Henk drogt 88.
(photo credit: )
A 23-year-old Dutch military policeman who refused to obey the orders of his superiors to arrest Jews in a Dutch village during WWII and then deserted the police force to join the resistance was awarded the State of Israel's highest honor for non-Jews on Monday at Jerusalem's Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial.
Henk Drogt was one of 12 Dutch military policemen who refused orders to round up the remaining local Jews in Grootegast, Holland on March 9, 1943, in a rare case of open police resistance to the arrest and murder of Jews of Europe during WWII.
The policemen were pressured and threatened by their commanders with incarceration at a concentration camp themselves, but steadfastly refused to carry out the orders.
The group was subsequently arrested and taken to the Vught concentration camp in the Southern Netherlands, but Drogt managed to evade arrest.
Following his escape, Drogt deserted the police force and joined one of the Dutch resistance groups, where he took part in the smuggling of downed Allied pilots to the Belgian border as well as helping to keep Jews out of the hands of the Nazis.
In August 1943, Drogt, along with others in the resistance group, were betrayed, and they were all arrested. He was taken to prison and sentenced to death.
Drogt was killed on April 14, 1944, eight months after his arrest, at the age of 24.
A day before his execution, he was allowed to write a letter to his family and his pregnant girlfriend, whom he had been planning to marry.
"Dear all, I have to tell you the worst - today I and my friends got the death sentence," he wrote.
"It is terrible that we have to part from all those who are so dear to us in this way... I always had hope that I could be with you for one more time, but the Lord wanted differently."
After the war, Drogt was posthumously decorated by US President Dwight D. Eisenhower, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and the Dutch Government for his actions in the resistance movement.
His 11 colleagues had been recognized as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem two decades ago, although Drogt's name had previously been missing from the list of honorees submitted to Yad Vashem in the 1980s due to his initial escape from arrest.
Drogt's story was uncovered anew with the help of an El Al pilot, Mark Bergman, who heard it from Drogt's son, Henk Brink, on a visit to South Africa, where Brink lives, and contacted Yad Vashem with the story.
"It is a long-time dream for me to set foot on Israeli soil, and something which has become a reality on my 65th birthday," Henk Brink recounted at the ceremony in the Garden of the Righteous at Yad Vashem, which coincided with his own birthday.
Brink, who was born a month after his father's arrest by the Nazis and never got to meet him, broke down in tears as he spoke of a young man about to be married who paid "the highest price" for his values and courage to save people who were probably total strangers to him.
"Your decision to honor my father sends a strong signal to the world that Israel never forgets its friends," he said.
More than 22,000 non-Jews have been recognized as Righteous Among the Nations, including nearly 5,000 from Holland.
"At a time when anti-Semitism is on the rise again it is all the more important to draw attention to those who refused to stand by and look the other away, and took concrete action to save Jewish life," Dutch Ambassador to Israel Michiel den Hond said at the ceremony.
"It is an inspiration to us all for the future," he said.
Drogt, who never lived to see his son, is buried in Holland.
The entry in the official death books at the infamous Dutch prison states dryly: "Policeman, refused to arrest Jews."
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