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The Dutchman Who Saved 600 Children From the Nazis

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Johan van Hulst

Early Life and WWII  from the Jewish virtual library. 

In 1942 van Hulst was the director of the Reformed Teacher Training College, a Protestant religious seminary in Amsterdam. The nearby Hollandse Schouwberg theatre was the main clearing site for the Jews living in Amsterdam who had been issued deportation notices by the Nazi government. Children who arrived at the Schouwberg with their families were separated and sent to the next-door créche run by Henriëtte Pimentel, which shared a back garden with the college that van Hulst directed.

Starting in January 1943, Pimentel and Walter Süskind, a German Jew who had been appointed by the Nazis to run the Hollandsche Schouwberg operation, began canvassing potential adoptive families for physical descriptions of children who could fit into their families without detection. Once the children’s parents had agreed, the names of the children to be rescued were removed from from the Nazi’s registry of Jews who had passed through the Schouwberg theatre.

Then, working with Pimentel, Süskind and dozens of other volunteers, van Hulst arranged for the children to be spirited over the hedge separating the neighbouring back yards of the créche and the teachers’ college, often assisted by the teachers-in-training or local university students. When the time came to move the rescued children and babies away from the school, they would be hidden in baskets and sacks. One of the operation’s helpers would then wait for the moment a tram passed, blocking the view of Nazi guards at the facing Hollandsche Schouwberg, to cycle away with the hidden child.

The operation came to a halt on September 29, 1943 when the Nazis sent Pimental and 100 children from the créche to Nazi concentration camps. Decades later, van Hulst described the days preceding the closure to Yad Vashem: “Now try to imagine 80, 90, perhaps 70 or 100 children standing there, and you have to decide which children to take with you. … That was the most difficult day of my life. … You know for a fact that the children you leave behind are going to die. I took 12 with me. Later on I asked myself: ‘Why not 13?'”

In total, the operation had rescued between 500 and 1000 Jewish babies and children.

Van Hulst received the Yad Vashem Distinction in 1970. During a state visit to Israel in 2012, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahusaid of van Hulst “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.”

In 2016, the former Reformed Teacher Training College became the Dutch National Holocaust Museum.

Shortly before his 107th birthday in 2018, van Hulst gave an interview on Dutch television, talking about his experiences during World War II.

Van Hulst died on March 22, 2018, at the age of 107.

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