Jaap Penraat, the architect and industrial designer who saved hundreds of Dutch Jews during the Holocaust has passed away:
He was a young architect and draftsman when Nazi occupiers took escalating measures against Jews. First, they were prohibited from being air-raid wardens, then barred from the civil service, then made to register.
A secret resistance formed to help them. Mr. Penraat, then in his 20’s and a nonpracticing Christian, marshaled his design talents to make fake identity cards. A friend married to a German gave him copies of official papers and stamps for models. He was soon discovered and went to prison for several months, [where he was tortured but refused to give up other members of the resistance].
The situation for Jews worsened, and resistance cells raced to make false travel papers. But escaping the country was hard, because Germans controlled countries and seas bordering the Netherlands.
Mr. Penraat and his friends devised a plan to disguise Jews as construction workers for the wall that Hitler was building along France’s Atlantic Coast. He forged travel documents, using a real construction company’s letterhead.
He took the Jews to Lille, France, where he presented them to the French underground for transport to neutral Spain. He made about 20 trips, accompanying about 20 Jews each time.
Once, he approached German guards outside a school and told them his laborers needed lodging. He complained about the food, but called this “one of the first times a German Army played host to a bunch of Jews.”
Only one of the men moved by Mr. Penraat died, and that man was accidentally hit by a train. But Mr. Penraat trembled whenever he handed papers to a clerk.
“You’re there, a woman walks away and either she comes back with papers or she comes back with soldiers,” he said in an interview with The Poughkeepsie Journal. “And they would shoot you right then and there, so other people could see what happens when you do anything against the German Army.”