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Willem knew what awaited him as a gay man when the Nazis invaded Holland – He saved tens of thousands of lives with his imagination


When the Nazis invaded the Netherlands in May 1940, some Dutch people believed it was better to give in than try to fight off overwhelming force.

But Willem Arondeus, who was part of the great minority of homosexuals who did not hide their sexuality, knew well what the Nazis were doing to homosexuals. After all, the Dutch legislation that had legalized homosexuality in 1811 was abolished.

He therefore enlisted in the Dutch resistance movement.

Willem as a young man in 1921
Falsified ID but it wasn’t enough

Willem was an extremely talented artist and he, together with his fellow members of the resistance movement, began writing pamphlets warning the Dutch to surrender against the Nazis. He also began forging Jewish identity cards. References that could stand between life and death.

But he didn’t stop there. Willem knew very well that the Nazis had access to the Dutch national register and could thus check whether the identity documents were real or not. Therefore, Willem and his colleagues considered only one thing in the situation; to delete all the data that the national registry of the country had.

In March 1943, Willem, along with 14 comrades, many of them gay men and women, decided to blow up the building in Amsterdam that housed the national register.

Willem had a large and close group of friends. He is seen here dancing, on the left of the image.

One of Willem’s friends, a gay tailor, sewed them Nazi uniforms so they could enter the building without the Nazi security guards suspecting anything. They planted explosives and when they were sure that all Dutch personnel had left the building, they ignited the explosives and fled.

Not only did Willem and his colleagues manage to destroy 800,000 pieces of ID, but they rendered thousands more almost unreadable, thanks to smoke and water damage. They saved the lives of tens of thousands of people.

A traitor within the movement

But their victory was short-lived as there were traitors within the resistance movement. A few days after the explosion, he spoke about it to Willem, who was arrested, interrogated and probably tortured to make him reveal the names of his accomplices. But Willem did not betray them, no matter what was put on him, he did not name anyone.

The Nazis invade the Netherlands.

But unfortunately, he had recorded the whole process in his journals. The Nazis found them during a search and arrested all of Willem’s friends. They were tried and 12 of the 15 were found guilty, including Willem. On July 1, 1943, they were taken before a firing squad and shot.

Willem Arondeus was 48 years old.

But Willem Arondeus decided to fight to the death and shortly before the execution he asked his lawyer to let it be known everywhere in the Netherlands that homosexuals are not cowards. They would never give up the fight for their rights and for all human rights.

His lawyer promised and kept his word.

800,000 documents were completely destroyed and many more were illegible
The forgotten LGBTQ+ community

But sadly, Willem’s exploits have been forgotten over the years and hardly anyone has recognized his name and deeds. It’s safe to say his name was swept under the rug and Willem’s heterosexual partner was mostly thanked for the fake IDs as well as the outburst.

But thankfully that changed after historians began to take a closer look at the data that showed just how powerful Willem was in the resistance. And in the 1980s, the Dutch government finally gave Willem the recognition he deserved. But it took another ten years for Willem’s homosexuality to finally be mentioned in the history books, it had already been written about his courage but his sexuality was kept secret.

And historians say he’s not the only one in the LGBTQ+ community who was intentionally left out of history.

Willem Arondeus

“It’s extremely important to talk about all the LGBTQ+ people who were involved in the fight against the Holocaust because for so long, in fact for too long, LGBTQ+ people have been written out, erased. People who have shown of incredible courage and who sacrificed their lives for justice. The silence screamed at me,” said Jake Newsome, historian and expert on LGBTQ+ history. And Willem was one of those incredibly brave people, an extremely beautiful soul and a good person.

Willem Arondeus left a powerful legacy as an openly gay man and activist,” Newsome said in a TV interview.

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