His last message before being executed in July, 1943 was, “Let it be known that homosexuals are not cowards.”
In the spring of 1941 one Dutch artist and writer realized that the Nazi’s demand for all Jews to register with the authorities had nothing to do with safety, but was so that they could be rounded up and sent to concentration camps.
By the following spring Willem Arondeus started an illegal publication named Brandarisbrief, the purpose of which was to express his opposition to the ideas and edicts of the Nazi occupation in the Netherlands. He later merged that publication with another of the same goals, calling for mass resistance against the Germans.
By 1943 there were efforts to hide Jews among the local population and there were underground organizations working to forge documents for Jews. Arondeus used his artistic talents to help with the forging of records, but that success was short lived because the Nazis began comparing the names on documents with the local population registry.
Finally, on March 27, 1943 he led a group intent on destroying the records of registered Jews. They bombed the Amsterdam Public Records Office, destroying thousands of files and preventing the comparisons of forged documents which delayed or prevented many Jews from being identified by the Nazis.
Unfortunately he and his team were captured. They were executed by firing squad the following July. Arondeus, who, in spite of his parents rejection of him because of his disclosure, had lived as an openly gay man from the time he was 17, wrote in his last message: “Let it be known that homosexuals are not cowards.”
Today we face some similar challenges.
A gay teen might have more support at 17 than Arondeus did in the early 1900’s, but he would also be likely to face many of the same attitudes, slurs, and discrimination.
And here in the United States I’m seeing people who think a registry of Muslims is a pretty good idea, because “we have to be careful doncha know.”
In 1941 there were a lot of people who were careful. People who believed what they read and heard. People who thought the “powers that be” were just practicing the “better part of wisdom.”
By 1943 there were a lot of people who realized they’d been duped, and a few people who were willing to defy the odds to save whatever and whomever they could. People like Oskar Schindler, Nicholas Winton, and yes, Willem Arondeus.
These times may not be exactly like those times. No times are ever exactly the same.
But now, as then, there are a lot of people supporting and justifying intolerable attitudes, slurs, and discrimination.
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