Whenever I come across someone, I think will make an interesting story to share, I write their name down on a list. I’ve got a rather long list going, there seems to be no end to the number of stories out there about everyday people doing extraordinary things during the Holocaust. I find hope, courage and strength in their stories and I hope that you do as well.
This week’s story is about a man from Amsterdam named Johan van Hulst. Johan was born to Gerrit, a furniture upholsterer, and Geertruda C. Hoffman on 28 January 1911. He was a remarkable man. A school director, a university professor, an author, a chess player and a politician.
The years of his life that we will focus upon will be from 1942-1943. The Nazi’s invaded The Netherlands in May of 1940, however they started mass deportations in July of 1942. At this time in his life, Johan was working as director of the Reformed Teacher Training College, a protestant seminary school in Amsterdam. (In 2016 it became the Dutch National Holocaust Museum.)
The seminary, shared a back garden with a nursery (run by Henriette Pimentel) across the street from the Hollandse Schouwberg Theatre (run by Nazi appointed Jew Walter Suskin), the main clearing site for Jews living in Amsterdam. Jews who had gotten deportation notices were told to report here for transport east. The adults would be in the theater, while the children were separated and taken to the nursery.
In January of 1943 Pimentel and Suskin developed a plan. Suskin would alter the deportation records and leave children off of the list, while Pimentel would convince the parents to let them save the child by getting them into hiding.
Pimentel had approached van Hulst about using the connecting garden for the children to play in, however it became much more. Soon, the children would be napping in the school and van Hulst, a group of his students and resistance members would smuggle the child away, right under the noses of the Nazi guards.
The child would be placed in a sack, smuggled children were aged infant to twelve years old, a member of the group would bicycle around to the front of the nursery and await a passing tram. When the tram passed the child was loaded on the back of the bicycle and the rider left with the passing tram, this hindered the guards view of the nursery entrance, allowing the rider to escape without notice.
They looked for children that would easily fit in with the families that hid them, children who “looked like they belonged” to that family, thus hiding them in plain sight.
The plan saved between 500-1,000 Jewish babies and children before it was shut down on 29 September 1943. The Nazis sent Pimentel and one hundred children to concentration camps.
Through this work, van Hulst is credited with savings 600 children during the Holocaust. For this van Hulst was given the Yad Vashem distinction of Righteous Among the Nations from Israel in 1970.
Post War Years
Van Hulst had earned a masters degree in both psychology and pedagogy, along with a Ph. D in humanities from Vrije Universiteit. And became Emeritus professor at the same university.
After the war he became a politician:
For the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA), which had absorbed the Christian Historical Union (CHU), of which van Hulst was a member, he served the following terms:
3 July 1956- 10 June 1981 Member of Dutch Senate
10 December 1968- 8 June 1977 Parliamentary Leader of CHU/CDA. When the CHU and CDA merged he was the first member of the CDA to serve in parliament.
16 October 1961- 30 September 1968 Member of European Parliament for the Christian Democratic group.
13 September 1969- 19 February 1972 CHU party chair.
Because of the work of Johan van Hulst, Henriette Pimentel and Walter Suskin, there are generations of Jews alive. They risked their lives, and some gave their lives, to rescue children that were of no relation to them, but they knew that it was the right thing to do. Thanks to people like these 40,000 Jews from the Netherlands survived the Holocaust.
Johan van Hulst died 22 March 2018 at the age of 107. I know that I hope to live that long and I hope that this blog these a lasting legacy to Never Forget what happened and to stand up when we see it now.
I hope that you have enjoyed this blog and that you will share it with your friends and family. It is my goal that this blog teaches and inspires those who read it, to Never Forget what happened and to never let it happen again. Please become a subscriber to the blog, and share it. Until next time. Have a lovely day.