Advocates and Allies: Johan Benders

The Fellowship  |  April 27, 2016

Johan Benders, a heroic schoolteacher that sacrificed his life to help save Dutch Jews
Advocates and Allies: Johan Benders

Life: July 1, 1907 – April 6, 1943

Why you should know him: Johan Benders was a Dutch schoolteacher who sheltered and saved Jews during the Holocaust.

When the Nazis overtook the Netherlands during World War II, Dutch teacher Johan Benders was angry and decided to do all he could to help Dutch Jews. He urged his students to create false identification papers and ration cards to give to Jews in hiding. Johan and his wife Gerritdina opened their home to shelter Jews, as well.

Johan and Gerritdina took in two Jewish sisters, Rosalie and Katie Wijnberg, who had been students of Johan’s, as well as another Jewish girl, Lore Polak. The girls stayed in the Benders home until the end of the war.

In April of 1943, Johan and two of the Jewish girls were betrayed by a neighbor and arrested by the Gestapo. Brutally tortured by the Nazis, Johan sacrificed his own life – leaping from a third-floor window of the prison – so that he wouldn’t give away the many Jews he had helped and hidden. He left behind his wife and three children. In solidarity with their dead teacher, Johan’s students marched past the prison whistling the school’s song.

Despite her husband’s death, Gerritdina took in more refugees, including Lore and Katie, the two Jewish girls who’d been arrested and had escaped.

After the war, a street in Amsterdam was named after Johan Benders, and Yad Vashem named Johan and Gerritdina Righteous Among the Nations in 1997.

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