If you want to improve upon the world, you need two different types of people. Firstly, you need somebody who has a dream. And then you need somebody who knows how to get things done.
Ever since Otto Frank had published the diary of his daughter Anne in 1947, he had a dream about a better world than the one he had lost his entire family in. A dream about a world that had overcome the hatred between religions, between nations, between people. He put his hope in new generations, the young who had learned the lessons from the Holocaust and should build a better future. And what better and more symbolic place to start building that future than the house in which he and his family had been in hiding and where Anne had written her diary?
But in the mid-fifties in the Netherlands, few people were interested in Otto’s dream of an international youth center, and even fewer were interested in spending a lot of money to save an old dump on the Prinsengracht for a misty dream. That was also the position of the Dutch government, when it stated that the house at Prinsengracht 263, quote, ‘could not be considered as a historic or cultural monument’, unquote. Fortunately, five dignitaries from the city of Amsterdam, among whom Truus Wijsmuller, in a last minute operation, succeeded to save the house that we now know as the Anne Frank House from demolition.
But doers and dreamers don’t get along very well all the time. The same was true for Truus Wijsmuller and Otto Frank. In order to open the house to the public and to make it the centerpiece of Otto’s dream, a lot of work had to be done and a lot of money had to be raised. And for that, you could not find a more suitable person than Truus Wijsmuller, ‘Tante Truus’ for the thousands of mainly Jewish children she saved, but in Amsterdam better known as ‘Truus the Steamroller’. Used to act energetically and decisively, she often lost her patience with Otto, who had no interest in bricks and pipes and was reluctant to contribute financially to the renovation of the house. So when Truus managed to convince the city of Frankfurt am Main, Anne’s and Otto’s birthplace, to donate the considerable sum of FL. 20.000,- for carpet, Otto was furious. A serious ‘carpet war’ broke out between them, that was only pacified when Otto got the guarantee that his youth center would get separate funding.
But all is well that ends well. When finally the troublesome start of the Anne Frank House was over, Truus and Otto got along well and stayed strongly committed to their joint project until Truus left the board in 1977.
Dealing with Otto Frank is one thing, dealing with Adolf Eichmann is quite another ballgame. Our guest tonight, Meg Waite Clayton, brings us back, in what a great-nephew of Truus Wijsmuller has called a ‘time machine’, to the memorable meeting between Truus Wijsmuller and Adolf Eichmann in Vienna in 1938. In her latest book, The last train to London, a novel, Ms. Clayton pursues the incredible story of the so-called Kindertransporte, and the key role Truus Wijsmuller played in organizing these transports, thus saving the lives of thousands of Jewish children from the Third Reich. As much as has been written about the resistance in the Netherlands against the Nazi-occupation, the role of Truus Wijsmuller in saving so many lives has never achieved wide recognition in our country.
It would be interesting to explore the reasons why she hasn’t taken her proper place in the national remembrance of this dark period in the history of the Netherlands, which has been documented so extensively. Hopefully Ms. Clayton’s novel, together with the upcoming documentary Truus’ Children of Pamela Sturhoofd and the sound research that Miriam Keesing has been doing for years into the history of the Kindertransporte, will contribute, albeit belatedly, to give Truus Wijsmuller the place she deserves in our memory of World War II and the Holocaust. There are lesser achievements than saving thousands of lives and saving the Anne Frank House for which people have been recognized.