Dr. Hans Georg Calmeyer: To Build a Lifeboat

The Fellowship  |  March 4, 2015

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Life: June 23, 1903 – September 3, 1972Why you should know him: Dr. Hans Georg Calmeyer was a German attorney whose actions saved thousands of Dutch Jews from the Holocaust.Before Hitler took power, Dr. Calmeyer was a law student who supported the future furher’s early putsch. But Calmeyer’s support of the Nazi regime did not last. In 1933, when Hitler did gain power, Calmeyer’s law license was revoked by the Nazis. It was later reinstated, though Calmeyer never joined the Nazi party.In 1940, Calmeyer served as a soldier during the German occupation of the Netherlands. The next year, he was placed in charge of the Jewish Department, a position which would allow him to do good.In this administrative position, it was Dr. Calmeyer’s responsibility to decide which Dutch Jews were “racially ambiguous” and thus would be spared from the Holocaust. He realized that this would allow him “to build a lifeboat,” but also realized he would have to do so very carefully and secretively, as he was surrounded by Nazis (who he loathed) of the most hateful kind.Jews who could prove they were not 100% Jewish were safe. So Dr. Calmeyer began to allow such evidence as baptismal certificates, secondhand testimony, and forged paperwork as documentation that saved the lives of many. He also offered advice, hints, and excuses for those looking for such help. Despite warnings from the suspicious Nazis, Calmeyer continued helping the Netherlands’ Jews.Because of his work, at least 3,700 Dutch Jews were saved from certain death. His actions were forgotten for decades, but in 1992, Dr. Hans Georg Calmeyer was named by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations for the thousands he saved during the darkest period of the Jewish people’s history.