“Let it be known that homosexuals are not cowards.”Willem Arondeus
Willem Arondeus (22 August 1894 – 1 July 1943) was a Dutch artist and author who joined the Dutch anti-Nazi resistance movement during World War II. He participated in the bombing of the Amsterdam public records office to hinder the Nazi German effort to identify Dutch Jews and others wanted by the Gestapo. Arondeus was caught and executed soon after his arrest. Yad Vashem recognized Arondeus as Righteous Among the Nations.
Arondeus was openly gay before the war and defiantly asserted his sexuality before his execution. His final words were: “Tell the people that homosexuals are not by definition weak.”
In 1942, Arondeus started an underground periodical called the Brandarisbrief. In 1943, the Brandarisbrief merged with another publication called De Vrije Kunstenaar Through the merger, Arondeus met Gerrit van der Veen, the editor of De Vrije Kunstenaar. In the resistance, Gerrit van der Veen specialized in forging identity cards. As a result, Arondeus also became involved in creating forged documents, along with lesbian resistant Frieda Belinfante. A major detriment to the success of these forgeries was the Municipal Office for Population Registration as its existence made the forgeries less useful, since their legitimacy could be checked against the registration lists and determined to be fakes. Arondeus and van der Veen, developed a plan to destroy the registration office along with a number of associates.
Their attack, which took place on 27 March 1943, was partially successful, and they managed to destroy 800,000 identity cards (15% of the records), and retrieve 600 blank cards and 50,000 guilders. The building was blown up and no one was caught on the night of the attack. However, due to an unknown betrayer, Arondeus was arrested on 1 April 1943. Arondeus refused to give up the rest of his team but his notebook was found, and as a result, a majority of the group were arrested as well.
On 18 June 1943, Arondeus was tried and sentenced to death, along with 13 other men who participated. Two of the group received clemency, but the others were executed on 1 July 1943. Ardoneus pleaded guilty and took the full blame, which may be why two young doctors were spared from execution and given custodial sentences instead. Before his execution, Arondeus made a point of ensuring the public would be aware that he and two other men in the group, Bakker and Brouwer, were gay, asking either a friend or his lawyer (accounts vary) to: “Tell the people that homosexuals can be brave!”
Willem Arondeus was an artist-turned-author and — most importantly — a member of the Dutch resistance to Nazi occupation. He was born on August 22, 1894 in Naarden, Netherlands. His parents, Hendrik Cornelis Arondeus and Catharina Wilhelmina de Vries, designed costumes for the theater. Despite being the child of two people in the theatre, and being one of six kids, apparently there was nothing remarkable about his entire childhood. I find that a little hard to believe, but there’s literally nothing written about the first seventeen years of his life. Whatever.
At seventeen years old, Arondeus fought with his parents over his homosexuality, left home, and severed all contact with his family. That part of his story is, unfortunately, all too familiar to too many LGBT+ people even to this day. (It would have been a lot worse, had Denmark not decriminalized homosexuality in 1811. Thanks Napoleon!) He began building a career for himself as an illustrator and painter, and was even hired to paint a mural for the Rotterdamn Town Hall in 1923. However, he never had much success as a painter and was living in abject poverty.
In 1933, Willem met a man named Jan Tijssen, and the two lived together for the next seven years. In 1935 he decided that visual arts might not be for him, and turned to poetry and writing. This turned out to be a good move. In 1938 he published two novels, and in 1939 he published his most famous and, by all accounts, his best work “The Tragedy of the Dream” which is a biography of the artist Matthijs Maris.
And then the Nazis came, and his real work began. When the Nazis came to the Netherlands, they mostly took their time with their policies. There weren’t any immediate deportations, there were no strict curfews. They were trying a subtle approach to keep the Dutch from resisting. This mostly worked. Many of the Dutch were fooled into thinking the Nazis weren’t as bad as everyone was saying. But the Nazis didn’t hesitate when it came to criminalizing homosexuality — and the open and proud LGBT+ populace of the Netherlands was not having any of that. Like many others, Willem Arondeus joined the Dutch resistance almost immediately. (I hesitate to call him a founding member, because no one else seems to be calling him that, but from what I’m reading, he probably missed being a “founding member” by like a day or two.)
Willem’s primary job during the early days of the resistance was to forge fake identity papers for Dutch Jews. Also in his unit were a number of other openly homosexual people, including cellist and conductor Frieda Belinfante. Willem did more than that, however. He also began writing and publishing an illegal magazine encouraging more Dutch to join the resistance. He attempted to call the artistic community of the Netherlands to act against the Nazi regime, criticizing the Nazi’s cultural committee. (He also published another book that had nothing to do with resisting the Nazis. it was called “Figures and Problems of Monumental Painting in the Netherlands”, and he illustrated it himself.) In 1943, Willem’s publication joined forces with a publication run by other Dutch artists, reaching even more people.
By 1943, the Dutch Resistance had a vast underground network hiding Jews from the Nazis. The Nazis, however, were catching on. They began comparing identity papers to those in the Amsterdam Public Records Office. Willem Arondeus would not stand for this. The Dutch Resistance was mostly known for being a peaceful resistance — but this next action would become a symbol for the whole movement. Willem is credited in several places for having the idea.
He determined the only course of action was to blow up the Public Records Office. Joined by his unit, the attack was carefully planned out and executed on March 27. Thousands of files were destroyed. But the success was short-lived — a traitor within the resistance turned the unit in to the Gestapo just a few days later. That traitor’s identity remains unknown to this day. Willem and his cohorts were arrested. Willem took full responsibility for the attack — but the trial was a sham, and twelve people, including Willem, were held responsible and executed on July 1, 1943. The rest of Willem’s unit was forced to flee the country.
Willem’s final words were communicated by his lawyer. “Let it be known that homosexuals are not cowards.”
Frieda Belinfante escaped execution. Most of her participation in the resistance was ignored for years — but more galling to her still, Willem’s role in the resistance was erased for decades. Credit for leading the unit was given to a heterosexual man. She insisted “[Arondeus] was the great hero who was most willing to give his life for the cause.”
In 1984, the Dutch government posthumously awarded Willem the Resistance Memorial Cross. On June 19, 1986, the state of Israel recognized Willem as Righteous Among the Nations (an honorific for non-Jews that risked their lives to protect Jews during the Holocaust). Despite this recognition, and his last words, Willem’s sexuality was not recognized until the 1990’s. Frieda Belinfante’s contribution to the resistance was officially recognized by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1994. She died one year later, at 90 years old.
Backtracking just for a second, if I may, I just want to touch on those last words. Because, if there was *ever* a theme for this whole site — it’s that. We’ve been here forever, and we have always been brave. If there’s a thread that connects the LGBTQ+ community together more than our gender identities or our sexualities, it’s courage. And, yeah, that’s mostly been out of necessity. It takes bravery to stand in front of a world that hates you and say “so what? I’m me.” But even in times and places where we weren’t hated, we still have that fire — like Osch-Tisch? She was an incredible bad ass, and she wasn’t battling bigotry (at the time, anyways).
Let it be known that LGBTQ+ people are not cowards.
(Adapted from a Facebook post.)