A Christian Schoolteacher and Holocaust Hero
The Fellowship | March 9, 2021
A Dutch schoolteacher and Righteous Gentile, Johan “Joop” Westerweel served as a leader in the Dutch resistance against the Nazis during World War II, and lost his life for saving Jewish children from the Holocaust.
A Teacher with a Conscience
Born in the Netherlands to Christian parents, Joop Westerweel began his teaching career in the Dutch East Indies (what is now Indonesia). There, he faced expulsion for refusing to be drafted into the army on grounds of his Christian beliefs.
Back in the Netherlands, Joop again taught, as principal of a Montessori school in Rotterdam. He and his wife Wil also started a family, with four children by 1942.
Helping Jewish People Find Safety
During this same time, the Nazi regime spread across Europe, gathering and murdering the continent’s Jews. Joop and his family took Jewish refugees into their home. Helping hide 50 Jews in 1943 (33 of whom survived the Holocaust), Joop realized that 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, the Nazis arrested Joop’s wife Wil as she tried 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, the Nazis arrested Joop for trying to help two Jewish women escape across the Belgian border.
A Terrible Tragedy
Taken to the Vught concentration camp where the Nazis also held his wife, Joop Westerweel kept up his spirit and faith even while tortured, a true spiritual leader for many of the other inmates. Sadly, the Nazis executed Joop in August of that year, forcing his wife to watch. Wil Westerweel survived the war, reuniting with their children after liberation from the concentration camp.
Many of the young Jews who Joop Westerweel helped escape the Nazis also survived the war. One of Joop’s daughters 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, Yad Vashem named Joop and Wil Westerweel Righteous Among the Nations, naming the Joop Westerweel Forest (above) in Israel in remembrance of them and other Dutch Righteous Gentiles.