Johan van Hulst, a Dutch teacher, has died. He was 107 years old. The Washington Post explains very clearly why van Hulst’s passing is worth remembering.
An inspector from the Dutch education ministry arrived at Johan van Hulst’s teacher training institute in Amsterdam on the morning of June 19, 1943. He noticed youngsters and, with SS soldiers standing nearby, asked, “Are those Jewish children?”
“You don’t really expect me to answer that, do you?” Dr. van Hulst replied.
The garden of Dr. van Hulst’s Reformed Teachers’ Training College bordered the garden of a Jewish nursery. Under Dr. van Hulst’s supervision, hundreds of Jewish infants and children had been passed across the hedge and hidden in his school. As Dr. van Hulst recalled, the inspector shook his hand and said, quietly, “In God’s name, be careful.”
Along with German-born Jew Walter Süskind, Dr. van Hulst was as careful as someone trying and succeeding in saving over 600 Jewish children and babies during World War II could be. When rounded-up Jews would be kept at a way station across from where Dr. van Hulst’s Protestant religious seminary was, he helped rescue some of the children and babies that were separated from their Jewish parents before being shipped off to almost certain “extermination” at Nazi death camps. Mr. Süskind would under-report the number of Jewish children under 12 being separated from their families by the Nazis. The difference in reporting meant life for the few they were able to save.
The late director, who died Thursday, hid in his school the children from the nursery of the Hollandsche Schouwburg, whom he and his helpers would hoist over the hedge that separated the two yards. From there, resistance activists and fighters would smuggle the children to safehouses, sometimes in laundry baskets and other times on bicycles, pretending that the children were their own.
When asked what he thought of Schindler’s List as a Holocaust film, Stanley Kubrick explained that Schindler’s List was not a film about the holocaust.
Think that’s about the Holocaust? That was about success, wasn’t it? The Holocaust is about six million people who get killed. `Schindler’s List’ is about 600 who don’t.
Dr. van Hulst and the more than 600 children and babies he helped save are the hope and the success of humanity in the face of our darkest sins; but their success only lasts as long as we remember and face those uncomfortable and painful truths about our species’ capacity for inhumanity.