On May 10, 1940, the Nazis invaded The Netherlands, effectively beginning “The Battle of the Netherlands,” which ended only five days later on May 15, 1940, resulting in Nazi Germany’s occupation of the country. As the occupation continued, resistance increased, as well as the Nazi effort to exterminate the Jewish population. By the end of World War II, it is estimated that 70% of The Netherland’s Jewish population had been killed, a much higher percent than in neighboring Belgium and France. Meanwhile, as the Nazis continued their horrific efforts, there were others working in secret to save as many Jews as possible. While many of these helpers were not themselves at risk of persecution (I.e. they were not Jewish), there were those who participated in the Dutch Resistance who were already a target, thus exponentially increasing their chances of being discovered and killed for their participation as well as for simply existing.
One such rebellion leader was Willem Arondéus, an openly gay man who participated in the Dutch Resistance, forging documentation papers alongside his friend Frieda Belinfante (a Jewish woman who identified as lesbian), and more notably assisted in the bombing of the Amsterdam Public Records Office, destroying 800,000 identity cards the Nazis were using to locate Dutch Jews. Arondéus was captured soon after the bombing of the Public Records Office and was executed on July 1, 1943.
On June 19, 1986, Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, located in Jerusalem, recognized Arondéus as “Righteous Among the Nations.” Yad Vashem defines this title as:
“The Righteous Among the Nations, honored by Yad Vashem, are non-Jews who took great risks to save Jews during the Holocaust. Rescue 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 neighbors at a time when hostility and indifference prevailed.”
What makes this story so impactful and important is the concept of a member of another marginalized group standing up and helping a community with a target on its back, casting their fear of persecution aside to protect others. At a time when attitudes toward Jewish people leaned closer to indifference and hostility, Arondéus can be remembered as a true ally for his efforts and as an embodiment of his final words: “Tell people that homosexuals are not cowards.”
As we move through the final days of Pride month, the story of Willem Arondéus reminds us to stand up not only for our own community, but for others as well. He is a shining example to us here in the present that when we set aside our differences, our preconceived perceptions of others and instead celebrate alongside one another in good times and support each other through the bad times, we can make a real impact on people’s lives, our history and ultimately, leave the world a better place.
Happy Pride, Colorado!
Email Rolando at RKahn@JEWISHcolorado.org