The Forgotten Story of a Dutch Woman Who Saved Thousands of Jews from the Nazis

May 13, 2021 | Francine Wolfisz
About the author:

Geertruida “Truus” Wijsmuller, a Gentile born in the Netherlands, is the subject of newly released documentary that relates her efforts to rescue Jews from Europe on the eve of World War II—most importantly her role in arranging for the Kindertransport, in which a large number of Jewish children were brought from Germany and Austria to Britain. In 1938, Wijsmuller walked into the office of Adolf Eichmann, then the German official in charge of getting Jews out of Germany, and made a proposal, as Francine Wolfisz writes:

Leaning over the SS-Obersturmführer’s desk inside the Gestapo headquarters—formerly the Palais Rothschild in Vienna, [Wijsmuller] told Eichmann the British government was happy to take youngsters under the age of seventeen from Nazi countries for a temporary stay. “Let’s arrange it,” she said.

He, in turn, was astounded. “So Aryan and so insane,” he retorted. Snarling at her, Eichmann proposed an impossible task—if she could successfully take 600 children, she could have all 10,000. But it had to be done that Saturday. Logistics were one problem; convincing the most observant parents to let their children travel on the Jewish Sabbath . . . was a very different obstacle. But Wijsmuller proved Eichmann wrong and became a key part of not only the Kindertransport, but many other child refugee rescues throughout Europe during the Second World War.

While those she liaised closely with—including the late humanitarian Sir Nicholas Winton—rightly received recognition for their efforts, Wijsmuller’s contribution is far from well-known, despite the fact she saved thousands of lives, often at great personal risk.

But it wasn’t just the Jewish community she helped. She saved the life of Thomas Benford, Jr, the son of a famous African American drummer in Paris, who was just days old when she took him to Amsterdam.

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