Washington, D. C. – In the final days before his execution in July 1943 at the hands of the Nazi party, Willem Arondeus asked his lawyer for one last request: to spread a message after he was gone. “Let it be known,” he said. “Homosexuals are not cowards.” A battle cry of defiance and a bold assertion of his strength, Arondeus lived his life by these words. An openly gay man and a tireless member of the Dutch resistance against the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, he willingly sacrificed his life for a mission that ultimately protected hundreds of thousands of Jews’ lives.
Born in 1894 as the youngest of six siblings in Naarden, Amsterdam, Arondeus began to have constant fights with his parents over his sexuality. Amsterdam decriminalized homosexuality in 1811, but restrictive rules still barred homosexuality in the early 20th century. But Arondeus refused to suppress his identity as a gay man, leaving home that year at age 17 and severing ties with his family. Arondeus quickly learned, though, that persistent discrimination of LGBT citizens made life difficult. Alongside living in poverty, he also struggled to find housing due to his refusal to hide his sexuality. “Willem, as an exception, lived as openly as he could,” Klaus Mueller, the European representative for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, said during a Holocaust Museum virtual event “Pride Month: Defying Nazi Persecution” this past July. “In his diaries… he wrote about being kicked out of apartments because he was gay, there was no protection.”
While Arondeus had many artistic talents, he is much more recognized for his courageous acts of rebellion as a member of the Dutch resistance during World War II — which he joined in 1940 and where he truly found his voice as an activist. Cognizant of this dire threat, Arondeus sprang into action right at the start of the Nazi occupation. Along with publishing anti-Nazi information, he and other members of the resistance created about 70,000 false identification cards of Dutch Jews — preventing them from being tracked down by the Nazis. Yet over time, the Nazis began to catch on more and more to the forged documents, which could be double checked at the Amsterdam registry building. Arondeus and the rest of his unit constructed their riskiest plan yet: they would blow up the facility — along with the hundreds of thousands of documents inside. And so, on March 27, 1943, a group of resistance fighters led by Arondeus entered the facility disguised as Dutch police, drugged the guards, and blew up about 800,000 identity cards. Yet, just several days later on April 1, an anonymous source informed authorities of the attack and Arondeus was arrested. Some were able to escape and flee the country, but exactly three months later, Arondeus and 12 others — including two other gay men — were brought before a firing squad and executed. To learn more about Willem Arondeus, visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s website and YouTube page. (Philadelphia Gay News – Victoria Ebner at https://epgn.com/2021/09/28/dutch-gay-man-defied-the-nazis-and-saved-thousands/)
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