Douwes, Arnold°

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DOUWES, ARNOLD ° (1906–1999), Righteous Among the Nations. The son of a Dutch pastor, Douwes was recruited for the underground by Johannes Post, a farmer and town councilor in the village of Nieuwlande (Drente), and immediately dedicated himself to saving Jews. Assisted by Max ("Nico") Leons, a Jew posing as a Protestant, Douwes systematically traversed great stretches of the Nieuwlande countryside on his bicycle, stopping at every house and farm to ask whether the inhabitants would be willing to lodge a Jewish child. When convincing failed, Douwes was not beyond, in some instances, forcing people to admit Jews for shelter, on the pretext that it was by order of the Resistance. His sometimes tactless methods produced good results – hundreds of Jews found shelter in the sprawling farms of the Nieuwlande region. Lou Gans, one of the many Jews assisted by Douwes, relates that when he arrived from Amsterdam, Douwes took him for a temporary stay with Jan Dekker, Nieuwlande's postman. He was then moved to the home of Hendrik Kikkert, a local farmer; then to Seine and Jans Otten, both of whom were teachers; and on to Simon Dijk, a housepainter (where counterfeit identity cards were printed), and Engel Bolwijn, a baker. "Our task was not easy," Douwes recalled. "The victims themselves were the main problem. It was very difficult to convince them. Many did not wish to acknowledge the dangers facing them.… We had to resort to lies in order to get the parents to give us their children!… When we told people 'one week,' it really meant until the liberation. When we said 'two days' we meant two years.… We used to contact people in Amsterdam and beg them to let their children go, assuring them that there were safe places waiting for them. There were really no such places. Our thinking was that we would somehow find suitable places the moment the children arrived. They had to be found and were indeed found: in homes, cellars, attics, or elsewhere." Douwes personally met the children in Amsterdam or at the train station when they arrived in the Nieuwlande region. Sixteen-year-old Haim Roet, one of those saved by Douwes, was brought by him by train from Amsterdam to Zwolle in eastern Holland and then by bicycle to Dedenswaart. There Haim was reunited with his brother, but when he fell ill, after about a month in hiding, and the local doctor refused to treat him, Douwes came to the rescue, taking him to a different doctor; then after Haim's recovery, bringing him back to Dedenswaart. When the German police staged raids in the area, Douwes spent the night on his bicycle, transferring children from one location to another right under their noses. "I well remember sitting on the back of Arnold's bike, riding the narrow lanes beside the canals that crisscrossed the area," Miriam Whartman relates. When she told Douwes that her host family in the village of Hollandse Veld was subtly trying to convert her, he immediately moved her to another household. Douwes kept a secret coded diary of the people rescued, their sheltering places and other vital information. An operation of such magnitude could not go long unnoticed, and the Gestapo was soon on the lookout for him. To avoid arrest he changed his appearance, sporting a mustache and wearing a hat and eyeglasses to hide his face as much as possible. Despite all his precautions, Douwes was arrested in December 1944. While awaiting execution, in an Assen prison, on December 11, 1944, the underground rescued him in a daring operation. He then went into hiding until the country's liberation. After the war he married Jet Reichenberger, one of the women saved by him, and the couple eventually settled in Israel with their three daughters, with Arnold resuming his previous profession as a landscape architect. Toward the end of his life, he returned to the Netherlands. It is estimated that Douwes was responsible for saving at least 500 Jews, including around 100 children. In 1965, Yad Vashem awarded him the title of Righteous Among the Nations.


Yad Vashem Archives M31–56; I. Gutman, Encyclopedia of the Righteous Among the Nations: Netherlands, vol. 1 (2004), 223–24; M. Paldiel, The Path of the Righteous (1993), 138–41.

[Mordecai Paldiel (2nd ed.)]