How 2 Jewish Sisters Built a Cultural Oasis During World War II

How 2 Jewish Sisters Built a Cultural Oasis During World War II

Braber’s book, published in 2013, explores the extent to which Jewish people were integrated into Dutch society before the war, and how their links to non-Jews or their relative isolation contributed to their ability to resist Nazi oppression. In it, he uses what he describes as a “wide and inclusive definition of resistance.”

About 55,000 Dutch people played some role in resistance activities during the war, but only a small minority — about 2,000 to 3,000 — focused on helping Jews escape the deportations and go into hiding. Those who did were often other Jews, like the Brilleslijpers.

The nonviolent ways that Jews fought the genocide should also be considered part of the resistance, according to Dan Michman, the author of “Holocaust Historiography: A Jewish Perspective.” In that 2003 book, he wrote that the Hebrew term “amidah,” or steadfastness, is used for resistance that preserves and sanctifies life.

“Maintaining your culture, which the National Socialists and their supporters are trying to destroy, is resisting,” Braber said. “The creation and maintenance of Jewish culture, especially Yiddish culture, is a form of resistance.”

One way this took form was defiance against the Nazification of Dutch culture. In 1941, the S.S. administration in the Netherlands created the Nederlandse Kultuurkamer, or Dutch Chamber of Culture. Membership was mandatory for artists and required a declaration of Aryan ancestry. Nothing could be presented, staged or published by nonmembers.

The Brilleslijpers worked against this measure, and their associates in the resistance included many artists, such as the Jewish sculptor Gerrit van der Veen, who set up a secret committee opposed to the Kultuurkamer. But to van Iperen, the sisters resisted on many levels, all of them representing amidah.

“Just saying no to the legal order is the first step,” she said. “To say ‘I’m not obeying, I will not comply.’”

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