Dutch heroine who saved dozens of Jews in World War II dies at 99

Diet Eman buried weapons in her parents’ garden, translated BBC reports and provided money, ration cards and false documents to Jews on the run.

By
September 9, 2019 00:54
2 minute read.
A monument at former Nazi transition-camp Westerbork in the Netherlands .

A monument at former Nazi transition-camp Westerbork in the Netherlands .. (photo credit: BLACKNIGHT/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

Diet Eman, a Dutch woman and resistance fighter who was recognized as a Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem for helping save dozens of Jews, passed away on Tuesday. She was 99.

In 1942, Eman and her boyfriend, Hein Sietsma, gave shelter to a Jewish violinist named Herman in The Hague, The Washington Post reported. From that moment on, Eman became involved in the Dutch underground, helping dozens of Jews.

“In the beginning you have no idea what risk you are taking,” she later told the Sioux City (Iowa) Journal, as reported by The Washington Post. “Then, you’re so deep in it, you can’t go back.”

The Nazis occupied the Netherlands in 1940.

Eman buried weapons in her parents’ garden, translated BBC radio reports to spread forbidden news, and served as a courier. She and Sietsma, who had become her fiancé, joined a small resistance group called Hein, which provided money, ration cards and false documents to Jews on the run.

Eventually, the two were discovered and arrested. At the time of the arrest, Eman was hiding an envelope full of stolen ration cards under her blouse and managed to toss it away, taking advantage of a moment the Gestapo officers were distracted.

She spent some months at the Herzogenbusch concentration camp in Vught, in the southern Netherlands, but resisted interrogations by pretending to be very simple-minded.

In August 1944 she was released and went back to work with the resistance until the end of the war. At that point, she learned that Sietsma, whom she had gotten engaged to, had been killed in the Dachau concentration camp.

However, he had managed to write a letter on a piece of toilet paper and to throw it from the train on the way to the camp. The letter was found together with other prisoners’ messages and belongings and eventually made its way to Eman.

“Darling, don’t count on seeing each other again soon,” Sietsma wrote. “I have the feeling that it will take at least a year… Even if we won’t see each other on earth again, we will never be sorry for what we did, and that we took this stand.”

After the war, Eman became a nurse and moved to Venezuela to work for an oil company. She married an American and after their divorce, she settled in Michigan.

“I wanted to forget… To start a new life in a country where there were no memories.”

In 2015, Dutch King Willem-Alexander called Eman “one of our national heroes.” She is survived by two children.


Related Content

Swastika painted on Rio Jewish Club
September 16, 2019
Indianapolis police investigating flyers called ‘anti-Semitic in nature’

By MARCY OSTER/JTA