Bert Bochove’s story is one of those amazing ones that make one wonder about how someone could possibly be this courage in such a treacherous time. Some might call him foolish for making so many refugees feel welcome in his house, and then constantly having to dodge the patrols sent out to capture and kill anyone hiding Jews. To others he shares the pages of history with the greatest and bravest hero’s; with complete self sacrifice and a very strong mind he was able to save dozens of lives.
His story begins in Finland where he was working as a mill a mill manager and first heard about the Nazi war machines relentless push into Russia and other Eastern European countries. Then once the war had begun and the front had moved to close for comfort Bochove moved back to his homeland of Holland and started a drugstore in a small town. There settled in with his newly wed wife and started a very nice life, and also became quite popular amongst the local towns people. This popularity helped him later on in life when he was responsible for the well being of more than a dozen persecuted Jews and had to provide for them.
The first refugee to come and stay at his house was Henny Juliard; she had been one of his wife’s best friends and cam to her in this time of utter despair. Without any sort of argument Bochove saw it as his duty to provide for this woman and took her in. What followed was an influx of peoples and the whole town became flooded with Jewish families seeking a hiding place. This very quickly led to the depletion of food stores and Bochove was forced to roam far to the neighboring farms and beg for any small donations of potatoes or wheat.
During the first winter, also known as the ”Hungry Winter”, the people of the small in Holland had to get creative in their ways to keep a very large underground Jewish population nourished. One example of just how ingénues they got in their creative thinking is the Garbage truck that was converted to wood. By mounting a furnace in the bed of this truck and piping the created gas into the engine compartment the truck was able to perform its duties and not depend on the hard to come by gasoline.
As the war drew on and the persecution of Jews became more and more intense and the stakes kept rising and rising for the people that were harboring them, Bochove decided to build a secret compartment. He knew that the time would come when information would be leaked and then a Gestapo raid would be inevitable. In preparation for this event Bochove built a very cleverly designed hiding place that was made to look like it was part of the fire wall between two houses. He lined the inside with newspapers and built a shelf over the flip up door, this way no amount of knocking nor any inspection of lines in the wall would betray the hiding Jews.
When the war ended, Bochove, his wife, and friends had managed to save the lives of dozens of Jews and managed to maintain their system. With all the personal, financial and physical contributions that Bochove so willingly gave to such a noble cause he no doubt is one of the greatest heroes of history.