WESTERWEEL, JOHAN°

WESTERWEEL, JOHAN°
WESTERWEEL, JOHAN° ("Joop"; 1899–1944), Dutch educator and Righteous Among the Nations. Born in Zutphen, the Netherlands, to parents belonging to the Darbyite Church, also known as the Plymouth Brethren, Johan (better known as Joop) Westerweel attended a denominational teachers college and developed a personal philosophy that combined elements of socialism with his own version of evangelical Christianity. His first teaching job was in the Dutch East Indies (today Indonesia), but he was soon in trouble for protesting the exploitation of the native population by the Dutch masters. When he refused to report for compulsory military training because of his pacifistic beliefs, he was expelled from the colony. Returning home, he joined the teaching faculty of a school, and later became principal of a Montessori school in Rotterdam. It was there, some while later, that he first came into contact with Jewish refugees from Germany and learned about the plight of the Jews under Hitler. Thus came about his contact with the Dutch branch of He-Ḥalutz\>\> , an organization that prepared young people for a life of pioneering and agricultural work in Palestine and which had a training farm in Loosdrecht, near Amsterdam. In August 1942, when the 50-or-so trainees and instructors at the farm learned that they were slated for deportation within a few weeks, the group's leaders, Menachem Pinkhof and Joachim ("Shushu") Simon, turned to Westerweel for help; he had already temporarily hidden several Jews in his home. After listening attentively to their plans to help build a new society in Palestine, though opposed to nationalism in any form, he was impressed by their idealism and concluded that he had at least found a cause worthy of his fundamentalist piety, combined with his faith in socialism and his contempt for the Nazis. Immediately swinging into action, Westerweel set in motion a far-ranging plan to temporarily hide the farm's staff and students with friendly gentile families, assisted by trustworthy persons since then known as the Westerweel group, and then gradually move them to neutral Spain, whence they would proceed to Ereẓ Israel. To get to Spain meant traveling hundreds of miles across German-occupied Belgium and France, armed with forged papers. Westerweel organized and personally directed virtually every aspect of this operation, aided by his wife, Wilhelmina, and about a dozen underground activists, escorting most of the escapees all the way from the Netherlands to the Franco-Spanish border on the peak of the Pyrenées mountains. One of them recalled his parting words one freezing afternoon in 1944 high up in the mountains. "You are on the threshold of freedom. Soon you will arise in the land of freedom and will fulfill your goal of building Ereẓ Israel as a homeland for the world's Jews. I wish each of you happiness and good luck, but do not forget your comrades who fell along the road and by sacrificing their lives paved the way for your journey to freedom.… Remember the world's suffering, and build your land in such a way that it justifies its existence by providing freedom for all its inhabitants and abandoning war." Not long afterward, on March 11, 1944, he was arrested by the Germans at a Dutch-Belgium border-crossing point; Wilhelmina had already previously been arrested and confined to the Vught concentration camp. Brutally tortured, Joop refused to divulge the names of his associates. He was executed on August 11, 1944, just a few days after an attempt to rescue him ended in failure. He had once told his Jewish associates, "You're wrong in thinking I am helping you because you are Jewish. Even if you were blacks or Hottentots, no matter what, I would help you in the name of justice, for you are in need." While awaiting execution, Joop Westerweel penned a farewell message to his Jewish friends. It reads in part: "There they are … all my comrades, standing side by side with me; together we have advanced along this road to confront the enemy.… Whether I die or live is now all the same to me. A great light has dawned within me, enriching me. It is time for silent thoughts. The night is dark and long. But I am fully aglow from the splendor within me." His wife, Wilhelmina, was dispatched to Ravensbrueck concentration camp and luckily survived. The couple's four children were in hiding with friends. In 1963, Yad Vashem awarded Joop and Wilhelmina Westerweel the title of Righteous Among the Nations. -BIBLIOGRAPHY: Yad Vashem Archives M31–32; I. Gutman (ed.), Encyclopedia of the Righteous Among the Nations: Netherlands, Vol. 2 (2004), 823–25; M. Paldiel, The Path of the Righteous (1993), 138–41. (Mordecai Paldiel (2nd ed.)

Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.

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