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March 27: Blowing Up Nazi Records to Save Lives

Lawrence Bush
March 26, 2017
Frieda Belinfante helped to blow up Amsterdam’s population registry in the city’s City Hall on this date in 1943 in order to prevent Nazi efforts to expose false documents and capture more of Amsterdam’s Jews, many of whom were in hiding. Belinfante, a cellist, was the daughter, on her father’s side, of a musical Sephardic family in the Netherlands, and was the first woman in Europe to be artistic director and conductor of an ongoing professional ensemble, the Het Klein Orkest, a chamber orchestra. A prominent lesbian, she was close to the artist Willem Arondeus, a Dutch resistance leader who was an openly gay man. After the bombing, Belinfante disguised herself as a man for three months before fleeing the Holland, ultimately crossing the Swiss Alps on foot in the winter of 1944. Belinfante survived in Switzerland and returned to the Netherlands when the war ended, then emigrated to the U.S. in 1947. In 1954 she founded the Orange County Philharmonic Orchestra in California. Her life was the focus of a 1999 documentary film, But I Was a Girl, and was featured in an exhibit funded by the Dutch government about LGBTQ persecution during World War II. In 1994, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum officially recognized her contribution to the Dutch Resistance. She died the following year at age 90. To learn more about her and see her being interviewed, look below. “Belinfante’s resistance unit . . . destroyed hundreds of records on Jewish residents who otherwise would have been sent to German death camps.” --Los Angeles Times

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.