Geertruida Wijsmuller-Meijer (21 April 1896, Alkmaar – 30 August 1978, Amsterdam) was a Dutch resistance fighter who brought Jewish children and adults into safety before and during the Second World War. Together with other people involved in the pre-war Kindertransport, she saved the lives of more than 10,000 Jewish children. She was honored as Righteous among the Nations by Yad Vashem. After the war she served on the Amsterdam city council.
- 1 Early life
- 2 Social and political work
- 3 Request from England
- 4 Meeting Eichmann
- 5 Kindertransport
- 6 Children in the "Burgerweeshuis"
- 7 June–July 1939: Refugee ships
- 8 September 1939 – December 1939: Last journeys from the German border
- 9 September 1939 – May 1940: Journeys to England and southern France
- 10 May 1940: The children from the "Burgerweeshuis" to England
- 11 May 1940-1943 Help for Jewish children during the occupation
- 12 Contacts with Nazis
- 13 Until March 1941: Work for the Amsterdam Red Cross
- 14 1941 – June 1942: Journeys to Spain
- 15 May 1942: Arrest
- 16 September 1944: Orphans from Westerbork
- 17 1944–1945: Hunger in the Netherlands
- 18 After World War II
- 19 Personality
- 20 Monuments
- 21 Distinctions
- 22 References
- 23 Literature
- 24 External links
Geertruida Wijsmuller-Meijer, known as 'Truus' to her family, was born in the city of Alkmaar. She was the firstborn child of Jacob Meijer, who owned a drug store, and Hendrika Boer, a self-employed dressmaker. For two years she attended the School of Commerce. In 1913, the family moved to Amsterdam. Her parents taught her to stand up for people and, after World War I, set an example of helping the needy by taking in a homeless German boy.
A year later, she got her first job at a bank, where she met her future husband, the banker J. F. Wijsmuller. They married in 1922, and Wijsmuller stopped working. They had no children, and Wijsmuller became involved in social work. Her husband supported her in all her activities. They could always count on their live-in housemaid, Cietje Hackmann.
Social and political work
Wijsmuller took on several unpaid jobs as a social worker. For example, she was a coordinator for an association for homecare, and administrator for a daycare center for children of working women. She joined the Vereeniging voor Vrouwenbelangen en Gelijk Staatsburgerschap ("Association for Women's Interests and for Equal Citizenship"). There she met chairman Mies Boissevain-van Lennep, who would later become a resistance fighter. In addition to this work, Wijsmuller was nominated as number 6 on the list of Liberal candidates for the Amsterdam city council elections in 1935. Because of the threat of war she founded the Korps Vrouwelijke Vrijwilligers (KVV; "Corps for Female Volunteers" in 1938, which she managed from her home. Soon she had a vast network of people.
From 1933 onward, Wijsmuller traveled to Germany to fetch family members of Jewish acquaintances and bring them safely to the Netherlands. She did so for many years to come. After the Kristallnacht in 1938, rumours reached her that Jewish children were wandering unattended in the woods, so she went to the Dutch–German border to see what was going on there. She smuggled a Yiddish-speaking Polish boy across the frontier under her skirts, and took him to Amsterdam.
Request from England
In November 1938 the British Government decided to let Jewish children under the age of 17 from Nazi countries enter the United Kingdom for a temporary stay. Various organisations started working together in the Refugee Children's Movement (RCM) to take care of these children.
On December 2, Wijsmuller received a request to come to the newly established Dutch Children's Committee in Amsterdam. During this visit Norman Bentwich was also present. He asked her to travel to Vienna to meet Adolf Eichmann. She left the same day.
Eichmann then was the Nazi official handling the emigration of Jews. It was thought that Wijsmuller, as a non-Jewish woman, might be able to get permission from the Nazis for the children to travel to England. Eichmann snarled at her, but Wijsmuller was imperturbable and fearless. He responded by giving her permission to travel with 600 children, but it had to happen by the upcoming Saturday, on Shabbat, a deadline he seemed to assume she would not be able to make. However, Wijsmuller was successful; she arranged everything and on 10 December a train left Vienna with 600 children on board. The journey from Vienna to Hoek van Holland took around 30 hours. One hundred of the children received shelter in the Netherlands, while 500 traveled on to England. Her vigour was fuelled by the degrading way she had seen Jewish inhabitants treated in Vienna. In the Netherlands, however, nobody believed what she had seen.
This section relies largely or entirely on a single source. (January 2017)
From then until the outbreak of World War II on September 1, 1939, Wijsmuller organised children's transports, known as Kindertransport, from Nazi Germany and the annexed territories mainly to Great Britain, but also to the Netherlands, Belgium and France. It was an exceptional operation carried out under great pressure that required the cooperation of parents, guardians and various committees with volunteers in many cities and countries. Wijsmuller was fully aware of the urgency of these transports and maintained contacts with all of the parties involved, including train and boat companies. It was thanks to these contacts, her resilience and her interventions that the evacuations went faster and saved more people. Wijsmuller was later quoted saying that the success of the operation was mainly due to the Jewish committees in Vienna, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Berlin and Breslau (and later in Prague, Dantzig and Riga). These committees prepared the Kindertransport with great care. Wijsmuller never accepted money for her work. Other people organised transports too, for example Nicholas Winton and Recha Freier. Ultimately, 10,000 children were saved from a certain death by being transported on a route via the Netherlands into Great Britain. Approximately 2,000 refugee children remained in the Netherlands and about one-third of these children would survive the Shoah.
In England Wijsmuller had contact with Lola Hahn-Warburg and others, and in the Netherlands she cooperated with Gertrude van Tijn from the ''Comité voor Bijzondere Joodsche Belangen'' (Committee for Special Jewish Interests, belonging to the Committee for Jewish Refugees), Mies Boissevain-van Lennep and many others.
Children in the "Burgerweeshuis"
From March 1939 onwards Wijsmuller was on the board of the Amsterdam orphanage "Burgerweeshuis", (now the Amsterdam Museum), which started to accommodate the refugee children. Wijsmuller and her husband were very involved with the children. The children came in small groups to stay overnight at the Wijsmullers' and they took them on outings, for example to Artis, the Amsterdam zoo. The children called her "Tante Truus" (Auntie Truus).
After the first large transport, the work involved became more structured and a maximum of 150 children per transport was agreed upon. Several times a week, Wijsmuller traveled to Germany and Nazi-occupied territories to pick up children and arrange things on site with the organisers involved. However, the outbreak of the war between England and Germany in September 1939 put a stop to these transports, as from then on the borders to the UK were closed.
June–July 1939: Refugee ships
In June 1939, international negotiations took place in Antwerp among European countries about the distribution of nearly one thousand Jewish refugees on the MS St. Louis. Wijsmuller was part of the Dutch delegation, who boarded the ship and welcomed the nearly 200 refugees on their arrival in the Netherlands. In July 1939 Wijsmuler was involved in the departure of children on the Dora, which eventually landed with 450 refugees in Palestine.
September 1939 – December 1939: Last journeys from the German border
The mobilisation disrupted train traffic and the border at Bentheim in Germany was closed. On 31 August Wijsmuller was told that a group of children from the Youth Aliyah was stuck in Kleve. She arranged travel documents, picked the children up in buses and took them to the boat in Hoek van Holland. On 1 September she received a telephone call from Germany that Orthodox boys were stranded at the station of Kleve. The Dutch Railways put together a train for her, consisting of dining cars. At the station at Kleve she also found a group of 300 Orthodox men from Galicia. She told the Germans that "after all, these are also boys", and got permission for them to leave. It was the last group to leave Nazi territory via Vlissingen to England.
September 1939 – May 1940: Journeys to England and southern France
From September 1939 till May 1940 Wijsmuller helped many Jewish children and adults stranded in the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark and Sweden, and traveled to England and the unoccupied parts of France and Spain. She arranged an airplane, gasoline and travel documents. On these journeys by plane or train she accompanied the refugees, all the while arranging the necessary but hard-to-get travel documents. She was described as a born tour conductor, being able to reassure the refugees and to unearth all the talented children aboard for songs, recitations and performances during the long train journey. From Marseille people traveled on by boat to try to reach the English mandated area in Palestine.
In November 1939 Wijsmuller was arrested and molested by the French in Marseille, suspecting she was the much-wanted German spy "Erika". Due to a lack of evidence she had to be released.
May 1940: The children from the "Burgerweeshuis" to England
On 10 May 1940 Wijsmuller was in Paris to take a child away when she heard of the German invasion of the Netherlands. Within three days she traveled back to Amsterdam, where she immediately was arrested and questioned by the Dutch police. After her release she went to the orphanage "Burgerweeshuis" to see the children. The local garrison commander passed a request on to her from London to arrange for the Jewish children at the orphanage to travel as fast as possible to the coastal town of IJmuiden so they could catch a boat to England on time. She brought along as many children as possible on the way, bringing a total of 74 children to the very last boat, the "SS Bodegraven", that left the harbor. Minutes later the Dutch government surrendered. The Bodegraven sailed for England, but due to the German nationality of the children, at first they were not allowed to disembark. Eventually the ship moored on 19 May at Liverpool. The children spent the war with foster families and in various institutions in England. Wijsmuller decided to stay in the Netherlands; she wanted to be with her husband and she found there was more work for her to do.
May 1940-1943 Help for Jewish children during the occupation
After the capitulation of the Netherlands Wijsmuller traveled to Bruxelles. There she consulted with the Belgian Red Cross and the Belgian Childrens' Committee. She made contact with Benno M. Nijkerk, a Dutch-Belgian businessman, and they agreed to bring as many children as possible to the south. Nijkerk had false identity cards forged in Bruxelles and Wijsmuller smuggled them with information about the escape route to Holland. This work continued until at least 1943.
During this period Wijsmuller devoted herself to uniting families. She took children to their parents who have escaped to Belgium and France. On her way back she brought children with her whose parents remained in the Netherlands. Sometimes she brought children to their parents in Germany. In June 1943 she traveled for the last time with Jewish children in the direction of the Spanish border.
Contacts with Nazis
With the Nazis, Wijsmuller had contacts from high to low. She used it when she wanted something done from them. For example, she received travel documents for Jewish children to leave the country from a Gestapo employee who believed that children belonged with their parents. Before that she had accepted his invitation to have a drink with him on an Amsterdam terrace. He saw her walking in the street and recognized her. Previously he was a border official during the "Kindertransport".
Until March 1941: Work for the Amsterdam Red Cross
For the Amsterdam Red Cross she traveled with food and medicine to the Gurs and St. Cyprien internment camps in the south of France. Whenever possible she took along Jewish children and smuggled them to Vichy France or Spain. This came to an end in February 1941, when the Dutch Red Cross terminated her travel permits after Wijsmuller made her criticism known about a fellow worker of theirs in Paris.
1941 – June 1942: Journeys to Spain
From May 1941 to June 1942, Wijsmuller was involved in refugees on behalf of the Hoymans & Schuurman's agency. She functioned as the liaison between the SS, the Jewish Dutch and the agency. She accompanied groups who still had permission from the Nazis – having to pay them a lot of money – to leave Europe through Spain and Portugal. On these train journeys from Amsterdam to the Spanish border Wijsmuller brought along children too, who traveled for free. That was her condition to agree. With these journeys she accompanied some 150 people to safety.
May 1942: Arrest
In May 1942 Wijsmuller was arrested and put in custody in the prison on the Amstelveenseweg in Amsterdam. The Gestapo suspected she was helping Jewish refugees to flee the Netherlands to France and Switzerland. A group was arrested at their hiding place in Nispen. Wijsmuller had provided them with false identity papers and escape routes, which she smuggled from Brussels to the Netherlands. To accomplish this she cooperated with Benno M. Nijkerk, a Dutch–Belgian businessman from the Belgian-Jewish resistance group “Comité de Défense des Juifs". But as the refugees only knew her pseudonym, "Madame Odi", Wijsmuller was released after a few days due to a lack of evidence. She kept in touch with Nijkerk.
As the war progressed, she devoted herself to obtaining and distributing food in Holland. As a member of the resistance group Groep 2000 she sent packages to camps like the Dutch transit camp Westerbork, and the concentration camps Bergen Belsen and Theresienstadt. She also delivered duck eggs to houses for the elderly and hospitals in Amsterdam every week.
September 1944: Orphans from Westerbork
In September 1944 Wijsmuller discovered that the 50 "orphans" from Westerbork would be deported. She regularly brought food to a number of these children in the Amsterdam "Huis van Bewaring" (house of detention). Alarmed by this news, she convinced the Nazis that the children were not Jewish, but born of Dutch mothers and German fathers. To prove her point she showed a Dutch bill which she had manufactured herself. She insisted on "special treatment" for the children. As a result the children traveled on to Theresienstadt, stayed together as a group and returned safely after the war.
1944–1945: Hunger in the Netherlands
Hunger became a serious issue in the Dutch cities. When it was no longer possible to send food parcels to the camps, Wijsmuller, as a member of an interconfessional group, organized the evacuation of 6,649 famished children from Amsterdam across the IJsselmeer to the countryside. The children were able to recuperate there.
On 7 April 1945 the Amsterdam police informed Wijsmuller that 120 Allied soldiers were being held in a monastery in Aalsmeer. They were in a bad way. Wanting to help, Wijsmuller cycled to Aalsmeer, the first time with medication, and managed to get in. She threatened the Germans that they could be charged after the war. Immediately after the capitulation of Holland Wijsmuller sought contact with the Germans in Utrecht, who knew her by her nickname "die verrückte Frau Wijsmuller" ("that crazy woman Wijsmuller").Crazy, because she helped Jews, for nothing. They referred her to the Canadians in Hilversum. The latter sent cars and Wijsmuller delivered the soldiers to them.
After World War II
After the war Wijsmuller traced missing persons from the camps, as member number 1 from the KVV and as a UNRRA (a precursor of the UN) employee. From 1945 until 1966, she was a member of the Amsterdam city council for the liberal party (VVD). She was involved in social work and many social projects in the Netherlands and abroad. For example, she was involved in the creation of workplaces for the disabled in Amsterdam and the founding of a hospital in Suriname. She was one of the founders and a board member of the Anne Frank House. Most of the children found that their parents did not survive the Shoah, but some were reunited with their families. Until her death Wijsmuller kept in touch with several of the children she saved.
She died on 30 August 1978, leaving her body for scientific research.
Wijsmuller has been described and remembered as an impressive personality, a lady with a loud voice, and someone who radiated warmth and energy. She was a resolute, practical woman with a big heart for children. Very creepy but never rude. She was able to convince people, even overwhelm them with her boldness. She could improvise in challenging situations and negotiate and bribe whenever necessary. She had a talent for networking and organising. It was her preference to work on her own, as she considered that safer. In the months and years following the outbreak of the war she never ceased to go wherever work needs to be done. She was also characterized as a headstrong and dominant woman, and, looking back, like an adventurer. In Amsterdam she was nicknamed both "tante Truus/Auntie Truus" and "stoomwals/steamroller".
- A sculpture of her, made by Herman Diederik Janzen, was unveiled in 1965 in Beatrixoord in Oosterpark in Amsterdam. When Beatrixoord was closed, "Auntie Truus" took the statue home. After her death in 1978 it was reinstated on the Bachplein in Amsterdam. A placard at the foot mentions: "Mother of 1001 children, who made rescuing Jewish children her life's work".
- In November 2011, a monument in Hook of Holland was unveiled by Mayor Aboutaleb, commemorating the 10,000 Jewish children that left for England from there. The monument was designed by Frank Meisler, one of the children on the transports. He made three other monuments that are located in Gdańsk, Berlin and London.
- Streets have been named after her in Amsterdam, Gouda, Leiden, Pijnacker and Coevorden. In Leiden a tunnel bears her name.
- Asteroid number 15296 is named Tantetruus ("Auntie Truus") after her.
- Righteous among the Nations
- Medailles from the Dutch and German Red Cross
- Visser-Neerlandia Prijs in 1962
- Truus Wijsmuller tree in Yad Vashem
- Officer in the Order of Orange-Nassau
- Honorary Citizen of Amsterdam (Silver Medal)
- Medal of French Gratitude (Reconnaissance Francaise)
- wijsmuller, truus (1913). "regionaal archief alkmaar". regionaal archief alkmaar.
- NIOD Archiefcollectie 299A G. Wijsmuller-Meijer, pag. 1 "Verslag van een op grammofoonplaten opgenomen gesprek van Mw. Wijsmuller-Meijer
- Vrooland, L.C. (1963). Geen Tijd voor tranen. Amsterdam: Em. Querido Uitgeverijen NV. pp. 182–183.
- D'Aulnis, Madelon (1993). "So reinarisch und dann so verrückt". Ons Amsterdam. mei 1993: 121–124.
- Jonathan Harris and Oppenheimer, Mark Jonathan and Deborah (2000). Into the arms of strangers. New York: Warner Bros. p. 11. ISBN 0747550921.
- H. Boas, "Het begon in 1938", Nieuw Israëlietisch Weekblad 12-12--1952
- Wasserstein, Bernard (2013). Gertrude van Tijn en het lot van deNederlandse Joden. Amsterdam: Nieuw Amsterdam Uitgevers. pp. 56, 76, 81, 88. ISBN 9789046814352.
- Wasserstein, Bernard (2014). The ambiguity of virtue. Harvard University Press. ISBN 9780674281387.
- NIOD Archief collectie 299A "Verslag van een gesprek van Mw. Wijsmuller", p 7, 36,57, 67, 69, 73, 92
- "Verslag van een op grammofoonplaten opgenomen gesprek mw. Wijsmuller", page 21, NIOD Archiefcollectie 1934A
- D'Aulnis, "Joodse kinderen op reis naar de vrijheid 1938-1943", pag. 52
- "Geen tijd voor tranen", L.C. Vrooland 1961, Uitgeverij P.C. van Kampen & Zonen, Amsterdam
- NIOD Bibliotheek, Madelon D'Aulnis "Joodse kinderen op reis naar de vrijheid 1938-1943", 1987, p 26-27, en 36-37-38
- D'Aulnis, Madelon, Ons Amsterdam mei 1993, "So reinarisch und dann so verrückt"
- NIOD Archiefcollectie 299A, Documentatie I, 1934A "Verslag van een op grammofoonplaten opgenomen gesprek van Mw. Wijsmuller-Meijer", pag 81-82, 84, 88-91
- (1906-1944 Neuengamme) "Joodse kinderen op reis naar de vrijheid,1938-1943", D'Aulnis, Madelon, pag 26-27 and 36-37-38
- Van Tongeren, Paul (2015). Jacoba van Tongeren en de onbekende verzetshelden van Groep 2000. Amsterdam: Uitgeverij Aspekt. p. 417. ISBN 9789461534835.
- L.C. Vrooland, "Geen tijd voor tranen" Tweede druk Em. Querido Uitgeverij Amsterdam 1963 pag. 171
- NIOD Archiefcollectie 299A "Verslag van een gesprek van Mw. Wijsmuller-Meijer",p 110
- L.C. Vrooland, "Geen tijd voor tranen", 1961, P.N. . van Kampen & Zonen (auto) biography
- Barley, Ann, "Patrick calls me mother", page 89, 1948 Harper & Brothers New York
- "Truus' Children". Truus' Children. Retrieved 2019-06-03.
- Harris and Oppenheimer, Mark Jonathan and Deborah (2000). Into the arms of strangers. New York: Warner Bros. p. 11. ISBN 0747550921.
- D'Aulnis, Madelon "Joodse kinderen op reis naar de vrijheid 1938-1943", 1987, NIOD Bibliotheek, pag. 52
- "Geen tijd voor tranen", L.C. Vrooland, Tweede druk 1963, page 110, Em. Querido Uitgeverij N.V. Amsterdam
- "heijmerikx.nl | Genealogie en Streekgeschiedenis". www.heijmerikx.nl. Retrieved 2019-06-01.
- NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies, archiefcollectie 299, 1934 A, Documentatie I, G. (Truus) Wijsmuller-Meijer, "Verslag van een gesprek van mw Wijsmuller-Meijer", 114 pagina's, ongedateerd/"Report of a conversation from Mrs Wijsmuller -Meijer", undated, 114 pages, and : Documentatie 2 G. Wijsmuller -Meijer, Artikelen 42, 1957-1971
- NIOD Library , D 'Aulnis, Madelon, "Joodse kinderen op reis naar de vrijheid 1938-1943",- Truus Wijsmullers' werkzaamheden voor gezinsvereniging in en emigratie uit West-Europa- (ongepubliceerde) afstudeerscriptie nieuwe geschiedenis UvA, 1987
- Archief Raadsgriffie Gemeente Amsterdam, enkele artikelen/verslagen
- Stadsarchief Amsterdam 934, Geertruida Wijsmuller-Meijer, 1 (trouwboekje 1899 en 1922), 2,3,19
- Regionaal Archief Alkmaar, geboorteakte Geertruida Meijer, gezinskaart Jacob Meijer, Archief Handelsschool (Hogere) HBS-A
- Barley, Ann, "Patrick calls me mother", 1948, Harper & Brothers, New York
- Boas, Henriëtte, " Het begon in november 1938", - Een interview met mw. Wijsmuller in vijf afleveringen- , Nieuw Israëlietisch Weekblad 12-12-1952, 02-01-1953,16-01-1953, 30-01-1953, 06-02-1953
- L.C.Vrooland, Truus Wijsmuller-Meijer: "Geen tijd voor tranen" (No time for tears),. Amsterdam 1961 (auto)(biography), and Tweede druk 1963 Emm. Querido Uitgeverij NV Amsterdam
- Presser, J. "De ondergang", deel I, Staatsuitgeverij 's Gravenhage 1977, ISBN 9012018048 pag. 12
- Madelon d'Aulnis, 'So reinarisch und dann so verrückt', Ons Amsterdam, mei 1993, page 121-124
- Mark Jonathan Harris and Deborah Oppenheimer, 2000 "Into the arms of strangers" , Warner Bros, ISBN 0747550921
- Bernard Wasserstein, 2013 "Gertrude van Tijn en het lot van de Nederlandse Joden", Nieuw Amsterdam Uitgevers ISBN 0747550921, in English: Bernard Wasserstein "The ambiguity of virtue"- Gertrude van Tijn and the fate of the Dutch Jews, 2014. Harvard University Press, ISBN 9780674281387
- Lida Boukris-Jong "Truus Wijsmuller - een vrouw uit duizenden- ", Tijdschrift "Oud Alkmaar", jaargang 39, nr 2 2015, pag. 39-45
- David de Leeuw: 'De kinderen van Truus', In: Nieuw Israëlietisch Weekblad 2017 nr 39, page 20-25, 04-08
- "Truus Wijsmuller-Meijer, a forgotten heroine", www.dokin.nl (2017)