Mirjam Watermen Pinkhof, whose resistance group saved roughly 300 Jewish youths, is an unassuming savior, quick to describe the sacrifice of others though she herself ignored advice to hide so that she may save people until she was arrested in 1944.
Waterman Pinkhof had been a teacher at Werkplaats Kinder Gemeenschap (Children’s Community Workshop) a school in Bilthoven, Holland. It was there, in 1939, that she became teacher to a group of Jewish refugees who had been sent away from German by their parents. This experience lead her to become involved with the Zionist movement.
Later, she founded her own school in her parents’ home in Loosdrecht. Again she offered education to Jewish refugees who were under the protection of Loosdrecht Youth Aliyah. As the Nazi threat grew, Waterman Pinkhof and Loosdrecht Youth Aliyah took on the challenge of finding homes for these youths. This was an incredible challenge to meet. What families would be able or willing to take the risk of saving these children, particularly since many had grown up isolated in Jewish communities and were unable to speak Dutch?
The leaders of Loosdrecht Youth Aliyah grew pessimistic. Waterman Pinkhof credits her later husband, Menachem Pinkhof, as the only leader who refused to give in to the Germans, and credits her former head teacher, Joop Westerweel, as the key to their group’s success through his confidence and connections.
The need to find homes for Jewish children was constant. Even after homes were found, these same homes might later become unsafe as Nazi pressure increased and neighbors would turn on each other. Waterman Pinkhof found herself always fearful that a new contact might prove to be a traitor.
In 1943, Waterman Pinkhof’s family had to go underground. Her parents, younger sister and brother had been arrested when the Gestapo came looking for her and her sister. She got her family free from Westerbork and found a hiding place for them for the remainder of the war.
Waterman Pinkhof continued her work sleeping at a different address each night until she was betrayed by someone claiming to be able to assist in Joop Westerweel’s release from prison. She and Pinkhof were both caught and sent to Westerbork. Friends illegally got their names on a list of prisoners to be sent to Bergen-Belsen, though a death camp like Westerbork, one that also sent prisoners to Palestine.
Mirjam and Menachem Pinkhof both survived the camp. They emigrated to Palestine, where they kept in touch with some of the youth they saved.
Edited by: Chris McDonough