TINA STROBOS was not quite 20 years old when the Nazi army invaded Holland in May, 1940. She was living with her mother and a maid in their large, comfortable Amsterdam home, and had just begun her medical school studies. Several years earlier she had decided to become a psychiatrist, the profession she practices in the United States today. During the last years of the war when the daily business of buying food had become increasingly difficult, Tina's maternal grandmother came to live with Tina and her mother, Marie Schotte.
The five year German occupation was a severe hardship on the entire Dutch population, but especially for the Jews who did not foresee the path toward total destruction the Germans gradually laid out for them. In January, 1941, all Jews residing in Holland were required to register with the German authorities. In April, 1941, elaborate identity cards, the equivalent of internal passports, were issued to the Dutch population. They had to be carried at all times. Three months later every registered Jew had a large "J" stamped on their card. This peaceful, orderly accounting of the Dutch Jewish population greatly facilitated the efficiency of the later round-ups and deportations.
Our involvement with helping people began right away, the first day after the invasion. A friend of my parents, Henry Polack, was a famous labor leader and newspaper columnist. As a prominent socialist he was afraid he would be arrested. He felt he had to go into hiding. So my mother and I were immediately called into action.
We thought it would be safer for Polack at my grandmother's house. She had an extra room, and being over eighty, who would be suspicious? We intended to make up a story that she was renting the room to a stranger. She said it would be hard for her to say she didn't know who Polack was, not only because he was so well known, but she even subscribed to the socialist paper where his picture regularly appeared next to his column. We told her to say she never read his column, but then she showed us her closet shelves, all nicely lined with that particular newspaper! We decided to take it out. But when we set to work, we discovered she had glued it on exceptionally well. My mother was so angry at her for not buying regular shelf paper! It was the day after the Nazi invasion and there we were, working like mad in my grandmother's apartment, peeling off those old newspapers.
My grandmother had sheltered people in her house during the First World War, refugees from Belgium. I thought that was interesting--a woman so old willing to take risks. She was a fighter. She was my model, my mother's mother. Although when she was a young married woman and had eight young children of her own to care for, she still had room to take in refugees.
Maybe it was selfish, but we thought my grandmother's house was a safer place than ours. Polack stayed there for a couple of weeks, but then, like other people in his situation, he came out of hiding, because in the beginning they weren't arresting anyone. That came later.
Soon after that the underground took form, and among the first to hide in our house was one of the leaders--Johan Brouwer. My mother admired him very much, so she wasn't against helping by giving him shelter for a couple of months. She certainly knew what work he was engaged in, although he never told her exact details, and that was just as well.
Brouwer got me interested in joining his group of about ten people, the B.S., or Binnenlandse Strydkrachten. We read MEIN KAMPF and Marx together. One of the first jobs he gave me was to write out a thousand copies of a poem by a man who was in jail at the time for having written against Hitler. He was a very second-rate poet and I couldn't see that it would help our cause for me to risk my life by making a thousand copies of that awful poem. I refused.
Brouwer was furious. He said "You're in an army now. You either obey the rules or you're thrown out!" I said, "Well, I can't obey orders", and I was ousted from the group. But then they would call on me for a job, or to hide some weapons for them. We had guns stolen from the Wehrmacht in our house. They were in big boxes, half the size of a sofa, with the names of the guns written all over them. I also did some courier work for Brouwer: one time I brought a radio sender to an address. I was only with this group for a couple of months. They frightened me to death.
I never told my mother about them. If I was scared, I figured she would be even more so. They went into action making bombs, and all of them were killed, including a friend of mine. They were very impetuous, very impulsive, very heroic and brave. I was none of those. I've always been a cautious person. If I did something, I always did it very carefully. I survived and they didn't.
Then I joined the Landelyke Organizatie, which means Country Organization. They were involved with peaceful activities, such as placing people in hiding, and making passports. The organization would call on me and my friends to deliver Jews or Jewish children to safe addresses in the country. I remember spending a lot of time each week on my bike, bringing false passports to people in hiding, and providing them with printed food stamps. Then too, when Jews came to my house, I would call the L.O. to find a more permanent place for them.
Our house became kind of a transit station; we didn't keep people too long because we were raided so often. And then, my mother was always terribly scared. Whenever the Gestapo visited she would tremble, really tremble. I've never seen anybody tremble as much. I would hiss at her out of the side of my mouth, "Don't show them you're afraid. You have nothing to be afraid of. You've done nothing wrong. They have nothing on us. They can't prove a thing." I sort of hypnotized her by talking like that. And then she would become somewhat reassured, and I'd hold her, you know, take her arm. That you could do, because they knew that everybody was scared of them.
Our house was not very safe because we were involved in too many activities--the medical school, the radio listening, hiding people, making passports. We always had contraband in our house, under the rug--a pretty stupid way of hiding things. My grandmother had a radio sender in her house, so we could send messages from the underground to the BBC. We would listen to the BBC broadcast, and then go to her house to send our messages back in code.
The Germans decreed the death penalty for anyone having a radio, but we kept ours and hid it. When Churchill, or the Queen of Holland would speak on BBC, we had as many as thirty or forty people come to our house after dark to listen, mostly Jews in hiding who lived within walking distance. That's how many people we knew were in hiding. In Holland it's dark in the winter around 3 or 4 o'clock in the afternoon. The broadcasts were usually around 6 P.M. so they had time to go back home before curfew at 8 P.M.
I had many Jewish friends. Then there were the friends of friends, and their families, and so forth. They would often ask me how to get a non-Jewish I.D. card. First, I had them give me a photograph. I put their fingerprint on the back of the photo, using a little machine I had which was made for this purpose. Then I would steal a passport of the appropriate age group, soak off the seal, put their picture in it, and seal it again. They looked good.
I usually stole passports from people I knew. For example, when I went to my aunt's funeral in the spring of '41, I noticed that a lot of people were leaving their pocketbooks beside their coats and jackets in the hallway. I stole a couple of passports by going through the pocketbooks. No one saw me. It was very inconvenient to have had your passport stolen: you had to go through a lot of misery to get a new one, but it was small potatoes compared to not having one at all, or worse, having one that had a "J" on it. There was no way to get that "J" off. It was large.
The university students had to sign a loyalty oath to Hitler in the spring of '41, or was it '42? The exact chronology for all this is not good because I didn't keep a diary. About ninety-five percent of the students refused, so the universities closed. After that, we held underground medical classes in our home. That was forbidden with the death penalty too, but I thought it was worthwhile to continue our studies. We had to be organized, to contact all these people, telling them to meet at a certain place and time. And we didn't always know who could be trusted, but even so, we had at least eighteen people coming once a week, all through the war. When the hospital had a corpse to dissect, they would call us and say we could send six students over to learn pathology. Gradually they rotated through all the enrolled students. I attended quite a few of those sections. It was quite a marvelous organization.
The hospital also arranged for medical students to serve as interns. When I was asked by the chief of internal medicine to fill an internship, I accepted even though I had not yet taken the qualifying exams. I had to do it over again after the war, but still I learned a lot. I tried to study every day.