Life: January 25, 1899 – August 11, 1944
Why you should know him: Johan "Joop" Westerweel was a Dutch schoolteacher who became a leader in the Dutch resistance against the Nazis during World War II, and who was killed for saving Jewish children from the Holocaust.
Born in the Netherlands to Christian parents, Joop Westerweel began his teaching career in the Dutch East Indies (what is now Indonesia). There, he was expelled for refusing to be drafted into the army on grounds of his Christian beliefs.
Back in the Netherlands, Joop again taught, becoming a principal of a Montessori school in Rotterdam. He and his wife Wil also began a family, with four children by 1942.
During this same time, the Nazi regime was spreading across Europe, gathering and murdering the continent's Jews. Joop and his family began taking Jewish refugees into their home. Helping hide 50 Jews in 1943 (33 of whom survived the Holocaust), Joop realized that simply hiding people was not enough – he needed to provide them a chance to escape.
In December of 1943, Joop led a group of young Jewish people to France and across the Pyrenees mountains to freedom in Spain. Later that month, his wife Wil was arrested trying to free a young Jewish woman from prison. Following this, Joop placed his children in safety with friends, then went underground. But in March of 1944, Joop was arrested while trying to help two Jewish women escape across the Belgian border.
Taken to the Vught concentration camp where Wil was also being held, Joop Westerweel kept up his spirit and faith even while tortured, proving to be a spiritual leader for many of the other inmates. Sadly, the Nazis executed Joop in August of that year, forcing his wife to watch. She survived the war, and was reunited with their children after being released from the concentration camp.
Many of the young Jews who Joop Westerweel helped escape the Nazis also survived the war. One of Joop's daugthers later settled in Israel, where she met many of those her father had saved, saying:
“I was three-and-a-half years old when my father was arrested and five years old when he was executed. I never really knew him. In the Netherlands I was a fatherless child; here in Israel I became my father’s daughter … I know the survivors endured terrible tragedies”, she says, “but in a way I envy them, because they knew my father.”
In 1964, because of all they had done and all they had sacrificed, Joop and Wil Westerweel were named Righteous Among the Nations.