Johannes Bogaard of Niew Vennep, the Netherlands, had only two years of formal education, and that was in elementary school. After the age of eight, he worked full time on his family farm. That was the only life he knew, and it was a good life. He got married, had two sons and a daughter, and with his wife took care of the farm. His elderly father and two brothers helped out. In 1940 the National Socialist armies of Germany invaded launched a brutal five year occupation of the Dutch people. Johannes saw that the Jews were targeted for extermination by the Nazis, and he was determined to help his suffering neighbors.
He was a Christian; he believed the Bible and its message that the Jews were God’s “chosen people.” He knew it was wrong to treat anyone the way the Nazis treated the Jews.
So Johannes contacted a Jewish family in Amsterdam and offered to help. They gave him their children to hide from the Nazis. Soon, other families were begging Johannes to take their children and hide them on his farm. He said, “Can you imagine what that meant to the parents, to give their children to someone they had never seen, whom they knew nothing about, not even his name? I had one family with seven children. Their grief was worse, much worse, than all the danger I ran.”
He asked a Jewish orphanage if he could help. They handed over to him many children, and Johannes was busy trying to find Dutch families that would take them in. Some families did; many did not. The reasoning was all the same: “I would never risk my family’s life for these strangers! It’s against the law to rescue these children, you know!” Eventually Johannes and his family built a long bunker on his farm—it had one door on one side and another door on another, and the whole thing was camouflaged. The barely educated farmer was leading a full time resistance movement of finding food, forging documents, and finding volunteers to help. The kids loved him and called him “Omm Hannes” (Uncle Hannes).
In October of 1943 German soldiers, aided by Dutch police and informants (Nazi collaborators), raided the farm. One young man, a Christian, was in the bunker protecting the children. He had one pistol. He told all the children to run for out the other door and race across the sugar beet fields and keep running. He would stay at the front door and slow down the Nazis. The children ran, while he stayed at the door. The Nazis gunned him down in an instant, but he delayed them long enough for the kids to have a chance. All the kids made it to other farms, to other places of refuge, and somehow survived the war. How do we know this story? Arje Paz (1936-1982) was one of those kids and told the story in Israel many years later.
Johannes was away during the Nazi raid, but when he came home he found his elderly father swinging from a hangman’s noose in the doorway of his house. One brother and his 19 year old son were arrested and sent to Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. His brother perished there, and his son died soon after the war from the harsh treatment of the camp. What did Uncle Hannes do for the remainder of the war? He also went into hiding….and continued to rescue Jews. By the end of the war, he and his network had saved well over 300 Jewish children.
In 1963 the nation of Israel bestowed on his the award of “Righteous Among the Nations”. Uncle Hannes died at the age of 83 in 1974. Years later, he said this about his rescue mission:
“We have to look not at what we lost, but what we saved. God called us to this work and He also gave us the strength for it. As Netherlanders we could not do otherwise.” Amen, Uncle Hannes.