabeth, her eight-year-old sister, Anita, and the underground movement.
Nicolette found a hiding place for Anita with Hermina Heinen-Rots in Aalten, Gelderland. However, finding a hideout for Elisabeth was more complicated because she was over 16 years old and therefore required forged papers. During this time, Elisabeth was forced to relocate several times and each time Nicolette, often with her friend Jacoba van Tongeren*, was instrumental in the move. On more than one occasion, Nicolette accompanied Elisabeth to her new hideout by train.
This was especially dangerous because she was well known as the head of the Liberal Protestant Radio Organization and as a vociferous opponent to the occupation. Throughout this time, Nicolette provided Elisabeth with food coupons, the price of which was astronomical. Nicolette also delivered letters between Elisabeth, Anita, and their parents, before the latter were deported. One Sunday in April 1943, Nicolette took upon herself the task of telling Elisabeth that her parents had been betrayed and sent to Westerbork.
Nicolette, who was not married and had no children, became very attached to Elisabeth and Anita during the war. They all remained in contact afterwards.
Like anyone else aiding or harboring Jews, Nicolette would have surely faced the Death penalty if she had been found out. The fact that she was a prominent figure in the Netherlands multiplied those risks manifold.
In 1945, VPRO was allowed to go back on the air. Bruining and Spelberg were fully reinstated in 1947. In 1951, when the Dutch Television Foundation was established, Bruining served on its board as a representative of VPRO. Throughout the 1950s, she hosted a program known as Today; owing to her preferences, the program was broadcast live.
She was very disciplined and committed to her work, this earned her the nickname of the Golda Meir of Liberal protestant movement.
Between 1948 and 1957 she was the President of the International Union of Liberal Christian Women, which was part of the International Association of Religious Freedom
In 1945, VPRO was allowed to go back on the air. Bruining and Spelberg were fully reinstated in 1947. In 1951, when the Dutch Television Foundation was established, Bruining served on its board as a representative of VPRO. Throughout the 1950s, she hosted a program known as Today; owing to her preferences, the program was broadcast live. She retired in 1956 and was made honorary president of VPRO for life.Bruining died on 12 April 1963 in The Hague.
Posthumously, she was honored by the government of Israel on 7 March 1990 as one of the Righteous Among the Nations,an award granted to recognize non-Jews for assisting Jews in surviving the Holocaust,for her assistance to the Waisvisz family.
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