TANTE ZUS at Museon in The Hague

Ru Paré, artist and heroine of the Dutch WWII resistance (1896-1972).

The Hague’s Museon is a haven for children. Plenty were trying happily and noisily discovering what it takes to be a knight in one exhibition. I arrived for another exhibition, about kids.

On the first floor, more children had fun exploring the Roman world. In this boisterous museum, I located a quiet room. Its small exhibition reveals how auntie ‘Sis’ saved fifty children.

The Hague artist Ru Paré managed to save these children during the Second World War. A few of these were present at the opening of this exhibition. But some children have not been traced. Museon specifically asks visitors to get in touch, when they something, or have information which may help.

Inside, the first thing one spots are a map and a bicycle. Other maps and numbers remind visitors of conflicts and refugees since 1945. Explanatory texts are also displayed on black, anonymous statues, representing children.

Unfortunately, these texts are in Dutch only. At the back of the room, visitors can watch silent film-clips, made by locals during Nazi occupation.

The map and bicycle? This map shows some places where Paré hid Jewish children: all over the Netherlands. At first, she traveled by train. Soon she started cycling everywhere, using permits forged by resistance friends as displayed in show-cases.

What prompted her to join the Dutch resistance? Before the Second World War, Paré had had an affair with a Jewish printer and publisher. He died before the war started, but Paré kept in touch with family members.

When one of these asked her, if she could help save one of his grand-children, Paré did not hesitate. The Nazis had started their persecution of Dutch Jews. In 1942, the Jewish population of The Hague was banished from living in town.

Around the same time, Dutch artists were forced to join Nazi-controlled ‘Kultur-Kammers’ to exhibit and earn money. Like many artists, Paré refused to join these.

She used her network to find families willing to take in ‘cousins’. For after one child, more followed. Families, brothers, sisters, were split up. The children had to take on fake identities and forget their past.

Children changed identities several times, as they were moved from one family to the next. When discovery and deportation seemed imminent, auntie ‘Sis'(ter) – as the children called Ru Paré – would appear. She would cycle a child to another family and safe place.

Paré cycled through the country with her paint-box and artist material. It all seemed innocent enough. But her box had a secret compartment. It could contain forged identity papers, fake ration coupons, a present for one of the children.

Of course, auntie ‘Sis’ did not accomplish all this on her own. Close friend Dorothé Versteegh helped, while Paré maintained contact with some members of resistance groups. Yet she operated mostly on her own. Sensible – with the danger of betrayal, discovery and arrest, deportation or death by firing squad.

Three years later, after the “Hunger Winter”, liberation brought more heart-ache. Families who had cared for ‘cousins’, suddenly had to hand these over. Parents who survived camps, brothers and sisters who had been split up for safety – they were united, having to become reacquainted. Orphans were taken to a Jewish orphanage, run by Paré’s friends.

After the war, Paré kept in touch. There are photos of auntie ‘Sis’ at weddings and planting a tree in Israel. But Paré did not discuss her resistance work. She gave one interview, which is how the number of children she saved, became known.

Though many women played an important role in resistance work, they were forgotten. Museon states: ‘ … commemorations of the Dutch resistance focused mainly on armed action. The resistance work done by women was seen as auxiliary to this and therefore less important …’ High time, to acknowledge the importance of women like Ru Paré!

As for the 17,000 Jewish inhabitants of The Hague – about 5,000 survived the war.  Kate Den   4th May 2018

 

The children saved by ‘Tante Zus’ – Ru Paré, artist and heroine of the Dutch WWII resistance (1896-1972) at Museon in The Hague until 23rd September 2018.

 

 

Photo of Ru Paré: courtesy Museon

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