It began with a Jewish violinist named Herman, who worked with Diet Eman at a beautiful old bank in the center of The Hague. He and his family had received a summons, he told Ms. Eman one day in September 1942, and were apparently being sent out of the country. They were instructed to take only one small suitcase each.
Ms. Eman, a 22-year-old Christian, had watched the Nazi regime with growing horror. The Germans had invaded in May 1940, overrunning the Netherlands in less than a week, and soon clamped down on the country’s roughly 140,000 Jews. In The Hague, the Dutch seat of government, Jews were barred from trams, buses, parks and shops, then forbidden from certain quarters of the city.
Now they were being rounded up and deported. Consulting her boyfriend, who had read Adolf Hitler’s autobiographical manifesto, “Mein Kampf,” and feared the worst, Ms. Eman decided to take action. The couple offered to shelter Herman with sympathetic farmers outside of town — and then, at Herman’s request, found a place for his fiancee and her mother as well.
Herman’s sister soon joined in asking for help. And within two weeks, Ms. Eman and her boyfriend, Hein Sietsma, were orchestrating shelter for a total of 60 Jews, helping them avoid near-certain death in “the east,” where more than 100,000 Dutch Jews were systematically murdered, primarily at the Auschwitz and Sobibor camps in German-occupied Poland.
“In the beginning you have no idea what risk you are taking,” Ms. Eman later told the Sioux City (Iowa) Journal, recalling her work in the Dutch underground. “Then, you’re so deep in it, you can’t go back.”
Ms. Eman continued sheltering and supporting Jews in secret while running from the Gestapo, burying weapons under her parents’ rose bushes and eventually suffering through three months in a concentration camp. She was 99 when she died Sept. 3 at her home in Grand Rapids, Mich., where she had volunteered for many years at a health clinic for the uninsured and flown to Latin America to work as an interpreter for American doctors.
Her death was confirmed by her friend John Evans, who directed “The Reckoning,” a 2007 documentary about her work in the Dutch Resistance. He did not give a precise cause.
Ms. Eman (her full name is pronounced deet eh-man) wrote a 1994 memoir, “Things We Couldn’t Say,” with Jim Schaap, and was recognized four years later as Righteous Among the Nations by Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust remembrance center. In 2015, she was hailed by Dutch King Willem-Alexander as “one of our national heroes” during a royal visit to Michigan, where the king sat in on a performance of “It Is Well,” a ballet inspired by her actions in World War II.
Her late-in-life prominence followed half a century of near-total silence about the war years. That reticence, she said, was motivated in large part by painful memories of her work alongside her boyfriend (later her fiance), in a resistance group known as HEIN. Its 16-odd members named themselves for Sietsma, according to Yad Vashem; the moniker was also a Dutch acronym for “helping each other in need.”
The group provided hiding places, money, ration cards and false identification papers to Jews, in addition to assisting downed Allied pilots and other refugees from the Nazi authorities. In all, about 25,000 Jews went into hiding in the Netherlands. Some two-thirds survived, according to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Ms. Eman typed out BBC radio broadcasts to spread news that was forbidden by the Nazis; reported on German troop movements; and played a crucial role as a courier, delivering essential goods and papers to farms and apartments harboring Jews. She also helped organize burglary missions to steal government ration cards each month, leaving the actual theft to others.
“This is not advice,” she would tell students at high school or university lectures, “but if you do a robbery, you better have arms and revolvers.”
In late 1942, she began visiting a small apartment in The Hague, where a middle-aged woman named Mies Walbelm was secretly sheltering 27 Jews — an astonishing number that Ms. Eman feared would attract attention. Ms. Eman “found new hiding places for many of them,” according to Yad Vashem, and visited the home at least five times each week to offer assistance, often finding new arrivals.
The Germans eventually uncovered the ruse and, while raiding the house, found a diary that referenced Ms. Eman, under the alias Toos. The discovery led her to become a fugitive, and for months, she traveled the country, moving between hiding places and only rarely seeing her fiance. He was captured in April 1944, and six Gestapo officers arrested Ms. Eman the following month.
At the time, she feared a swift execution: Under her blouse was an envelope filled with stolen ration cards and false papers. But she saw an opening when one of the officers began showing off his new plastic raincoat, telling his comrades: “You think that it has a lot of pockets on the outside? You should see the inside,” according to Ms. Eman’s memoir. As they crowded around, Ms. Eman tossed the envelope out of sight.
After being imprisoned in The Hague, she was sent to a concentration camp in Vught, in the southern Netherlands, where she said she suffered “a complete breakdown” after being forced to wash the bloody clothes of executed Dutch prisoners. Each day, she feared that she would be handed Sietsma’s uniform.
But she successfully resisted interrogators, pretending to be a simple-minded maid, and was released in August. She immediately returned to work with the resistance, continuing until the Netherlands was liberated on May 5, 1945.
Around that time, she learned that Sietsma had been killed at Dachau, some three months before the arrival of Allied forces. About half of HEIN had died as well. “My survival,” Ms. Eman said, “was a miracle from God.”
In another apparent miracle, she came upon a final letter from Sietsma, written on a single piece of toilet paper and thrown out the window of his train car, alongside other messages and belongings tossed out by prisoners en route to the Nazi camps.
“Darling, don’t count on seeing each other again soon,” he wrote, according to Ms. Eman. “I have the feeling that it will take at least a year. . . . Even if we won’t see each other on earth again, we will never be sorry for what we did, and that we took this stand.”
His message ended with a Latin phrase, “Omnia vincit amor,” love conquers all, three words that were engraved on Ms. Eman’s gold engagement ring. She continued to wear it long after Sietsma’s death.
The third of four children, Berendina Roelfina Hendrika Eman was born in The Hague on April 30, 1920. Her father ran an interior decorating business. An older brother served with the Dutch air force in what is now Indonesia and was apparently tortured to death at a Japanese prison; the rest of her immediate family survived the war.
“I wanted to forget . . . To start a new life in a country where there were no memories and never talk about that time again,” she wrote in her memoir. So she became a nurse, learned Spanish and worked for the oil company Shell in Venezuela.
Ms. Eman married an American, Egon Erlich, and settled in Grand Rapids to work at an export firm after they divorced. Survivors include two children, Joy Coe and Mark Aryeh Erlich, and a granddaughter.
In the postscript to her memoir, Ms. Eman said that she was moved to write the book after hearing a lecture by another Dutch Resistance worker, Corrie ten Boom, who wrote the best-selling 1971 autobiography “The Hiding Place.” American society also seemed to be changing for the worse, she said.
“The neo-Nazis started to show up again,” Ms. Eman wrote. “When the war ended we all said, ‘This can never happen again.’ But now polls show that 22 percent of the U.S. population does not believe there was a Holocaust. The story has to be retold so that history does not repeat itself.”