Johan Benders (July 1, 1907 - April 7, 1943)
Gerritdina Benders-Letterboer (September 1, 1909 - 1980)
Johan Benders took his own life rather than reveal the whereabouts of those Jews whom he had helped to rescue.
He was a teacher at the Amsterdam Lyceum where he had made no secret of his anger over the expulsion of Jews from the school. Benders had encouraged the older students, such as Tineke Guilonard*, to become involved in the falsification of identity and ration cards. Johan’s wife, Gerritdina, who worked as a speech therapist, assisted wherever possible, and the couple opened their home as a temporary shelter for Jews.
Johan and Gerritdina also took in two Jewish sisters, Rosalie and Katie Wijnberg, whose parents were in the Dutch East Indies, and who had been staying with their aunt. Both girls were former pupils of Johan and remained with the Benders until the end of the war, despite the fact that their aunt could no longer afford to pay for their upkeep. In 1943, the couple welcomed another Jewish girl, Lore Polak, into the family.
On April 4, 1943, the Benders were betrayed by one of their neighbors and the SD arrested Johan, Katie, and Lore. Johan was locked up in the Amstelveenseweg prison on suspicion of having robbed the registrar’s office. In his pocket were the coded addresses of eighteen hidden Jews. He was brutally tortured during his interrogations and tried to commit suicide without success on two occasions. After speaking with his cellmate, poet Gerrit Kouwenaar, Johan decided to sacrifice his own life in order not to denounce those whom he had rescued. On April 6, 1943, he jumped to his death from the third floor of the prison. Gerritdina was left with their two young daughters and was five months pregnant with a third baby at the time. In a heart-rending requiem for their dead teacher, many of Johan’s former students marched passed the jail whistling the school tune.
Despite the tragedy, Gerritdina took in another Jewish girl and sheltered Jan Doedens, a former pupil of Johan’s who was avoiding forced labor. She also tracked down Lore Polak, who had escaped from a concentration camp to another hideout. Katie Wijnberg was released after a few weeks in prison and came to live with Gerritdina again.
After the war, Lore discovered that her entire family had perished and she thus stayed with Gerritdina for four years until she immigrated to the United States. A street in Amsterdam has been named in memory of Johan Benders.
On March 27, 1997, Yad Vashem recognized Johan Benders and his wife, Gerritdina Benders-Letterboer, as Righteous Among the Nations.