AMSTERDAM (JTA) — Johan van Hulst, a Dutch seminary leader who saved hundreds of Jewish children during the Holocaust and later became a senator, has died at the age of 107.
Van Hulst and resistance activists smuggled the children to safety over several months. He was the director of a Protestant religious seminary in Amsterdam with a yard that bordered on the nursery section of a facility in which the Nazis and collaborators imprisoned Jews before their dispatch to concentration camps.
The late director, who died Thursday, hid in his school the children from the nursery of the Hollandsche Schouwburg, whom he and his helpers would hoist over the hedge that separated the two yards. From there, resistance activists and fighters would smuggle the children to safehouses, sometimes in laundry baskets and other times on bicycles, pretending that the children were their own.
Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and museum in 1973 recognized Van Hulst as a Righteous Among the Nations – a title for non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews from the Holocaust.
In 2012, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu honored Van Hulst during a state visit to the Netherlands. That year, Van Hulst’s heroism was immortalized in a film titled “Susskind.”
“We say, those who save one life saves a universe. You saved hundreds of universes. I want to thank you in the name of the Jewish people, but also in the name of humanity,” Netanyahu told Van Hulst, who after the Holocaust became a senator for the Christian Democratic Appeal party.
In 1943, a Dutch Education Ministry official named Fieringa discovered several Jewish children at Van Hulst’s Hervormde Kweekschool and asked for the meaning of their presence there and whether they were Jewish. In a 2012 interview, Van Hulst recalled telling him after a long silence: “You don’t really expect me to answer that, do you?”
Fieringa, an inspector, did not report back on what he had seen.
The grounds of the Hervormde Kweekschool currently houses the National Holocaust Museum of the Netherlands. The joint wall carries a permanent exhibition in his honor.
Separately, Yad Vashem earlier this month recognized as a righteous gentile a police officer from the town of Beverwijk, near Amsterdam, and his wife and another couple, Willem and Ali Bleeker, for their rescue of a Jewish girl, Dolly Drilsma. The Bleekers hid the girl, whose parents went into hiding without her.
When the Bleekers suspected that the Nazis were watching them, they transferred Dolly to the police officer, Leo van der Hoorn. Days later her parents were found and sent to be murdered. As a police officer serving the Nazi occupation forces, van der Hoorn risked stiff punishment, including a summary execution, had he been found out.
The Netherlands has more than 5,000 righteous gentiles, the world’s highest number after Poland.
It also has the highest death rate among Jews in the Holocaust of any Nazi-occupied country in Western Europe, largely due to widespread betrayal of Jews and collaboration with the Nazis by locals.