HERO

When Tina was twenty years old, she lived with her mother and they ran a three story boarding house, with six bedrooms. Their address was 282 Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal and it was located behind the Royal Palace, in Amsterdam.

Tina was a medical student who spoke fluent German. But the Nazis closed her school when she and other students refused to sign a loyalty oath. She was not Jewish, but she had close friends who were Jewish and at one point she had a fiancé who was Jewish. Her family were socialist atheists who had taken in Belgian refugees during World War I and hid German and Austrian refugees before the second world war.

Tina and her mother, Marie, were members of the Dutch Resistance and were an important part of the Underground network. They hid over 100 Jewish refugees in their home during the five years of the war.

The refugees were hidden on the upper floors with a quick access to the attic, which had a secret compartment that two or three people could fit in. A carpenter came to the house one day with his toolbox and announced that he was a member of the Underground. “Show me the house and I will build a hiding place”, he said. They could only hide four or five people at a time, as they did not have enough food. The people never stayed too long, as they were waiting for the Underground to get them out of the city.

There was an alarm bell on the second floor that would alert those in hiding to get out of the house. They would scramble out a window on the roof and make their way to the adjoining school, which was unlikely to be raided. The Gestapo banged on their door many times and would sometimes search the house for two to three hours. A Dutch spy in the Gestapo would alert Tina to an impending raid. She never knew who he was, but he was always right.

Tina would also carry news and ration stamps to Jews who were hiding on the farms outside of Amsterdam. In all sorts of weather, she rode her bicycle on these dangerous missions. She also smuggled radios and guns to members of the Dutch Resistance.

She became quite creative with what she would do to help the refugees get out of the Netherlands. She patched together false papers by stealing documents from gentile guests and inserting new photographs and fingerprints. She even made deals with pick pockets to steal papers from railway travelers.

During the five years that Tina worked the Underground, she was taken and questioned nine times by the Gestapo. Once they threw her against a wall and she lay there unconscious after they were done with her. She was never formally charged. She also continued to study medicine by visiting the hospital and reading the medical books.

Of this extraordinary time, Dr. Tina Strobos has said “It was the right thing to do. Your conscience tells you to do it. I believe in heroism, and when you’re young, you want to do dangerous things.” After the war, Tina studied in London and then moved to New York in the early 1950’s. She got her degree and became a psychiatrist. She died on February 27, 2012 in Rye, New York. She had three children and seven grandchildren and she was 91 years old.

Dr. Tina Strobos has received many awards and much recognition for her heroism. Her work has not been ignored or forgotten. But I had never heard of her until I read her obituary. And this story is the kind of story that needs to be told. There are not many twenty year olds who would do what she did and keep on doing it for five years. She had a legacy of a family who took risks. Her grandmother was also involved in the Dutch Resistance. She had a radio transmitter that sent messages to England. Referring to her grandmother, Dr. Strobos said “she was the only person I know who scared the Gestapo.”

During the time that their home was part of the Underground, Tina could walk past 263 Prinsengracht in just ten minutes. She did not know that this was where Anne Frank and others were hidden in the now famous attic. It makes you wonder how many more people were in hiding and how many people were heroes for risking their lives to hide them.

Amsterdam is a beautiful city. Most of the streets are narrow…on one side there is usually a canal and on the other side are buildings and parked bicycles. There are tiny shops and cafes and statues and trees and people everywhere. The houses are pretty well known by now: tall and narrow with three or four floors. Sometimes there is a shop on street level and then apartments up above. A row of buildings can look like it has been squeezed shut like an accordion. They are truly beautiful buildings that we know have stood there for hundreds of years. So when I hear the story of Dr. Tina Strobos, I think of the secrets she had behind her narrow door. I think of her climbing three flights of stairs to give a hidden family some bolletjes (bread) and news about the war. I think of her walking past the house that was a ten minute walk from her house and not even knowing that families were hiding in the attic behind a false bookcase. Behind the doors and inside the houses of Amsterdam, there were secrets and risks were taken. Some survived and some did not. This wonderful city was not bombed during the war, the buildings still stand. We who are here in 2012 have a big job: become the story tellers. Please tell your family and friends about Dr. Tina Strobos. Tell the story.

In 1941 there were 80,000 Jews living in Amsterdam and by the end of the war, 61,700 of them had died in concentration camps.

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Comments

  • Aledys Ver  On March 29, 2012 at 10:36 am

    What an incredible story. I had never heard of Tina Strobos until now – what a brave, amazing person she must have been. There must certainly be lots of stories like Tina’s that we haven’t heard about yet …
    The image you described of Tina riding her bicycle in all kinds of weather conditions on dangerous missions reminded me of this little monument I discovered in Leeuwarden a few years ago:

    girl on a bike / niña en bicicleta

    Thanks for sharing this story with us!

  • Leslie Sullivan  On March 30, 2012 at 12:06 pm

    Jane, thank you for writing about Dr. Strobos. What an inspiration. There were so many unsung heros during the war. It’s good to be reminded of what ordinary people can do to fight injustice.

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