Friday, March 02, 2012

Dr. Tina Strobos, 1920-2012

One fearless woman has passed.

During the German occupation of the Netherlands, between 1940 and 1945, Dr. Strobos and her mother, Marie Schotte, set up a sanctuary in their three-story rooming house at 282 Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal, behind the Royal Palace in the heart of Amsterdam. With the help of the Dutch resistance, they had a secret compartment built to hold up to four people behind a hard-to-spot door in the attic.
“A carpenter came with a toolbox and said, ‘I’m a carpenter from the underground,’ ” Dr. Strobos recalled in a 2009 interview with The New York Times. “ ‘Show me the house and I’ll build a hiding place.’ ”
A changing cast of Jews, Communists and other endangered individuals spent days or weeks on the upper floors, and if the Gestapo visited, an alarm bell on the second floor allowed Dr. Strobos and her mother to alert the fugitives. They also drilled them in clambering out a window to the roof to reach the relative safety of an adjoining school. Most Jews stayed in the hideout for brief periods until the Dutch resistance could find more reliable sanctuaries.
“We never hid more than four or five at a time,” Dr. Strobos said. “We didn’t have enough food.”
The Gestapo searched the rooming house several times. But Dr. Strobos, a tall, soft-spoken woman, beguiled the Germans with her fluency in their language and her cool, ingenuous pose. Among the Jews she helped hide was a close friend, Tirtsah Van Amerongen; an Orthodox couple with five children who brought their own kosher food; and her fiancé for a time, the particle physicist Abraham Pais.
Dr. Strobos rode her bicycle for miles outside the city to carry ration stamps to Jews hiding on farms. She transported radios to resistance fighters and stashed their guns. She created fake identity cards — ones that were not stamped with a J — either by stealing photographs and fingerprinted documents from legitimate guests at the boarding house or making deals with pickpockets to swipe documents from railway travelers.
She was cold and hungry when she took those risks and was interrogated nine times by the Gestapo. Once, she was left unconscious after an official threw her against a wall.
“It’s the right thing to do,” she said when asked why she had taken such gambles. “Your conscience tells you to do it. I believe in heroism, and when you’re young you want to do dangerous things.”
Donna Cohen, executive director of the Holocaust and Human Rights Education Center in White Plains, said that Dr. Strobos found ways to help the beleaguered throughout her life.
She worked as a family psychiatrist, specializing in the mentally impaired, Ms. Cohen said, and used her modest fame to speak out against the torture of terrorists. After Hurricane Katrina, when she was in her 80s, she worked diligently, though unsuccessfully, to find homes for displaced Southerners at her senior-citizens residence in Rye.

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