Every time one of Arthur Adler’s grandchildren had a bar or bat mitzvah, he brought along the Bible he received at his own bar mitzvah at Amsterdam’s Spanish Portuguese Synagogue in March 1939.
Adler’s bar mitzah was not arranged by his parents, but instead by a non-Jewish Dutch woman named Geertruida Wijsmuller-Meijer (also known as Truus Wijsmuller) who had brought him and his sister Melly out of Germany on a Kindertransport four months earlier. A year after Adler’s bar mitzvah – shortly before the Netherlands came under German occupation – he and Melly sailed for the United States, where they reunited with their parents and other siblings. This, too, was thanks to Wijsmuller’s efforts.
“Auntie Truus” saved the lives of thousands of Jews – mainly children – during the Holocaust, yet her story is not widely known.
Other rescuers are household names: Steven Spielberg made a Hollywood film about Oskar Schindler. Streets in countries worldwide are named for Raoul Wallenberg. Nicholas Winton was knighted by Queen Elizabeth.
But few, even in the Netherlands, have heard of Wijsmuller since her death in 1978 at 82.
Seventy-two years after the end of World War II, not many of the mainly German- and Austrian-Jewish children whom Wijsmuller rescued are still alive to share their memories of her and what she did for them.
Dutch filmmaker Pamela Sturhoofd is in a race against time to find these remaining “children” – now in their 80s and 90s – interview them, and make a documentary about the fearless and determined Wijsmuller.