Semmy and Joop Woortman-Forgotten Heroes

In the past I have been very critical of my fellow Dutch men and women, in relation to the role they played during World War 2. While most opposed the Nazi occupation, they did very little to resist. Of course it is very easy to be critical looking back. In all honesty if I would have been put in that position I would not know how I would have reacted.

I have also written many pieces about the Dutch who collaborated with the Nazis and even joined the SS, for them there is no excuse.

However there were brave Dutch citizens who did resist. Sometimes by just spreading around leaflets, other times in more militant actions. When captured there was a big chance that the death penalty would follow.

Semmy and Joop Woortman were active members of the resistance, they were part of the NV group.

The NV (Naamlose Vennootschap or the Limited) group, was one of several Dutch underground cells involved in rescue efforts to find shelter for Jewish children living in Amsterdam during the German occupation of the Netherlands. Between 1942 and 1943 approximately 4,000 Jewish children were funneled through an assembly center located in the former Jewish daycare center known as the Creche.

The Creche was situated across the street from the Hollandse Schouwburg, the Jewish theater that served as the main holding area for the Jews of Amsterdam prior to their transfer to the Westerbork concentration camp. When Jewish families reported to the theater, children were separated from their parents and sent to the Creche to await deportation. The NV group under the leadership of Jaap Musch and Joop Woortman, focused its efforts on rescuing these children. Since the Creche was not guarded, it was possible for members of the Dutch underground to pick up small groups of children who had been prepared by Jewish staff members inside, and wisk them away by streetcar or other means. The children were then taken to private homes in Amsterdam until they could be transferred to host families elsewhere. Alternatively, the children were taken directly to the railway station and escorted by couriers to their new homes outside the city. They were sent to homes as far north as Friesland and as far south as Limburg. After depositing their charges, the couriers made a point of visiting them periodically to check on their situation. The attitudes exhibited by the host families to the Jewish children ranged from loving to indifferent, and many children had to be moved repeatedly. It is estimated that as many as 1000 Jewish children in the capital were rescued by the combined efforts of all of the underground cells. The NV group is credited with having saved about 250. Sixteen members of the group were recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations.

Joop and Semmy became increasingly involved in the underground resistance movement. Joop would often go to the train station to look for Jews to take into hiding. When they learned that the Germans had plans to deport all Jewish children to concentration camps, Joop and Semmy concentrated their efforts on saving the Dutch children. They organized a network of people who were willing to hide Jewish children in their homes. Semmy remembered a day in 1943, when the German’s launched a surprise raid of homes in Amsterdam in an attempt to capture Jewish children. Semmy and Joop quickly instructed the children to go to safety at a local day care center, which was run by a German born Jewish nab , Walter Suskind. On the day of the raid, a terrified little boy came to Semmy’s home and she offered to hide him in one of the cupboards in her kitchen. When the Germans searched her house, she pretended to be virulently anti-Semitic and even invited the Germans to share coffee with her. The deception worked and the Germans never found the boy.

Joop Woortman used the pseudonym Theo de Bruin. He was betrayed in 1944 and via Kamp Amersfoort ended up in Bergen-Belsen, where he died on March 13, 1945. Following Joop’s arrest, Semmy carried on his mission. Using the register he kept of the 300 children he placed in hiding, she made sure all of his charges received their monthly stipends and ration coupons. A year after the war the Red Cross confirmed Woortman’s death in Bergen-Belsen. He was posthumously recognized by Yad Vashem as one of the Righteous Among the Nations in 1981.

After the war Semmy recalled
“It was difficult to just walk out of the nursery with children because on the other side of the street there were soldiers on guard in front of the Hollandse Schouwburg. But the head nurse at the nursery, Virrie Cohen, would stand in front of the door and tell us if tram 9 was coming.

We’d walk out of the door each carrying a baby under our arm. We’d run alongside the tram down the Plantage Middenlaan and at the next tram stop we’d get in, huffing and puffing. And all the people in the tram would start laughing because naturally they’d seen us, but they never said anything. Well, that’s typically Amsterdam for you…”

Semmy Woortman walks along a street in Amsterdam with her stepdaughter Hetty (left, Joop’s daughter) and her Jewish foster child, Rachel (right).

Semmy married again after the war. She died on February 22,2004 aged 87.

When I come across stories like this, it makes me proud to be a Dutchman.

sources

Semmy Riekerk, The Netherlands

https://collections.ushmm.org/search/catalog/pa21486

https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/photo/dutch-rescuer-semmy-woortman-glasoog

https://www.verzetsmuseum.org/en/kennisbank/help-1

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