Role Model Series – Johan Van Hulst (Holocaust Hero)

A Personal Take:

A remarkable man by the name of Johan van Hulst was a dutchman, author, educator, politician, notable chess player and some might not know of his name and his deeds, but he is a hero, in every sense of that word. I would like to honour him in this role model series that I have decided to embark on to give honour and respect to whom its due and to highlight the amazing acts of love, heroism and bravery among humankind.

Born on 28 January 1911, in Amsterdam, to Gerrit van Hulst and Geertruida Hofman, Johan van Hulst was an academically established man. He studied psychology and pedagogy, at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam ( which he later became the emeritus professor of Pedagogy) and was working as a lecturer at a teacher training college in Amsterdam which so happens to be situated in the Jewish neighbourhood of Plantage.

In 1940, Johan became the deputy principal of the Reformed Teacher’s Training College. During the Nazi occupation, he was instrumental in turning the college into an anti-Nazi resistance as well as a place of refuge for Dutch educators who refused to sign the oath of fidelity to Hitler which was a mandatory requirement for college students at that time in the Netherlands. Right across the street of the college was the Hollandse Schouwberg theatre, the designated clearing zone for the Jewish inhabitants who has been given deportation notices by the Nazis who converted that theatre into a deportation centre. It is estimated that 46,000 people were deported from that theatre to concentration camps in Westerbork (Netherlands), Auschwitz or Sobibor (Poland) for one and a half years prior the end of 1943.

In 1942, the college stop receiving funding from the government, but he unwaveringly refused to close the establishment. He sought funding from parents to keep the school running while he and the remaining teachers worked twice the usual hours to sustain and educate because he understood fully well the importance of education.

In 1943, he undertook an extremely risky and heroic task of saving over 600 children of Jewish origins from the nursery of “Hollandsche Schuwburg” who were destined to be deported to Nazi concentration camps; the very evil of the wickedest minds that could even concoct such a place let alone established them.

The head of the deportation centre was a German Jewish man by the name of Walter Süskind whose Jewish heritage was not taken account by the Nazis due to his SS connections. He began falsifying records to help some escape deportation, for example reducing the number of people who had pass through the centre on the records so that those who would escape would not be in the Nazi’s registry of Jews. Additionally, the records would tally with those who remained thus minimalizing detection. In 1943, the Nazis took over a crèche (nursery) which so happened to be right next to Van Hulst’s school. The Nazis held Jewish children in this nursery right before deporting them. The head of the nursery Henriëtte Pimentel, along with Süskind began rescuing children out and with Van Hulst’s efforts their operation was immense. The nurses at the nursery would pass the children over the hedge at the back to Van Hulst who would then deliver them over to resistance groups who would protect them from being discovered.

In order to gain the trust of the SS guards, he even pretended consistently to be on their side by yelling at his students (pretence of course) to let the guards do their job. However, the operation came to an end and the other hero, Henriëtte Pimentel was sent to Auschwitz in July that same year and died. When the nursery was to be cleared, he was faced with the dilemma of not being able to take all the children but only could a handful which has left an unforgettable impression on him till his last years.  For his humanitarian efforts and bravery, in 1970, he was bestowed the Yad Vashem Distinction as a Righteous Among the Nations from the State of Israel.

“You realize that you cannot possibly take all the children with you,” he told Yad Vashem. “You know for a fact that the children you leave behind are going to die. I took twelve with me. Later on I asked myself: ‘Why not thirteen?’”

https://www.history.com/news/johan-van-hulst-death-wwii-hero

He passed away on March 22, 2018, at the fruitful age of 107. A truly remarkable man who at the end of his life, still regrets not doing more. Such a benevolent and altruistic person who has been so selfless in rescuing those helpless children putting him and his own family at risk. The risk was so high that he didn’t confide with his wife about this rescue operation in the event she may be pressured to reveal it and so he took it upon himself , the pressure, the planning and operations, as well as the bravery to gain the trust of the Nazis to avoid detection. Yes, he is a role model, one who knows what the right thing is , and did it bravely, with compassion and intelligence.

“Great teachers emanate out of knowledge, passion, and compassion.”

A.P.J. Abdul Kalam

Sources:

Dutch Teacher Who Saved 600 Jewish Children from Nazis Dies at 107. (2020). Retrieved 10 May 2020, from https://www.history.com/news/johan-van-hulst-death-wwii-hero

Hughes, R. (2020). The teacher who saved hundreds of Jewish children. Retrieved 10 May 2020, from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-43569049

Johan van Hulst. (2020). Retrieved 10 May 2020, from https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/johan-van-hulst

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