#905 Defender of Jewish children

Bronze statue of Gertruida Wijsmuller-Meijer in Amsterdam

Bronze statue of Gertruida Wijsmuller-Meijer in Amsterdam; via Wikimedia Commons

The children she saved called her “Tante Truus”. Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to Jewish victims of the Holocaust, listed her as one of the Righteous among the Nations. Yet an online search reveals she has been largely forgotten.

Gertruida “Truus” Meijer was born in 1896 into a Dutch banking family and was headed for a career in banking herself. After marriage to Joop Wijsmuller, she became more interested in social work. In 1933 she began volunteering with the Jewish Refugee Committee. Then in 1938 the horrors of Kristallnacht, when Nazi sympathizers attacked Jewish businesses and rounded up Jewish families throughout Germany and parts of Austria, galvanized Wijsmuller-Meijer to work tirelessly on behalf of Jewish children. She became involved in the Kindertransport, which managed to rescue nearly 10,000 children.

According to a Dutch site dedicated to German and Austrian war children in the Netherlands, Wijsmuller-Meijer was in Paris when the Nazis invaded the Netherlands in 1940. She rushed back in time to rescue 66 Jewish children who were still being cared for in an orphanage. The SS Bodegraven steamed out of the port of IJmuiden ten minutes before the Dutch government capitulated to the Nazis.

For the rest of the war Wijsmuller-Meijer did everything in her power to reunite children with their parents, send food to those in concentration camps and evacuate children whenever possible. At the 1942 Wannsee Conference, senior Nazi officials met to plan the “final solution” for the complete extermination of the Jews. Adolf Eichmann was placed in charge of logistics. The gutsy Meijer went to visit him personally and got permission to evacuate 600 children but only if she could do so immediately. To his surprise, she succeeded.

Eventually sent to Theresienstadt herself, Wijsmuller-Meijer managed to survive the war and died in 1978. She deserves to be better known and celebrated. Her kind of fearlessness in the face of evil gives me hope.

Two other quiet heroes who also risked their lives to save Jewish children are Irena Sendler (A story to change the world) and Sir Nicholas Winton (A modest angel who saved 669 children).

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2 comments for “#905 Defender of Jewish children

  1. January 7, 2014 at 3:22 pm

    Where would the world be without these people with internal moral compasses, who know what’s right and then do it, regardless of the risk and the cost to themselves.

    • January 7, 2014 at 7:11 pm

      Well said, Naomi. They give us beacons to light our way to the better selves we can all be.

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