Willem Arondeus (1894-1943) was one of the most dedicated and creative members of the Dutch Underground during WW II.
He was born in Amsterdam to parents who were theatre costume and set designers. His parents encouraged his artistic bent, but his gayness caused problems at home. When he was 17-years-old, Arondeus kicked open the closet door, and his parents then kicked him out.
He worked different jobs to survive while producing his first paintings. His first big commission was for a mural at the Rotterdam City Hall. His style is a mix of Art Nuevo, Deco, with a dash of Picasso, and a sprinkle of Rembrandt.
As those nasty Nazis came to power in Germany, Arondeus was enjoying a romantic relationship with Jan Tijssen. He published a biography of Dutch painter and political activist Matthijs Maris that sold well.
When the Nazis invaded The Netherlands in May 1940, they tried to win over the Dutch without forced deportations, violence or strict curfews. But, Jews and gay people knew what was coming next. Same-sex relations had been legal in the Netherlands since the mid-19th century, but the new government recriminalized homosexuality.
Maris, the activist Arondeus had written about, had fought for democracy in the 1871 Paris Commune uprising, and he served as the inspiration for Arondeus to be among the earliest Dutch citizens to join the Resistance.
He joined a group that forged identity papers, a valuable skill in any fascist-controlled state, and his work as an artist came in handy. As the Nazis moved against Amsterdam’s Jewish citizens, his band of Resistance fighters focused on providing the Jews with fake identities. He also published anti-Nazi pamphlets and recruited others to join the Resistance.
Arondeus knew by 1942 that time was running out for both Dutch Jews and others on the Gestapo’s lists. So, he came up with a way to do away with those lists altogether.
The Amsterdam Public Records building held information on hundreds of thousands of Dutch people, including Jews and gays, and the Nazis used the catalog to check for fake identities. Arondeus decided that the best way to thwart the Nazis was to blow up the building.
He and his group of resistance fighters, many of them also openly gay, carefully planned their attack.
At night, on March 27, 1943, dressed as a German Army captain, Arondeus marched into the Public Records Office with a dozen members of the Resistance. They drugged the guards, placed their explosives and made history. The building burst in flames and pieces of paper rained down on the streets. The bomb only destroyed a part of the Amsterdam Public Records building, but it sent a message to the Nazis: We are fighting back.
Within a few days, the Gestapo had captured all Arondeus’ group; a traitor had turned them all in.
At the trial, Arondeus took full responsibility for the bombing. Still, the Nazis executing all 13 of the Resistance fighters involved by firing squad.
Defiant to the end, Arondeus communicated his final words through his lawyer:
”Let it be known. Homosexuals are not cowards.”
As a resistance organizer, Arondeus was an inspiration to others who helped hundreds of Jews and gay people to escape deportation to the death camps.
His family received a medal from the Dutch government commemorating his bravery in the 1980s, but despite his final message of defiance, his gayness wasn’t mentioned.
Painting from Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam