Unsung Dutchman who saved as many as 10,000 Jews during the Holocaust is finally getting his due

Unsung Dutchman who saved as many as 10,000 Jews during the Holocaust is finally getting his due

Jan Zwartendijk and one of the visas he issued that helped thousands of Jewish refugees flee Europe during WWII.

When ordinary people who have no intentions of making history step up to do the right thing, it reminds us that we all have the ability to be heroes. Jan Zwartendijk, a company man who risked the life of his wife and three children to help Jewish people flee to freedom during World War II, is finally getting his due after becoming the subject of a biography, "The Just: How Six Unlikely Heroes Saved Thousands of Jews from the Holocaust."

The book was written by celebrated Dutch author Jan Brokken and first published in Dutch in 2018. It's now available in its English-language translation.

When World War II broke out in Europe, Zwartendijk, originally from the Netherlands, was the head of a Philips branch in Kaunas, Lithuania.

The Dutch company Philips sold light bulbs, gramophones and radios, and because of his reputation for being reliable, Zwartendijk was asked by the Dutch government in exile to take on the unpaid position of consul in Kaunas. The Netherlands had been invaded by the Nazis in 1940.

In June 1940, the Soviet army invaded Lithuania. Fearing persecution, Jewish refugees who fled to Lithuania began looking for a way out of the country. After he was approached by a few refugees, Zwartendijk concocted a secret plan to help them escape Europe.

In doing so, he put the lives of himself and his family in tremendous danger.

Zwartendijk could help them out of Lithuania by giving them passage to the Dutch Caribbean island of Curaçao, about 5600 miles away. He did so by writing on their passports that no travel document was required to travel to Curaçao.

This was half true. Travel to Curaçao was allowed but required permission from the tiny island's governor. However, the island was so remote, Zwartendijk thought that no one would bother to check the country's entry requirements, and they didn't.

The Curaçao visas allowed the refugees to petition Soviet authorities for transit papers. They were also able to take the visas up the road to Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara. Sugihara then cleared the way for the refugees to escape Europe by traveling to Vladivostok, a port city in Russia, via the Trans-Siberian Railway, and from there, by boat to Japan.

From Japan, they could travel freely to the Western Hemisphere, until December 7, 1941.

After the Jewish refugee community learned that Zwartendijk was issuing visas that allowed them to flee, they began to frantically line up at his office looking for "Mister Radio Philips." Over a two-week period from July 26 and August 2, 1940, Zwartendijk churned out at least 2,345 visas and Sugihara issued close to 2,000.

A Curaçao visa issued by Zwartendijk.via Wikimedia Commons

On August 3, the Soviets closed the embassies and consulates in Kaunas.

Researchers estimate that the work of the two men allowed somewhere between 6,000 to 10,000 refugees to escape Europe because the visas were usually issued to men who brought their wives and children along for the journey.

Zwartendijk left Lithuania in September 1940 and returned to the Netherlands where he remained quiet about the work he did during the war. In 1964, after reports of the "Angel of Curaçao'' emerged, he was reprimanded by the Dutch foreign ministry.

For the rest of his life, Zwartendijk wondered what happened to the refugees he helped flee Europe. He feared that many didn't make it past Siberia.

"He must have thought that most of these people perished. He must have been worried that he sent them to their deaths," his son, Rob Zwartendijk, told The Guardian.

Researchers later determined that 95% of the Jewish refugees with Zwartendijk's visas survived the war. Sadly, this information reached his residence on the day of his funeral in 1976.

Over the years, Sugihara would be praised for his actions in Lithuania, while Zwartendijk remained relatively obscure.

Chiune Sugiharavia Wikimedia Commons

Sugihara died in 1986, two years after he was honored as "Righteous Among the Nations"—the greatest award that a non-Jew can be given by the State of Israel. Zwartendijk would receive the award posthumously, in 1997.

When asked about their acts of heroism, both men showed nothing but humility.

"It is the kind of sentiments anyone would have when he actually sees refugees face to face, begging with tears in their eyes," Sugihara said. "He just cannot help but sympathize with them. Among the refugees were the elderly and women. They were so desperate that they went so far as to kiss my shoes. Yes, I actually witnessed such scenes with my own eyes."

Zwartendijk's son recalls his father dismissing any claims that he was a hero. "Ah, that's not very important, everyone would have done those things if they had been in this position," he said.

Over the past few years, Zwartendijk has finally been receiving the praise he deserves. After Brokken's book was published, he received an apology from the Netherlands for chastising him for his work during the war.

The city of Kaunas has honored him with a memorial in front of the Philips office. More than 2,100 passports are suspended between two trees at the location and at night they light up a beautiful array of blue, pink and green.

The Prince Charles Cinema/Youtube

Brendan Fraser dressed as Rick O'Connell.

Brendan Fraser might be making the greatest career comeback ever, racking up accolades and award nominations for his dramatic, transformative role in “The Whale." But the OG Fraser fans (the ones who watch “Doom Patrol” solely to hear his voice and proudly pronounce his last name as Fray-zure, for this is the proper pronunciation) have known of his remarkable talent since the 90s, when he embodied the ultimate charming, dashing—and slightly goofball—Hollywood action lead.

Let us not forget his arguably most well known and beloved 90s character—Rick O’Connell from the “Mummy” franchise. Between his quippy one-liners, Indiana Jones-like adventuring skills and fabulous hair, what’s not to like?

During a double feature of “The Mummy” and “The Mummy Returns” in London, moviegoers got the ultimate surprise when who should walk in but Brendan Fraser himself, completely decked out in Rick O’Connell attire. The brown leather jacket. The scarf. Everything.

Keep ReadingShow less

Finding the perfect job just got a whole lot easier

Bluecrew uses technology to give workers more control over their job search.

Via Unsplash

Finding a job is never easy. But finding a flexible, shift-based, or part-time job that actually fits your life, pays fair wages, and offers competitive benefits? That can feel downright impossible, especially when you use employment tools and staffing resources designed with only the employer’s needs in mind.

Want to make it easier to find a job that meets your needs? Then you need to check out Bluecrew, a modern staffing solution that helps workers find the flexible employment opportunities they deserve.

Keep ReadingShow less

Woman without an internal monologue explains what it's like inside her head

“She's broken my mind. I don't even understand what I'm not understanding."

PA Struggles/Youtube

An estimated 50-70% of the population doesn't have an internal monologue.

The notion of living without an internal monologue is a fairly new one. Until psychologist Russell Hurlburt’s studies started coming out in the late 90s, it was widely accepted that everyone had a little voice narrating in their head. Now Hurlburt, who has been studying people's "inner experience" for 40 years, estimates that only 30-50% of the population frequently think this way.

So what about the other 50-70%? What exactly goes on inside their heads from day to day?

In a video interview originally posted in 2020, a woman named Kirsten Carlson gave some insight into this question, sharing how not having an inner dialogue affected her reading and writing, her interactions with others and how she navigates mental challenges like anxiety and depression. It was eye-opening and mind-blowing.
Keep ReadingShow less

"The Trout," performed by Samsung.

One might expect to hear Franz Schubert’s "Die Forelle," more widely known as "The Trout," at the philharmonic orchestra. However, Boglarka Gyorgy noticed her washing machine playing the catchy classical tune. Apparently, this is a feature for a particular Samsung line of washing machines.

Being a professional musician herself, she couldn’t resist the urge to grab her violin and perform an impromptu duet with her appliance—and then post it to Instagram, of course. The result was a hilarious, impressive and viral hit.
Keep ReadingShow less

Surprising Australian interview from 1974 shows just how weird it was for women to be in a bar

“You think women are going to be shocked by your language—that’s why you don’t want them in here?"

Surprising interview from 1974 shows how weird it was for women to be in a bar.

Once upon a time, things were weird. This is sure to be a sentiment that children of the future will share about the rules and customs of today, but knowing that fact doesn't stop things from the past from seeming a bit strange. In a rediscovered video clip of an Australian *gasp* female reporter in a bar in 1974, it's clear pretty quickly that she's out of place.

It's almost as if she's describing her movements like Steve Irwin would do when approaching a wild animal in its natural habitat. Her tone is even and hushed as she makes her way into the bar telling viewers how she's going to make her way to the barkeep, who also looks to be a woman. So I guess women were allowed to work in bars but not drink in them?

Honestly, that part was a little confusing for me but seemed the norm by the reporter's reaction. But what was not normal was a woman squeezing between men and ordering a drink and the men letting the reporter know that the bar was no place for a woman...unless you're the bartender. Who knows? 1974 was a wild year apparently.

Keep ReadingShow less

Self-dating is one of TikTok's latest trends.

Miley Cyrus' official music video for her new single "Flowers" is less than two weeks old, and it's already racked up a whopping 108 million views on YouTube. The smash hit also broke Spotify's record for the most streams in a single week, knocking K-pop superband BTS and their hit song "Butter" out of the top spot.

There's a reason "Flowers" is making waves. It's not only a catchy tune, but an empowering one, especially for women who've been socialized to believe they need a significant other to make them happy.

While most post-break-up songs are filled with heartache and lament and perhaps a bit of resentment, "Flowers" takes a different tack. While Cyrus sings about not wanting a relationship to end, she ultimately realizes she can give herself what she wants from a partner and it's incredibly liberating.

Keep ReadingShow less