Willem Arondeus

This LGBT History Month we would like to invite a celebration of some lesser known heroes who don’t always feature on the mainstream narrative.

Willem Arondeus (22 August 1894 – 1 July 1943) was a Dutch artist and author and hero of the Dutch anti-Nazi resistance movement during World War II.

A portrait photograph of Willem Arondeus

Arondeus is worth celebrating as a talented artist and writer in his own right. However it is his incredible bravery which was to create his finest legacy. Not only was he openly gay at a time when homosexuality was stigmatised, but during the war he was active in the Dutch resistance, a decision that would ultimately lead to his murder by the Nazis.

In 1942, Arondeus began an underground periodical called the Brandarisbrief in which he called on artists to resist the occupying Nazi army. He later became more directly involved in the resistance, joining an underground organisation known as the ‘CKC’, creating forged documents along with a lesbian resistant Frieda Belinfante. This was important work, however the success of these forgeries was hampered by the Municipal Office for Population Registration, which checked documents and could expose their work as fakes. It was for this reason that Arondeus and others developed a daring plan to go one step further and destroy the whole Municipal office.

And this is what they did. On 27th March 1943, the building was blown up, destroying 800,000 identity cards (15% of the records), hindering Gestapo efforts to identify Dutch Jews and others wanted by the Nazis.

Unfortunately, an unknown betrayer led the Gestapo to Arondeus, who was arrested five days later on 1st April. Brave, even under interrogation (and likely torture), Arondeus refused to betray the other resistance fighters involved. Sadly his notebook was found, and eventually the majority of the group were arrested.

Nearly three months later, on 18 June 1943, Arondeus was tried and sentenced to death, along with 13 other men who participated in the attack. Almost all were executed on 1 July 1943, save for two young doctors who received prison sentences. One possible reason for this was because Arondeus took full responsibility for the attack. Frieda Belifante was the only other member of the resistance group to survive, which she did by disguising herself as a man and going undercover. (She eventually escaped to Switzerland and then emigrating to the United States, where she became a founding artistic director and conductor of the Orange County Philharmonic, a story itself worthy of a blog.)

There was, however, no escape for Arondeus. In a final act of defiance and bravery, before his execution, Arondeus made sure it was known that he and two of the other men in the group (Bakker and Brouwer) were gay. His last words before his execution were: “Tell the people that homosexuals can be brave!”

In 1945, after the liberation of the Netherlands, Arondeus’s family was awarded a posthumous medal by the Dutch government in his honour. In 1984, he was awarded the Resistance Memorial Cross. Yad Vashem recognised Arondeus as Righteous Among the Nations on 19th June 1986.

He is certainly an inspirational hero who deserves to be better known for his bravery and also for his beautiful art.

A 1930-31 calendar design for September, by Willem Arondeus

For anyone who is interested in amplifying his legacy, high quality images of his work can be downloaded for free from the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam and make beautiful prints.

I’m grateful to the contributors towards this Wikipedia article which I’ve drawn on in the above biography: Willem Arondeus - Wikipedia