Meet the Dutch Christians Who Saved Their Jewish Neighbors from the Nazis

Diet Eman endured Hitler’s occupation separated from her fiance, Hein Sietsma. But apart, they served in the Dutch Underground—saving at least 60 Jews from certain death.
Meet the Dutch Christians Who Saved Their Jewish Neighbors from the Nazis
Image: Brian Kelly

Pop-pop-pop!

Diet Eman lay awake in her bed. Who could be beating their rugs at this hour? It was early morning on May 10, 1940. Hours before, Hitler had announced that he would respect the neutrality that the Netherlands had maintained during World War I.

As the popping continued, Eman and her parents scrambled to the front lawn. Planes buzzed through the night sky and fire shot upward, shattering Hitler’s assurances. Stumbling back inside, the Emans turned the radio on: “We are at war. German paratroopers have landed.” Diet’s blood boiled; Hitler had lied.

Then a new question rattled around in her mind as she sat in her nightclothes: What of my Hein?

A few days later, she found out. A card from Hein Sietsma, smudged by fire, arrived at the house, saying he had survived fiery blasts in Rotterdam, South Holland. She also discovered something else. As Eman later said, “I did not know until the danger of war that I was in love with him.”

She also did not know how war would shape their relationship, how many sacrifices it would require of each of them. Together and then separated, sometimes imprisoned, scheming hideaways and stealing ration cards, and transporting Jews. Always hoping that the Allies, and victory and justice, might be near.

When daylight came, whole regions of the Netherlands lay in ruin. In the two years prior, the Dutch had watched passively as Hitler seized Austria and Poland. Now it was their turn. But with an anemic military and a compliant population, the Dutch were hardly prepared to resist Nazi rule. Queen Wilhelmina and her government fled the country, and the Netherlands officially surrendered to Germany in five days.

But the invasion didn’t change ...

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