Following Holocaust memorial day 2021 and as a precursor to LGBT+ history month, Christopher Hulme recounts the true story of Willem Arondeus.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about Willem Arondeus recently. If that name isn’t familiar to you, don’t be alarmed. Arondeus was a Dutch resistance fighter in the Second World War, and spent his years painting, writing and actively opposing the oppressive Nazi regime that was taking hold at the time. He also happened to be gay, in a time when being ‘out’ meant risking liberty and life.
“Along with a number of supporters (including lesbian resistance fighter Frieda Belinfante) Arondeus made a mission of forging identity cards for those targeted by Nazi officials, and in a courageous act one evening, Arondeus and his group partially destroyed an official records hall that stored the personal information of millions of at-risk individuals. Despite escaping, Arondeus was betrayed and though he never gave up his co-conspirators, his diary fell into the wrong hands and he and his many supporters were captured and imprisoned. Arondeus plead guilty to the charges and took the full blame, which ultimately secured his death warrant.
“Prior to his execution, it is on record he noted, ‘Tell the people homosexuals can be brave.‘
“Tell the people homosexuals can be brave. Tell the people homosexuals can be brave?
“I can’t seem to get my head around the mental capacity needed to issue such a rallying battle cry in the face of impending doom. Nor can I get past the realisation that it was likely the overwhelming prejudice entrenched in societal attitudes at the time that meant Arondeus felt the need, in his dying words, to make such a countering statement.
“But despite the inherent trauma that surrounds his story, when I think of Arondeus, I don’t have any pity or sadness. He remained defiant in the face of an evil (seemingly) too great to conquer, and it was this tenacity of will that defines him in my mind.
“This LGBT+ History month, I encourage you all to learn more about the realities of LGBT+ history. By virtue of that fact, you will engage with material that is challenging and deeply rooted in trauma. It is important to know this part of history. But I also encourage you to look for examples of LGBT+ identities living and celebrating their truths. Not just enduring or surviving but thriving. We’re in the midst of a transformative era for LGBT+ rights and societal attitudes right now. But let’s work to ensure all generations are made aware of the dark AND the light. Let’s continue to shape the narrative by including representations of success from the LGBT+ community, particularly those stories of triumph over adversity. These stories have been buried for many years. But let’s find them, share them and hold them aloft as beacons of what could have been, and what could still be to come.”
Christopher Hulme, lead LGBT+ studies, diversity and terminology expert at We Are Wellbeing
LGBT+ History month runs from the 1st February to the 28th February 2021. Maybe this month we can all try to be a little bit braver in everything we do and in the face of our current situation.
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