How 2 Jewish sisters built a cultural oasis during WWII

Braber’s book, published in 2013, explores the extent to which Jews were integrated into Dutch society before the war and how their ties ...


Braber’s book, published in 2013, explores the extent to which Jews were integrated into Dutch society before the war and how their ties to non-Jews or their relative isolation contributed to their ability to resist Nazi oppression. In it, he uses what he describes as a “broad and inclusive definition of resistance”.

Around 55,000 Dutch people played a role in resistance activities during the war, but only a small minority – around 2,000 to 3,000 – focused on helping Jews escape deportations and go into hiding. Those who did were often other Jews, like the Brilleslijpers.

The non-violent ways in which the Jews fought the genocide should also be seen as part of the resistance, according to Dan Michman, author of “Holocaust Historiography: A Jewish Perspective.” In this 2003 book he wrote that the Hebrew term “amidah, ” or constancy, is used for resistance which preserves and sanctifies life.

“To maintain your culture, which the National Socialists and their supporters are trying to destroy, is to resist,” Braber said. “The creation and maintenance of Jewish culture, especially Yiddish culture, is a form of resistance. “

One way this took shape was the challenge against the Nazification of Dutch culture. In 1941, the SS administration in the Netherlands created the Nederlandse Kultuurkamer, or Dutch Chamber of Culture. Membership was mandatory for artists and required a declaration of Aryan ancestry. Nothing could be presented, directed or published by non-members.

The Brilleslijpers worked against this measure, and among their associates in the resistance were many artists, such as the Jewish sculptor Gerrit van der Veen, who set up a secret committee opposed to the Kultuurkamer. But for van Iperen, the sisters resisted on several levels, all of them representing amidah.

“Just saying no to the legal order is the first step,” she said. “Saying ‘I will not obey, I will not comply.’ “

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