Holocaust Memorial Day: Reflection on Lieut-Colonel Alida Bosshardt

published on 27 Jan 2016

As The Salvation Army remembers those who lost their lives in this genocide, we remember the journey of Dutch Salvation Army minister Lieut-Colonel Alida Bosshardt, who fled occupying German forces in The Netherlands to protect the scores of Jewish children in her care.

In 1940, the then Captain Bosshardt worked in The Salvation Army’s children’s home in Amsterdam in the middle of the Jewish quarter.

The Germans forbade the Army in 1941 to carry on with its work. Uniforms could not be worn and money and buildings were confiscated. But the Army did not surrender. To be able to continue its work, all children’s homes became private homes. The Salvation Army refused to become a part of ‘Winterhulp,’ an organisation initiated by the Germans.

Captain Bosshardt took three Jewish sisters – Hendrina, Dimphina and Helena Terhorst – into the Army’s care because of their circumstances at home. The girls’ mother was pregnant and also found shelter with The Salvation Army. Not long after baby Roos was born, the home was ordered to become part of Winterhulp. Captain Bosshardt fled with the 70 children, of whom many were Jewish, to the northern part of Amsterdam.

They made their way by train and on foot to another part of the country, where the children were homed in ten different places. During the many times they had to move, baby Roos was covered by blankets because of her Jewish looks.

Without enough money to buy food for the children, Captain Bosshardt went out to collect food, despite this being forbidden. Although she was betrayed and captured by the German forces she escaped two weeks later after her interrogator “forgot” to lock the door behind him.

The Dutch resistance provided the captain with addresses to home the children and she found safety for more than 75 Jewish children. No names or addresses were written down, so the Germans could not trace them in the files.

In 1944, the captain often cycled into the country to find food. Often, she was given cigarettes, which she exchanged for potatoes. Although, Alida did not tell the Army leaders, as The Salvation Army prohibits smoking so accepting cigarettes was forbidden.

During the Second World War Captain Bosshardt succeeded in keeping the four sisters together and under her wing. They later wrote to the Yad Vashem committee: ‘Although she had nothing, Major Bosshardt has been able to give us a feeling of warmth and protection in this period. The major is like a mother for us and she still calls us “her children”. We thank our lives, our children and grandchildren to her.’

On 30 August 2004, the Ambassador of Israel in The Netherlands, Eitan Margalit, awarded Lieut-Colonel Bosshardt the Yad Vashem Award – the highest award given by the State of Israel – at the Army’s headquarters in The Netherlands.

After Alida’s death in June 2007, her friend and colleague Colonel Margaret White wrote a fitting tribute to her in the UK Salvationist magazine. She said of Alida’s later life: ‘With indefatigable energy and great love, she was the chaplain and social worker to the diverse population of the red-light district. For many years she lived, slept and had her office in one room in the building that housed the Goodwill Headquarters. Through a network of centres she served the homeless and those with alcohol problems. She was instrumental in helping to formulate laws to safeguard the health of those in the trade of prostitution.’

Adding: ‘It is not hard to imagine the young Alida in occupied Holland, working to keep safe the 80 children in her charge. At risk to her own life she would cycle past the Nazi soldiers with Jewish babies hidden in the wicker baskets on her bicycle, taking them to safe houses. For saving the lives of many Jewish children she was honoured with the Yad Vashem Award.

‘It is hard to imagine what Alida Bosshardt would have been had she not joined The Salvation Army. The Army was the rich soil which nurtured and gave opportunities and fulfilment to her remarkable and gifted life. It matched her and she matched it. To God be all the glory.’