An Unsung Heroine Rescued Thousands Of Children During World War II

There’s every chance this is the first time you’ve come across the name Gertruida “Truus” Wijsmuller-Meijer, but she’s a woman who deserves to be much better known. Thanks to her tireless efforts, thousands of Jewish children were rescued from the Nazi terror. After Hitler came to power in the Germany of 1933, his hatred of Jews quickly became apparent, and being a child was no protection from the murderous persecution that was to come.

Wijsmuller-Meijer’s mission

Wijsmuller-Meijer made it her business to save as many Jewish children as she could from the clutches of the Nazis. But what drove her to pursue this mission? After all, it wasn’t an endeavor that was free of risk. The Nazis were naturally suspicious of anyone who wanted to involve themselves in Jewish affairs.

Let’s find out a bit more about this incredibly brave woman who defied the German authorities. Gertruida Wijsmuller, later known by her nickname Truus, was born into a Christian family in 1896, in the Dutch city of Alkmaar.

“Joop” Wijsmuller

Meijer’s mother was a dressmaker and her father worked in a drugstore. The family moved to Amsterdam in 1913, and after World War I they took in a refugee, a young boy from Austria. So Wijsmuller was well-used to the idea that helping people in need was a normal part of life.

Meijer studied at business school for a time and this led her to a job in a bank in Amsterdam. That was where she met Johannes “Joop” Wijsmuller, the man who became her husband.

Bad news

Truus now became Mrs. Wijsmuller-Meijer, and she was very much looking forward to starting a family with her new husband. But no children appeared and her doctor gave her some bad news. He told her that she would never be able to bear children.

This tragic revelation prompted Wijsmuller-Meijer to turn to voluntary social work. Now the scene was set for her to channel her energies into helping others in need, especially children. In the absence of her own kids, she would minister to those of others.

Social work and politics

As a May 2023 article on the Dutch Review website put it, “Through social work, Truus unknowingly began her journey towards becoming a resistance heroine.” Wijsmuller-Meijer complemented her social work with political activism. Her energy and her outgoing nature made her many friends.

The contacts she made through her political activities would be extremely useful in the years to come, when she began to take an interest in the plight of Jewish children in Nazi Germany. She would need all the help she could get.