Diet Eman died last week in Grand Rapids, Michigan at the age of ninety-nine. Born in The Hague, Eman left Europe after World War II and lived in the U.S. for many years before becoming a citizen in 2007. It was only in 1990 that she began to speak publicly about her wartime experiences, which Sam Roberts describes in an obituary:
[W]hen, in May 1940, the Germans, hours after Hitler had vowed to respect Dutch neutrality, invaded the Netherlands, . . . some of [Eman’s] neighbors, fellow churchgoers, argued that for whatever reason, God in his wisdom must have willed the German invasion. But Eman—herself so deeply religious that she would leave assassinations, sabotage, and, for the most part, even lying to others—could find no justification for such evil.
She and her then-boyfriend, Hein Seitsma, joined a Resistance group. They began by spreading news received on clandestine radios from the British Broadcasting Corporation, then smuggling downed Allied pilots to England, either by boat across the North Sea or more circuitously through Portugal. [In 1942], a plea for help by Herman van Zuidan, a Jewish co-worker of Eman’s, prompted her Resistance group to focus on stealing food- and gas-ration cards, forging identity papers, and sheltering hundreds of fugitive Jews. . . .
Eman delivered supplies and moral support to one apartment in The Hague that in late 1942 housed 27 Jews in hiding. The walls were paper thin. Crying babies and even flushing a toilet risked raising the suspicions of neighbors. [Yet] each time some of the Jews there were smuggled out to isolated farms outside the city, Eman returned to find that the woman had taken in more refugees. . . .
Eman was [eventually caught and] interned in the Vught concentration camp in the southern Netherlands, but after stubbornly insisting that she was simply a callow housemaid, she was released three months later, in August 1944. She immediately rejoined the Resistance and remained with it until May 1945, when she mounted a tank and directed Canadian liberators to die-hard German snipers only days before Germany surrendered.
Seitsma was not so lucky: he was caught and taken by the Gestapo to the Dachau concentration camp, where he was tortured and killed.