Johan van Hulst was a Dutch Christian who, up until World War II, had already committed to helping children with his life — as a teacher, school director, university professor, and author. But when the Nazis occupied the Netherlands and began deporting and murdering the country’s Jews, van Hulst’s care for children would take on a whole new dimension.
As the war raged, van Hulst was director of a Christian seminary in Amsterdam. Across the street from his school was a theater which the Nazis used to gather Jews they would then deport and kill. Sharing a garden with van Hulst’s school was the site where Jewish children were gathered.
At the beginning of 1943, van Hulst began sneaking the children over the hedge that separated them from the seminary, assisted by the school’s teachers and students. After the children were smuggled into the school, they were then smuggled back out — to Christian families that would shelter them — hidden inside bags and laundry baskets. Van Hulst used other methods to trick the murderous Nazis, as well, waiting for a train to pass and block the Germans’ view.
Sadly, the Nazis discovered the operation, ultimately nabbing 100 children and a teacher named Henriette Pimentel — all of whom would perish in the death camps. But before van Hulst and his helpers’ actions were discovered, they had saved more than 600 Jewish children who would have met the very same fate.
Because of his actions, Johan van Hulst was named a Righteous Gentile in 1973. During a Dutch visit in 2012, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said of van Hulst, “We say those who save one life save a universe. You saved hundreds of universes. I want to thank you in the name of the Jewish people, but also in the name of humanity.” Van Hulst could only think of the children he was unable to save, saying of them, “I only can hope the angels may conduct you into paradise.”
Johan van Hulst himself was conducted into paradise only a year ago, passing away at the age of 107.