WHO WAS TRUUS WIJSMULLER?
Truus Wijsmuller (1896-1978) was an ‘ordinary’ woman, who came into action when the lives of Jewish children were no longer protected and safe in many European countries after the Night of Broken Glass ('Kristall Nacht') on November 9/10, 1938.
She personally negotiated with the Germans, met with Adolf Eichmann and when he ‘offered’ (challenged) her to organise a transport in a few days, gathering 600 Jewish children – without their parents – to leave Germany by train, she surprised him by indeed getting almost that big of a group together to be transported to safer parts of Europe. It became the first of many ‘Kinder transports’ that would take children from Vienna, Germany, Prague and Poland to Holland and England.
Until World War II officially started in May 1940, a total of around 10.000 children were saved this way. They were sent on these trains by their parents, grandparents or other family members, with no more than a small bag with their most precious belongings – the older children often in charge of looking after their younger brothers and sisters and sometimes (even though it was against the official rules) clutching a baby in their arms.
For these children Truus Wijsmuller became ‘The woman carrying an umbrella’. This umbrella was her identification mark, that she used while waiting for ‘her’ children at the border station in Emmerich, before she would get them to Holland.
Not only the children stand in awe for this umbrella. The Germans who negotiated with Truus Wijsmuller in Berlin and Vienna about allowing the children to leave the country, often were impressed by her courage and the boldness she used to get the desired permissions for the children.
Truus Wijsmuller, in other words, played an essential role in getting the permissions for the Kinder transports and in organising and guiding these transports.
The last transport she was able to organise was that of 74 children who she got out of the Burgerweeshuis in Amsterdam just in time to take them to the harbour of IJmuiden, where they embarked on the ship SS Bodegraven the very same time Holland capitulated to the German occupier on May 15, 1940.