Truus’ Children

Ooft! The opening credits weren’t even over and I was like, “Oh, I’m gonna greet at this.”

Truus Wijsmuller was a Dutch woman who was named Righteous Among Nations for saving 10,000 children from the Nazis.

It began when Jews were fleeing Germany, they began leaving their children at the border with Holland, hoping their kids could find a way across to safety. Many Dutch people heard reports of this, but Truus decided she had to do something about it. She got in the car, drove to the border, lifted the kids into the motor, hid them under her skirts, and drove home.

She set up a children’s home, where kids from all over were coming. The documentary interviews many people who spent their early years there.

Truus herself was this sturdy-set woman, the oft-repeated word used to describe her was “robust”. She had a “Don’t kick yer baw into my garden” vibe, but was the soul of pure compassion. She was determined, even bloody-minded, which she’d have to be to survive getting arrested by the gestapo, facing off against Eichmann, and aiding in the kindertransport. From the way folk talked about having to take their phone off the hook during dinner to be sure she wouldn’t phone looking for a favour, you get the sense she was a pain in the arse, but in the best way.

She simply knew what needed to be done and had the will to do it. And she acted like she was afraid of no one. She would press princes into doing her bidding, and talk back to Nazi officers, and tell gestapo jailers that she wanted to speak to the man in charge.

And she also seemed to be able to talk to anyone. She seemed to build enough rapport with Nazi officials that she could cross Europe, even with war on the horizon, and make arrangements to take kids to safety. She just seemed like a woman you didn’t talk back to.

And yet she never would have been able to do any of it, were it not for the fact that she seemed never to be acting in her own self-interest. Even towards the end of her life, she lived a very modest existence. But if someone needed a favour, she would ensure they got what they needed. You couldn’t help but give in to her, because you knew she was in the right.

The documentary tells of many incidents of her arranging safe passage for young children, often told by the people themselves who were saved. But the film climaxes with Truus’s incredible endeavour to evacuate her children’s home when the Nazis finally invade Holland. She is in Paris at the time. Now remember – it’s blitzkrieg, lightning war, and the German army conquered Holland in 4 days. Truus has to fly into a war zone, past everyone fleeing, to beg transport for her children to the last boat leaving IJmuiden, so they can flee to Britain. She finally gets buses, and ferries more than 70 children to the coast, dodging bombs and strafing from fighter planes, and the madness of a country collapsing into war.

Her achievements are extraordinary. She seems like an unbelievable character, but she just did unbelievable things. She showed what one person could do. When the war came, and history came, and in the face of a situation so overwhelming and hopeless, it made people say, “What can one person do?” Well, this is what one person can do. 10,000 children are alive because of her efforts. And their children, and their children after them.

A film that will bring you to tears for the best reasons.

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