The Teacher Who Saved His Jewish Students

The Fellowship  |  July 1, 2020

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

A Dutch teacher, Johan Benders sheltered and saved Jews during the Holocaust, proving himself an advocate and ally of the Jewish people.

When the Nazis overtook the Netherlands during World War II, Dutch teacher Johan Benders 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, a neighbor betrayed Johan and two of the Jewish girls, and the Gestapo arrested the three. Brutally tortured by the Nazis, Johan sacrificed his own life. He leaped 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, Amsterdam named a street after Johan Benders. And in 1997, Yad Vashem named Johan and Gerritdina Righteous Among the Nations.