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Risking His Life, This Dutch Teacher Saved 600 Jewish Children From Nazi Death Camps During WWII

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It was the summer of 1943 in Amsterdam, falling under the Nazi-occupied territory. Several Jewish children, between infancy to 12 years of age, were found to be smuggled secretly from a nursery to a day-care centre.

The centre was adjacent to the Reformed Teacher Training College where 32-year-old Johan van Hulst was the principal at that time. He was rumoured to be supervising the entire operations of smuggling these children to the countryside and cautiously removing some of their names from the list – the dreaded list of Jewish children to be deported to concentration camps.

Putting his own life at risk, van Hulst rescued over 600 Jewish children who would otherwise have been brutally choked to death in the poisonous gas chambers, under the regime of Hitler.

Johan van Hulst, who passed away last year at 107, was recognised as a hero by Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Centre. Efforts For Good takes a walk down the tainted memory lanes of Nazi Germany to celebrate a true braveheart.

No one has ever become poor by giving
– Anne Frank

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Jewish children were forcibly separated from their mothers

The Netherlands came under German occupation in 1940, and by 1942, the Nazi authorities started deporting the Jewish people to the death camps in Poland. The next two years saw over 1,07,000 Jews being sent to the death camps, of whom merely 5,200 survivors were left in the end, as per the records of U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

At that time, Jewish children younger than 12 years of age were forcibly taken away from their parents at the transit camps. Babies were snatched from the breasts of nursing mothers, and the muffled cries of separated young toddlers soon died down within the nurseries where they were temporarily kept before being sent to death camps.

How van Hulst decided to save the children

A detention centre for the Dutch Jews was set up in a theatre hall across the street from van Hulst’s college. From there, the separated Jewish toddlers were sent to the crèche next to the college, managed by Henriëtte Pimentel.

When the number of children in the crèche became too large, the Nazis demanded some of the children be shifted to parts of van Hulst’s college. That was when a dangerous idea crossed Hulst’s mind that ended up saving the lives of hundreds of innocent kids.

An ingenious yet dangerous plan

He coordinated with the crèche owner Pimentel and Walter Süskind, a German Jew leading the unfortunate lot at the Amsterdam transit camp. Together, they secretly started smuggling the children, one by one, over the hedge that demarcated the boundary between the college and the crèche.

Evading the stringent eyes of the Nazis, van Hulst hid these children inside a classroom for days, providing them with optimum care and comfort, until they were handed over to Dutch Resistance Groups to be transferred to safety in the countryside.

A few seconds to save hundreds

Süskind and van Hulst ensured to surreptitiously remove names of children from the official Nazi list. Thus, they could be transferred to safety without any hindrance. He devised an ingenious and quite foolproof plan for the same.

Every day at a specific time, a tram used to stop on the street between van Hulst’s college and the detention centre, blocking the college entrance from the view of the Nazi guards. In that flash of a moment, van Hulst would transfer the children away, hidden in baskets and sacks, and take them to safer places underground. Over the course of a few months, he managed to save more than 600 Jewish children this way.

The regret that stayed with him

Afterwards, in the September of 1943, the crèche was shut down, with around 100 children still inside it, who, unfortunately, were a few of the millions of victims of history’s most horrifying genocide. Though van Hulst managed to escape with 12 children, he always regretted the fact that he failed to safeguard the others.

Years later, after the war, as the world showered van Hulst with honours and awards, the aged man quietly rued the death of the children whom he could not save. Throughout his lifetime, he never liked the portrayal of him as a hero, as he always reiterated his wish to have saved more.

Efforts For Good will continue to bring you more unheard stories of the world’s unsung heroes, in an attempt to preserve their names in bright letters in the pages of history.

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Goonj Is Working With 1000’s Of Volunteers & Partner NGOs To Provide Covid-19 Relief In 18 States

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With the extension of the lockdown the crisis of migrant labourers and daily wagers has just grown bigger due to uncertainty and fear of future. In the migrant colonies, slums and for people in the villages hunger and desperation is building up day by day. This is high time we step up our efforts to support our people who are in dire need of food and hygiene essentials to survive the pandemic, Covid-19.

After the India-wide lockdown, a lot of jobless migrant workers are stuck in cities with hardly any resources while many started retreating back to their villages. With the loss of livelihoods, a large number of them are now struggling to support their families.

Goonj activated its pan India teams and a pan India network of partner organizations and volunteers in urban and rural India. This network, built over the last two decades, helps them learn from the ground, reach material quickly and review and adapt strategy periodically. Intensifying this network has helped Goonj reach and start work across 17produced states/UT in the last three weeks.
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Goonj’s focus: 

Majority of the Covid-19 relief work by non profits right now is in the metros and cities but Goonj is the only non profit that is also simultaneously focusing on the people in the villages and the ones stuck on highways or somewhere.

Goonj is targeting daily wagers, migrants and other vulnerable groups, who even traditionally are left out like the disabled, sex workers, LGBTQ community.

“COVID-19 is a crisis, yes…But, it’s also an opportunity for us to build the society anew. Not ‘for’ the people…but, ‘with’ the people. And in the process, we will build ourselves too.” – Anshu Gupta, Founder-Director, Goonj.

Direct Monetary and Material Transfer

Wherever Goonj got the permission to open their centres for packing and disbursement of relief material kits, they are creating a kit consisting of 20-30 kgs material including dry rations, masks, sanitary pads and other hygiene material and reaching them to people, as per needs and as per regulations with all safety precautions. This kit will help a family survive for 30 days.

Information till 10th April 2020:

  • Distributed 15,100 ration kits reaching thousands of people
  • Reached 17,700 families
  • Supporting 12 community kitchen across India with 16,600kgs of ration
  • 77,800 food packets provided to migrant laborers and daily wagers walking on the roads across the country.
  • Provided direct financial support to 32 organisations
  • Made 42,800 cloth face masks
  • 24,900 cloth sanitary napkins produced
  • Produced 1500 litres of organic sanitiser

In Goonj’s processing centers its trained team of women are making cloth face masks and cloth sanitary pads (MY-Pads), keeping all the precautions and with the permission and cooperation of the local authorities.

In this lock-down phase if you are facing any difficulty getting sanitary pads or you are running out of stock, here’s a detailed but very simple process of making Cloth Pads at home created by Goonj. “This is how we make Goonj MY Pads.” This is how our mothers and grandmothers turned their spare cloth into pads.

This disaster, unlike any other, is unprecedented in its scale and impact and that’s why we all must do our bit with Goonj to continue its relief work for millions of people in this still unfolding long-tailed disaster.

The need is huge.. We are there.. Need You too !!

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It's not how much we give
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- Mother Theresa Quote
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