Tina Strobos, Dutch student who rescued 100 Jews during the Holocaust, dies at 91


HANDOUT PHOTO: Tina Strobos and her fiance, Abraham Pais, on the rooftop of Dr. Strobos's Amsterdam home where she and her mother hid more than 100 Jews during the Holocaust. Dr. Strobos died Feb. 27 at her home in Rye, N.Y. She was 91. (Family Photo restored by Charles Seton) (Family Photo restored by Charles Seton/FAMILY PHOTO RESTORED BY CHARLES SETON)
February 29, 2012

Tina Strobos, a psychiatry student who joined the Dutch underground during World War II and helped save the lives of more than 100 Jews by giving them refuge on the upper floor of her Amsterdam rowhouse, died Feb. 27 at her home in Rye, N.Y.

She was 91 and had metastatic cancer, said her son Jur Strobos.

In 1989, the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem recognized Dr. Strobos and her late mother, Marie Schotte, as “righteous among the nations” — people who, without seeking personal reward, risked their lives, freedom and safety to save persecuted Jews during World War II.

To save one person “was an extraordinary feat,” Donna Cohen, executive director of the Holocaust and Human Rights Education Center in White Plains, N.Y., said in an interview. Dr. Strobos, who saved dozens, was “the ultimate rescuer.”

Her story has been recounted in numerous volumes of Holocaust history. About 80 percent of the 140,000 Jewish residents of Holland during the Nazi occupation died in the Holocaust, according to Yad Vashem.


Tina Strobos in 2009. (Photo by Charles Seton)

Among them was Anne Frank, the young German-born diarist who hid with her family in another Amsterdam attic just blocks away from Dr. Strobos’s home. The Franks were betrayed by an informant and deported to concentration camps, where everyone in the family except Anne’s father died.

Dr. Strobos retained a lifelong regret about the fate of Anne Frank and her family, whose hiding place lacked an escape route. “If I knew they were there,” she told her son, “I would have gotten them out of the country.”

Dr. Strobos was just shy of her 20th birthday when Nazi Germany invaded the Netherlands in May 1940. When she and her university classmates refused to sign an oath of loyalty to Adolf Hitler, the medical school was shut down and many students, including Dr. Strobos, joined the underground resistance movement.

In the beginning, she worked primarily on arming and equipping the resistance fighters. She ran guns, explosives and radios, sometimes hiding them in her bicycle basket during journeys of 50 miles.

But as armed resistance became increasingly dangerous, she turned her efforts to helping her Jewish friends and, later, others seeking a way out of the country. One of the Jews she saved was her then-fiance, Abraham Pais, who became a celebrated physicist and biographer of Albert Einstein. They did not marry but had “ties that will never break,” Pais once said.

Rescue efforts in the Netherlands were especially perilous, given the low-lying Dutch terrain, which offered few forests and no mountains for cover. Dr. Strobos and her mother turned their three-story home, which was just behind the Royal Palace of Amsterdam, into an initial stop on the underground railroad. They provided their guests with food and medical care as well as false passports to replace ones marking them as Jews.

Obtaining fresh documents to falsify sometimes required creativity. Once, at the funeral of an aunt, Dr. Strobos rifled through mourners’ coats. She enlisted the help of train-station pickpockets, who stole travelers’ papers for the cause.

“I wasn’t alone in all this, you know,” Dr. Strobos told the Westchester County Journal News in 2009.

One day, a carpenter from the resistance showed up on her doorstep and offered his services. In the attic, he fashioned a wall that closed off a gable and created a hideaway for up to four people. The gable’s window provided an escape route.

The wall was so skillfully made, Dr. Strobos’s son said, that when he and his family returned to the Amsterdam house in the 1970s, they could not find the entrance to the hideaway without their mother’s help.

Dr. Strobos said that she was arrested nine times and that her house was searched eight times.

“I never believed in God,” she once said, “but I believed in the sacredness of life.”

Tineke Buchter was born May 19, 1920, in Amsterdam. An only child, she grew up mostly with her mother after her parents divorced. Her grandmother had been involved with the labor movement of the late 1800s, and her mother, a socialist atheist, had housed refugees during World War I.

Dr. Strobos received a medical degree from the University of Amsterdam in 1946. Later, she studied in London under the direction of Anna Freud, the daughter of psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, whose family had fled Austria to England during the Nazis’ rise to power.

Dr. Strobos immigrated to the United States in 1951, became a U.S. citizen and practiced psychiatry in New York until she was 89. Many of her clients, her son said, were indigent and handicapped.

Her first marriage, to Robert Strobos, a neurologist, ended in divorce. Her second husband, Walter A. Chudson, an economist, died in 2002 after 35 years of marriage.

Survivors include three children from her first marriage, Semon Strobos of New Braunfels, Tex., Jur Strobos of Washington and Carolyn Strobos of Newport-on-Tay, Scotland; two stepchildren, Lucy Chudson of New York City and Paul Chudson of Mamaroneck, N.Y.; and nine grandchildren.

For years, Dr. Strobos once told an interviewer, she had forgotten many of the events that took place in her attic during the war.

“I’m sure it was because I didn’t want to remember all those things,” she said. “So you just close the whole attic of your memory.”

Emily Langer is a reporter on The Washington Post’s obituaries desk. She has written about national and world leaders, celebrated figures in science and the arts, and heroes from all walks of life.
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