Among what must have been hundreds of thousands of stories of sacrifice, heroism and courage that unfolded among the Jewish communities of Europe during World War II, the story of ‘Mr. Radio Philips’, also known as’ The Angel of Curaçao ‘, has never been well told.
But 45 years after his death, Jan Zwartendijk, a common Dutch company man turned royal hero, is now the subject of a new biography called The Righteous: How Six Unbelievable Heroes Saved Thousands of Jews from the Holocaust, detailing his life-saving bravery that saved perhaps 10,000 Jews from annihilation during the Holocaust by helping them flee Europe.
In 1939, Zwartendijk assumed his duties as a consulate in the then Lithuanian capital, Kaunas, on behalf of the Dutch government in exile after the Netherlands was occupied by Nazi Germany.
A loyal man from the homeware brand Philips, he sold gramophones, light bulbs and other products out of the Kaunas branch before his reliability earned him the unpaid position of consul.
Shortly after taking over, Jewish refugees from Poland, who fled after the Red Army invasion in 1940, began arriving at his door seeking help.
Faced with a dangerous choice, Zwartendijk did what “everyone would have done … if they had been in this position,” according to his son, recounting his father’s words to the Guardian.
He ended up issuing 2,139 passport visas to Jewish families to enter the Dutch Caribbean colony of Curaçao, knowing that his green stamp and fountain pen writing signature could get them all the way to the island, after which he could only hope that local authorities, whose Approval was also necessary for Jews to enter the country, it would allow them to enter.
Zwartendijk’s gamble would end up saving more people than Oskar Schindler, the subject of the Academy Award. Schindler’s List-says journalist Jennifer Rankin in the guardian.
While he was the Dutchman whose visas allowed those fleeing the war to find a new home, he was not the only brave soul working as a consul in the Lithuanian capital at the time.
From Japan Chiune Sugihara helped ensure, through the long arm of the Trans-Siberian Railway, that refugees had a reliable way of escaping from Europe.
Sugihara and Zwartendijk were denounced by their governments, but would later be honored as heroes, although it took Zwartendijk considerably longer to be recognized.
Sugihara was named ‘Righteous Among the Nations’, the highest honor bestowed on non-Jews by the state of Israel, two years before he died in 1986. In addition, he has a section in the curricula of Japanese schools, a page Decent Wikipedia’s, memorials, and more.
Zwartendijk, on the other hand, was largely forgotten and did not receive the honor of ‘Righteous Among the Nations’ until 1997. Yet a week after his death in 1976, writes Jan Brokken, author of The fair, An investigation was published estimating that 95% of all people leaving Europe with a Zwartendijk visa escaped to freedom.
Since then, the Kaunas Municipality has erected a monument for Mr. Radio Philips in front of the corporate office that he used to occupy. It is a recognition worthy of a man that the history books will never forget again. Reading the biography of his life, Stephen Spielberg wrote: “If I had known the story of Jan Zwartendijk before, I would have filmed it.”
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