Forgotten Heroes—Risking Their Lives to Oppose an Evil Regime

I would be lying if I would say that all Dutch opposed the Nazi occupiers because many were happy enough to follow the rules of the new lords of the land.

However, many opposed the evil regime and especially opposed the way they treated their Jewish friends and neighbours.

Organisations like Het Derde Front (The Third Front) —a Marxist resistance group, called to boycott all businesses that refused Jews. There was a national strike on 25-26 February 1941, organized by several groups like the CPN) Communist Party Netherlands) and also the third front.

Both actions were announced by using posters and flyers. Anyone who would have been caught carrying these posters would face severe punishments including the death penalty.

A few dozen organizers and participants of the strike were arrested and executed. Two of them died in Dachau. This did instil fear in the population of the Netherlands because prior to that, the Nazis hadn’t been too harsh against the Dutch with the exception of the Jewish citizens of course.

However, there were several acts of bravery throughout the war.

Approximately 75% of all Jews in the Netherlands were murdered during the Holocaust, an estimated 105,000. This is the highest number per capita of all occupied countries. In retrospect, it is easy to judge those who didn’t act, but unless you have been in a situation like that yourself, you can’t.

It is true that many collaborated with the Nazis and some of them made a living out of it, additionally, the Dutch had a very sophisticated and effective civil service, combined with very accurate and up-to-date records of all citizens. This of course did help the Nazis greatly.

Despite all of that thousands that helped their Jewish fellow citizens, in many ways, were again facing severe punishments and even the death penalty, if they were caught.

Yad Vashem puts the number of the Dutch “Righteous Among the Nations” at 5,851. This is also the highest number per capita of all righteous.

The Righteous Among the Nations, honoured by Yad Vashem, are non-Jews who took great risks to save Jews during the Holocaust. The rescues took many forms and the Righteous came from different nations, religions and walks of life. What they had in common was that they protected their Jewish neighbours at a time when hostility and indifference prevailed.

One of these brave people was Pieter Bosboom.

Pieter (Piet) Bosboom was responsible for rescuing approximately 1,000 people—Jews as well as Allied airmen and other fugitives. He was born in Zaandam, North Holland, to a religious Calvinist mother and a socialist father, from both of whom he got his deeply humanistic character. As the Nazis tightened their grip on power in Germany, Piet became involved in bringing illegal refugees over the border to Holland. He quickly learned “laundering” techniques to provide escapees with new identities and visas to third countries.

In May 1940, he began organizing Resistance cells in and around Zaandam and prepared the local community to host Jewish fugitives. In August 1943, the director of the Bergstichting, a home for wayward children, was warned of an impending raid.

The institution, which was run by a non-Jewish couple, the Reitsemas, was home to many Jewish children and counsellors. The director turned to the Resistance group that was run by Piet and Marietje Overduin and hiding places were found for the Jews. Among those in danger was Ruth Donath (later Neuberger), an immigrant from Vienna whose entire family had been deported. She was determined to leave her fate to chance and refused to go into hiding. Piet did his utmost to persuade her to change her mind, although she pointed out that nobody would have her because of her Jewish looks. Ruth finally gave in and found a hiding place in Friesland and survived the war.

On 3 November 1970, Yad Vashem recognized Pieter Bosboom as Righteous Among the Nations.

It would be easy to judge those who did nothing, but I prefer to honour those who did act and let them be my example. Because although the war and the Holocaust may be over, the ideology at the foundation is still around. For decades it has been simmering in the background, but in recent times it has been coming and rearing its ugly head, showing itself.

Love still lingers on but so does hate and if we give in to that hate, history will repeat itself.



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  1. phenomenal facts says:

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