Henriëtte Pimentel, who saved hundreds of Jewish children during World War II was awarded the Jewish Rescuers Citation at the Verzetsmuseum on Sunday, 78 years after her death at Auschwitz.
Pimentel was head of a crèche situated opposite the Hollandsche Schouwburg theatre in Amsterdam where Jewish families awaited transport to the death camps. Their children, who were put up at the crèche, were spirited away in boxes and baskets by crèche staff, often under the very noses of the Nazis.
In total, some 500 to 800 children were smuggled out and brought to safety by members of the Dutch resistance. More could have been saved but many parents were reluctant to part form their children.
Pimentel, who came from a large Jewish family, was a bit of a childcare pioneer, who insisted that each child should have his own little chair and a little table with a vase of flowers on it, museum host Marjo Nachtegaal told DutchNews.nl. ‘She never lost her inner child. There is footage of her where she playing and laughing with the children, very much one of them. It’s very joyful.’
Four of the rescued children were present at the ceremony organised by international organsation B’nai B’rith which honours those who risked their lives to save their fellow Jewish citizens.
‘The older children would run along a passing tram with one of the rescuers. The Germans were posted at the Schouwburg but not at the crèche. So when the tram passed there would be a small window when they were out of sight,’ Esther Shaya, who, with Frank Hemminga, co-authored the biography Wacht maar. Het veelbewogen leven van Henriëtte Pimentel told broadcaster NOS.
Pimentel continued on her dangerous mission for nine months before she was arrested. The crèche was dismantled in 1943 and Pimentel was taken to Westerbork and then to Auschwitz-Birkenau where she was killed two months later. Most of the staff and some 70 children shared her fate.
To commemorate the work of Henriëtte Pimentel and her staff the Verzetsmuseum is organising a tour of the sites in the Amsterdam Plantage neighbourhood which formed the backdrop to the deportation of the Jews of Amsterdam and Pimentel’s heroic efforts to save their children.
The tour takes place in the historic tram number 9, which played such an important role in some of the escapes. The authors of a number of books about Pimentel will be on hand to tell her story. Tickets for the tour, on Thursday July 29 and Friday July 30 are available from the museum.
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