Johan van Hulst was a Dutch school director, university professor, author, chess player and politician in the Christian Historical Union (CHU), a defunct political party now merged into the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA). He received global recognition for his role in rescuing hundreds of Jewish children from the nursery of the Hollandsche Schouwburg, Amsterdam in 1943 before they would have been deported to Nazi concentration camps. For his humanitarian actions he received the Yad Vashem Distinction as a Righteous Among the Nations from the State of Israel in 1970.
Van Hulst served as Member of the Dutch Senate from July 3, 1956 until June 10, 1981. He served as the Parliamentary leader of the CHU in the Senate from December 10, 1968 until June 8, 1977 when the CHU merged into the CDA, he became the first Parliamentary leader of the CDA in the Senate serving until June 10, 1981. He was a Member of the European Parliament for the Christian Democratic Group, from October 16, 1961 until September 30, 1968. Van Hulst was the Party chair of the CHU from September 13, 1969 until February 19, 1972.
He was an emeritus professor of Pedagogy at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam and the highly prolific author of more than one hundred publications. He was also a noted chess player.
Van Hulst died on March 22, 2018, at the age of 107.
Early Life and WWII
Van Hulst was born on January 28, 1911 in Amsterdam. He studied psychology and pedagogy at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam. In the meanwhile he also worked as a teacher and mentor in the cities Oudewater, Utrecht and Purmerend.
In 1942 van Hulst was the director of the Reformed Teacher Training College, a Protestant religious seminary in Amsterdam. The nearby Hollandse Schouwberg theatre was the main clearing site for the Jews living in Amsterdam who had been issued deportation notices by the Nazi government. Children who arrived at the Schouwberg with their families were separated and sent to the next-door créche run by Henriëtte Pimentel, which shared a back garden with the college that van Hulst directed.
Starting in January 1943, Pimentel and Walter Süskind, a German Jew who had been appointed by the Nazis to run the Hollandsche Schouwberg operation, began canvassing potential adoptive families for physical descriptions of children who could fit into their families without detection. Once the children's parents had agreed, the names of the children to be rescued were removed from from the Nazi's registry of Jews who had passed through the Schouwberg theatre.
Then, working with Pimentel, Süskind and dozens of other volunteers, van Hulst arranged for the children to be spirited over the hedge separating the neighbouring back yards of the créche and the teachers' college, often assisted by the teachers-in-training or local university students. When the time came to move the rescued children and babies away from the school, they would be hidden in baskets and sacks. One of the operation's helpers would then wait for the moment a tram passed, blocking the view of Nazi guards at the facing Hollandsche Schouwberg, to cycle away with the hidden child.
The operation came to a halt on September 29, 1943 when the Nazis sent Pimental and 100 children from the créche to Nazi concentration camps. Decades later, van Hulst described the days preceding the closure to Yad Vashem: "Now try to imagine 80, 90, perhaps 70 or 100 children standing there, and you have to decide which children to take with you. ... That was the most difficult day of my life. ... You know for a fact that the children you leave behind are going to die. I took 12 with me. Later on I asked myself: ‘Why not 13?'"
In total, the operation had rescued between 500 and 1000 Jewish babies and children.
Van Hulst received the Yad Vashem Distinction in 1970. During a state visit to Israel in 2012, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said of van Hulst "We say, those who save one life saves a universe. You saved hundreds of universes. I want to thank you in the name of the Jewish people, but also in the name of humanity.”
In 2016, the former Reformed Teacher Training College became the Dutch National Holocaust Museum.
Shortly before his 107th birthday in 2018, van Hulst gave an interview on Dutch television, talking about his experiences during World War II.
Van Hulst served as a politician at several levels. From 1956 until 1981 he was a member of the Dutch Senate. From 1961 until 1968 he was a member of the European Parliament and from 1969 until 1972 he was chairman of the CHU. From 1972 until 1981 Van Hulst was group leader in the Senate; first for the CHU and from 1977 on for the CDA.
Van Hulst was elected as Chairman of the CHU on 5 October 1968 during the CHU party conference of 1968. Van Hulst was tasked with preparing for the upcoming Dutch general election of 1971.