The Courageous Student
Pieter Adriaan Meerburg
Piet Adrian Meerburg was one of several Dutch students who, when faced with the deportation of the Jews, decided to act.
In the summer of 1942, the leaders of the Utrecht Kindercomité (UKC; Utrecht Children’s Committee – a student group from Utrecht) contacted Piet Meerburg in Amsterdam in order to establish an Amsterdam-based group. The plan was that the Amsterdam students would find children that needed to be hidden, while the UKC would concentrate on finding safe addresses.
Earlier that year, Piet, a law student, was at his club when a Jewish colleague was called to the phone. The friend came back to Piet and explained that he had been ordered to proceed to a labor camp for Jews in North Holland. It was this incident that motivated Piet to actively resist the severe persecution of the Jews. Thus, when the UKC approached him with their plan, Piet was ready and willing to help out and became a founder of the Amsterdam Student Group (ASG).
In the early days of the ASG, Piet concerned himself with laying the groundwork. He got in touch with P. H. Fiedeldij Dop, a pediatrician with many Jewish patients, who rode his bicycle through Amsterdam’s Jewish quarter to urge parents to hand over their children to the ASG. Piet was assisted by Tineke Haak and her friend Wouter van Zeytveld. Tineke became a courier for the group and often accompanied Jewish children on the train to Utrecht or to a hiding place. Piet’s fiancée, H. W. (Hansje) van Loghem, had started working for the ASG as a courier. Via her student debating society, she succeeded in recruiting other new members.
From the beginning, the number of children from Amsterdam in need of protection exceeded the number of safe houses available to the UKC. This was especially so during the six months after January 1943, when the ASG smuggled approximately 140 Jewish children out of the Jewish crèche on the Plantage Middenlaan in Amsterdam, where the children that had been rounded up were held before their deportation.
In January 1943, during a visit to his mother in Bussum, North Holland, Piet met with his cousin, Mia Coelingh. Mia promised Piet that she would look for hiding places among the Reformed community in Sneek, Friesland and helped Piet get in touch with the Baptist vicar Willem Mesdag and the chaplain Gerard M. Jansen. These two men helped Piet locate a significant number of safe houses, and as a result, shelter was provided for between 60 and 80 Jewish children in and around Sneek. Together with his colleague Henk Kluvers, Piet took care of approximately 100 Jewish children who were brought to Friesland from Amsterdam.
In the spring of 1943, the ASG managed to open another link to Friesland after Piet had made contact with Sjoerd Wiersma, the owner of a laundry in Joure. About 30 Jewish children found refuge in this part of Friesland, a devout Reformed area. In May 1943, Piet managed to contact Johanna (Hanna) van de Voort of Tienray, Limburg. Hanna and her parents hid Nico Dohmen, a student, in their home. Hanna and Nico agreed to help look for safe places for Jewish children.
In all, the ASG managed to hide about 350 Jewish children. One method used by the ASG to camouflage the Jewish identity of babies was by allowing foster parents to adopt them as their own (illegitimae) children. Nearly all of Piet’s female couriers registered babies as “theirs.” The women acted as though greatly embarrassed that they did not know who the father was.
From early 1944, the so-called evacuation certificate protected many of the hidden children and their foster parents. This document, issued by the Central Evacuation Bureau in Rotterdam, indicated that the child in question came from one of the bombed-out areas of Rotterdam, and was therefore living with a foster family.
On February 28, 1974, Yad Vashem recognized Pieter Adriaan Meerburg as Righteous Among the Nations.
Pieter Adriaan Meerburg passed away in April 2010.