In 1943, Grijpskerk was a sleepy, Dutch countryside village of few inhabitants. There was one synagogue, built in 1879, that served only seven Jews – the entire population in that town and the neighboring village of Grootegast at the time.
Hendrik Drogt was serving in the village as an officer in the Dutch Military Police. He was young, the village was small, and aside from the oppression of Holland being under German occupation, he was likely happy in his post in this otherwise idyllic town.In the spring of that year, things changed. He and several of his fellow officers – 11 to be exact – were ordered by the Nazis to round up the Jews living in and around the two villages.
At first, all of the officers tried to stall the Nazis. They told them stories of an epidemic in the town and even enlisted the help of a doctor who backed up their story. Unfortunately, and as you might expect, the Nazis did not care. They divided the officers up and started pressuring them to cave in and obey orders. They threatened the officers that if they would not send the Jews to the concentration camps, they would be sent there themselves. The men remained steadfast, not giving in despite the many offers of leniency and even release if they changed their minds.
All but Hendrik were arrested and sent to concentration camps. One, Dirk Boonstra, died at Dachau. Hendrik had escaped the Nazis two days before they were supposed to fulfill the command to arrest the Jews and had gone into hiding. The Nazis were unable to find him.
He went to the town of Meppel and found the Dutch Resistance’s local underground cell. He became a member and participated in armed resistance, theft of food coupons, and of blank ID cards. Hendrick also hid Jewish families and moved them under cover of darkness from one hiding place to another.
Not only did he assist in saving the lives of Jews in Holland, but he also saved the lives Allied pilots that had been shot down. He helped them in the same way as he helped the Jews – at night – so that they could escape to Britain. The Gestapo trapped Henrick and others in the resistance in August of 1943. He went to trial and was executed the following April. He was only 24 years old.
He wrote to his family, including his fiancée and their unborn son, on the night preceding his execution:
“It is terrible that we have to part from all those who are dear to us in this way . . . I always had hope that I could be with you for one more time, but the Lord wanted differently . . .”
Hendrick was remembered and honored by U.S. President Eisenhower, Prince Bernhard of The Netherlands, Winston Churchill, and Yad Vashem which named him as Righteous Among the Nations – an honor bestowed on non-Jews who have risked their lives during the Holocaust to save Jews from extermination by the Nazis. He was remembered and listed at the memorial in the village where he lived: Grijpskerk.
Despite all of these honors, it is not easy to find information about this great hero. Humanity is greatly served by people like Hendrik Drogt who took a stand with integrity and compassion for his fellow human beings and we should continually remind ourselves that such heroes do exist.
Pictures from the archive of Yad Vashem, http://www.yadvashem.org , the World Holocaust Remeberence center, used under Yad Vashem’s Fair Use policy.