Berendina Eman, nicknamed Diet, grew up in a middle-class Christian family in The Hague, Netherlands, and would go on to be both an advocate and ally of many of her Jewish countrymen.
The War Begins
As it did for many Dutch people, Diet’s war began in the middle of the night on May 10, 1940. She awoke to sounds of Nazi aircraft over the Dutch skies. That first day, Diet’s brother-in-law was killed during the Nazi invasion. And that first day, Diet and her fiance, Hein, began a resistance group to fight the evil German occupiers. The group was named for Hein, and was an acronym of the words “Helpt Elkander In Nood” (“Help Each Other in Need”).
The Hein group began by spreading forbidden BBC news to as many Dutch people as she could. Once the Nazis began their anti-Semitic acts, Diet began by hiding a Jewish friend headed for a concentration camp. Soon she had helped hide 60 Jews in both the city and in the country. Because hiding Jews was dangerous, Diet also began delivering, by bicycle, fake identification papers to any hidden refugees so that they could move around more freely.
When the Gestapo learned of Diet’s actions, she fled to a dairy farm and adopted a new identity of her own. But her heroic actions never stopped. She continued to save Jewish lives, while also providing the Allies with intelligence on Nazi military movements and positions.
Nabbed by the Nazis
In 1944, Diet’s fiance Hein was arrested. Diet changed her own name, but felt that she would be arrested soon. She continued her work, despite this premonition. And soon, she was arrested by the Nazis.
It happened as Diet was traveling by train to deliver false IDs to hidden Jews. As she was pulled from the train for questioning, Diet disposed of the incriminating paperwork when her captors were not paying attention.
Diet was imprisoned (where she met Corrie ten Boom), and at Vught concentration camp, she ended up having an emotional breakdown after being tasked with each day scrubbing the bloody uniforms of those who the Nazis had executed the night before.
When Diet went on trial before the Nazis, she pretended to be the simple girl her false ID said she was. Because of this, she was at last released and continued her resistance work until the end of the war. Sadly, her fiance Hein did not survive, dying in Dachau concentration camp just months before the war’s end.
After the war, Diet married, raised two children, and worked as a nurse in both Venezuela and the U.S. She didn’t speak of her wartime life for more than thirty years. At last, she began to share her memories, and then wrote her memoir, Things We Couldn’t Say, in 1994. Diet Eman lived in Grand Rapids, Michigan, until passing away just last fall at the age of 99. May her memory be a blessing.Tags: Advocates and Allies Diet Eman History Holocaust Netherlands Righteous Gentiles Yad Vashem