This week, Diet Eman turns 90. Seventy years ago, Diet was a young Christian woman living in Holland when Hitler invaded her country. She watched in horror as her fellow Jewish countrymen were increasingly persecuted by the occupying Nazis. Like many others in Holland, such as Corrie ten Boom, Diet knew she could not passively stand by and do nothing to help save the lives of the targeted Jews in Hitler’s final solution to annihilate millions. Diet joined with other Christians who were going underground – By the end of the war, Diet’s particular group, Group Hein, (consisting of a number of Diet’s young peers including her fiance) was responsible for saving the lives of hundreds of Jews. Sadly, many of her co-resistance workers did not survive the war. Diet did, and years later she wrote her story. Lighthouse Trails was privileged a couple years ago to publish our own edition of Things We Couldn’t Say, Diet’s amazing experience during the Holocaust. Today, we learned that Diet is turning 90 years old this week. Below is an excerpt from her book:
Last night we walked past the synagogue. Horrible: on the doors was written with large letters “Jude Suss.” On the pillars a swastika and a large V and horribly drawn Jewish faces. In the street on the boarded-up shop windows, “Jew,” “Pest Jude.” How long still, O Lord?
September 16, 1941
Yesterday the paper had a “short” summary of the places where Jews are not allowed! I can better mention where they are still allowed “in their homes and in the streets!”…
There came a day when my Jewish friend Herman, who worked with me in the bank in The Hague, began to understand that for him, as a Jew, life could not go on in the same way anymore. He thus became the first Jewish person that we helped during the Occupation.
First the Jews weren’t allowed on the trams anymore, or on the buses, in parks, or in shops. Rules like that were printed in the newspapers, and they were displayed on the trams and in shop windows. It was an enforced limitation of freedom for Jews in all kinds of ways. Next, Jews weren’t allowed to visit most places in the city anymore; they had to stick to their own Jewish areas and shops. And though Herman and his family did not live in the Jewish area of the city, they, like all Jews, were no longer allowed to visit non-Jewish people.
[from Diet’s diary] May 6, 1942 Seventy-two Dutch men have been executed. From last Saturday till Tuesday, six-thousand people have been arrested. Ex-military, pastors, all people of the first and second chamber [the Dutch parliament], etc., etc.
The worst is, I remain so stone cold. Does this war make you an “alive-dead person”? Is it not possible to remain yourself in this chaos? How long still?…
The next law the Germans made was that non-Jews could have nothing at all to do with Jews. Even after that, my mother and father wouldn’t have minded Herman’s coming over, but at that point he did not want to endanger them. Actually, the Germans might have punished my family a little bit for breaking the rules; but Herman would have gotten into major trouble. My parents loved him, but suddenly he couldn’t come anymore.
Much of what had preceded the Jewish persecution had seemed an annoyance to most of us–no display of the royal colors, prohibitions against listening to the BBC–and for the most part we simply put up with it for a while. No one liked the restrictive laws, but in many people’s eyes these relatively trifling laws were something we could tolerate. But when signs and notices suddenly appeared saying that the Jews had to leave their homes and could not live near us because, as the signs said, they were “infectious” (the Germans called them lice and rats and all kinds of names), when they were told they had to leave their homes in the Netherlands completely, then we stopped putting up with the injustices.
The Germans explained to us that the Jews were to be transported to East Germany from all the other European countries. There they would live only with each other, and that way they could harm only each other. When it started to go into effect, we knew we could simply not tolerate this horrible plan. We knew we had to do something.
According to Hitler, we were the great ones–the people with blond hair and blue eyes, the Aryan race. The “Jewish scum,” as the Germans put it, had to be quarantined, rounded up, and separated from the decent, blue-eyed people of what he thought was the super race…. And they were beginning to implement this kind of policy.
At first, the Jews would get notices at their homes that they had to report to such and such an address on a particular night, say, after curfew. They were to report to schools, for instance, where the Germans gathered all of them and took them away in trucks. Or the Jews were told they had to go to the railroad stations, and they would show up, very scared. The Germans always did it after the curfew hours so the rest of us wouldn’t see what was going on….
[A]t one point, my friend Herman’s family got their notice to report. Like everyone else, Herman was instructed to take only one suitcase, small enough to carry…. The Jews had to leave behind almost everything of sentimental value to them personally, not to mention goods of dollars-and-cents value. And they had no choice but to report; they couldn’t just throw away the summons.
July 21, 1942
A lot has happened again: the Jews are walking with their yellow stars on, are not allowed outside after 8 p.m., are not allowed to visit non-Jews, some streets are forbidden to them, etc., etc.
From Amsterdam many were sent to–??? Many are committing suicide!
O God, don’t You see that they are touching the apple of Your eye? Is it still not enough?
O let us, in the midst of all these things which drive us crazy, still remember that You are the ruler of everything and that the punishment You will give them for these things will be more just than all things we think of to punish them….
Please teach us Christians now to be true Christians and to put into practice what we confess, especially to these Jews. O Lord, make an end to all this, only You can do it. We know that You give strength according to our cross, but it is getting to be so very heavy, Lord.
Herman wasn’t working at the bank anymore at that time because he was not allowed to take the tram, the bus, or anything, and he was not allowed to enter that area of the city. So he asked me to come to meet him when he got his summons, because Jews were not allowed to visit non-Jews.
“If you were me, would you go?” Herman asked.
“I don’t think so,” I told him…
Herman’s parents were middle class; his father was a decent man with a good government job. His parents really believed that this whole thing would only last a year. They figured the Germans would place them somewhere in Eastern Europe for a little while, a place where they might have to live a little more simply than they were accustomed to living at home. And then, when it was over, they could come back. That’s what many people thought–Jews and non-Jews. Nobody thought they would be exterminated in gas chambers. Therefore, many of them went as meekly as sheep to their deaths.
German Jews who had lived from 1933 to 1937 or 1938 in Germany had seen how the Nazi system developed, had experienced Kristallnacht, and had fled to the Netherlands in the late 1930s. Many of those people had committed suicide during the German invasion of the Netherlands. The night Hitler invaded Holland–and in the five days of war after the invasion–there was no place left for them to run: Belgium was overrun, and Spain was pro-Nazi. There was no place for them to go but the North Sea….
Herman was only a year older than I, and we thought of the possibility that what was really happening was far worse than anyone had imagined. We thought about those suicides, and we considered Hitler capable of anything.
[T]hat evening when I saw Hein, I asked him, “What do you think, should Herman go?”
“You remember what the German Jews did,” he said “They committed suicide.” So I said to Hein [Diet’s fiance’], “You say he shouldn’t report, but what can he do? If he shouldn’t go there, what else is there?”
And that moment was the real beginning of our Resistance work. Hein immediately said he knew plenty of Christian farmers around Holk–in the area of the Netherlands called The Veluwe.
“Any of those farmers I know around Nijkerk,” he said, “any of them we ask will take Herman. He can work there on the farm.”
The whole business grew so fast that within two or three weeks we had over sixty people who wanted places out in the country, in The Veluwe. Sixty Jews in two weeks, and that was just the beginning. Hein … placed many Jews on the farms around that little town. But the list of Jewish people who wanted to hide kept growing….
At first we thought that was all we had to do: simply help the Jews who wanted to be helped when they began to understand what might happen to them. But we immediately learned that if we were to move these Jewish people out to the country, we would have to get them false identification cards. It was simply too risky to put them on trains when they were carrying IDs which were all marked with that big “J” and which the Germans required, to indicate the holder was Jewish….
By 1943 the group we worked with needed over eight hundred cards every month. The men from the knokploeg did that work, and of course it was very dangerous. But they did it for good reason, not simply because it was high adventure. I went to a few of their planning meetings, and those men always got down on their knees first to ask God to protect and help them….
December 3, 1942
… Jewish people are put out of their homes and into the street–without any shelter. All of Scheveningen has to evacuate.All the beautiful buildings are being razed! The coal [used for heating] has to be left behind, and when they raze the buildings this ends up under the rubble, while thousands are sitting without heat. All the government departments have to leave.
I think that Hitler is fulfilling his prophesy that if he goes under, he will drag all of Europe along with him….
(From chapter six of Things We Couldn’t Say by Diet Eman)