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A Village of Heroes

All 117 inhabitants stepped up to save lives.

Nieuwlande is a sleepy little village in Holland with a remarkable history. During the Holocaust, Nieuwlande instituted a quota system: every household in town had to take in at least one Jew. Many families chose to take in many more.

Before the war, there were no Jews living in Nieuwlande. By 1943, there were Jewish refugees hiding in every single home. This great communal act of heroism was instigated by Johannes Post, a local farmer and the youngest of eleven in a Dutch Calvinist family. After Germany invaded the Netherlands in May 1940, Johannes joined the underground resistance movement. He helped young Dutch protestors who were wanted by the Germans. One of the people he helped was Arnold Douwes, the son of a Protestant minister, who was an anti-Nazi activist dedicated to rescuing Jews. Johannes was isolated in his tiny village, and he didn’t know about German persecution of Jews in Holland. As soon as Arnold told him what was going on, Johannes was ashamed of his ignorance. Right then and there he vowed to save as many Jews as he could – despite never having met a Jew in his life.

Arnold, on the run from the Nazis, found shelter in Johannes’ farmhouse. Arnold quickly realized that Nieuwlande was a perfect place for hiding Jews  because of its remote location and friendly, caring residents. Johannes began to travel around Holland, looking for Jews to save. When he found them, he brought them back to his farmhouse, where his wife Dina would care for them while Arnold found them homes. Where money was tight, Arnold provided a stipend and food coupons to help people provide for their guests.

Since all 117 Nieuwlanders agreed to the quota, there was virtually no fear of being denounced to the Germans. Everybody was in on it. On his travels throughout Holland in 1943, however, Johannes’ activities were discovered and he was arrested by the Germans. While he was in jail, the Germans occupied the farm. Fortunately, Johannes’ family managed to evacuate everybody in time and find them safe hiding places. Johannes escaped from jail and went into hiding on his brother’s farm, where he formed and trained an armed militia to fight the German occupiers. He organized a plan to attack the local prison and free Dutch political prisoners being held there. However, the plan did not succeed and Johannes and thirteen others were arrested. They were all executed two days later, on July 16, 1944.

That October, Arnold was arrested by the Gestapo, tried and sentenced to death for hiding Jews. Hours before Arnold’s scheduled execution, the armed resistance group formed by Johannes stormed the jail and freed him. After the war, Arnold married one of the women he’d saved and moved with her to Israel, where he resumed his original profession of landscape design.

All 117 inhabitants of Nieuwlande were honored as Righteous Among the Nations by Israel Holocaust Memorial Yad Vashem. In 1988, a monument to the villagers was dedicated in Jerusalem.

For opening their homes and their hearts to save Jewish refugees, we honor Johannes Post, Arnold Douwes, and the people of Nieuwlande, Holland as this week’s Thursday Heroes.

Image: Johannes Post

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