Dutch-Jewish resistance hero speaks of terrifying moment the Nazis nearly caught her

Selma van de Perre, 97, who survived Ravensbruck, received a royal distinction from the Netherlands last week


A Jewish Holocaust survivor who fought in the Dutch resistance has spoken about the moment she came terrifying close to being caught by the Nazis while travelling under a false name.

Selma van de Perre, who spent years concealing her Jewish identity, went under the alias ‘Marga’ as she criss-crossed the Netherlands delivering critical documents including letters and false identity papers.

Early in her double life, she was stopped by German officers while holding a ‘huge suitcase’ full of boxes of illegal documents, en route to Poland.

“I had to open it and I was very anxious of course,” she recalled.

“I thought, that’s the end of me. But when I opened it and he saw the parcels, he just said OK.

“So I went outside but I was trembling tremendously. I was very scared.”

Last week, the 97-year-old Londoner accepted a royal distinction from her native Netherlands.

Karel van Oosterom, the Dutch ambassador to the UK, and Princess Mabel of Orange-Nassau were among the 100-plus guests to honour the nonagenerian, who was liberated from Ravensbruck concentration camp on 23 April 1945.

Mrs van de Perre was shocked by the number of people who tuned in to watch her receive the title of Knight in the Order of Orange-Nassau, awarded for longstanding meritorious service to society.

She said: “Well I still wonder in surprise all the things that happened. I hadn’t expected it”, adding: “It’s a very high award, and I was quite surprised that I received it, really, until I was told that I was going to receive it. I had no idea. A great surprise and a very pleasant surprise.”

Mrs van de Perre chronicled her remarkable stint in the resistance in her 2020 memoir My Name is Selma. She wrote the book in part, she said, to “pay tribute” to all the Jewish-Dutch resistance fighters who did not make it out of the war alive, and felt it was her “duty” to raise awareness after finding Britons were largely unaware of their efforts.

Mrs van de Perre was arrested and sent to Ravensbruck as a political prisoner in 1944, where she tampered with gas masks in an attempt to save lives.

And as frightening as those years were, she said: “You get used to it.

“Every day is a danger. Every job is a danger, but you have to do it. You took it on to do, and it becomes almost a daily job, like going to the office except it’s more dangerous.”

Mrs van de Perre moved to the UK in 1945 at the behest of the Dutch Ministry of War and met her husband, the journalist Hugo van De Perre, while working at the BBC. She later became a teacher.

She still feels strongly connected to the Netherlands, delighting in deliveries of her favourite cheese, and has volunteered with the International Ravensbruck Committee since 1980, sharing her story with schoolchildren and trainee teachers.

The wartime hero has received both Covid vaccine jabs, and offered a pointed piece of perspective for young people living through the pandemic.

She said: “Don’t forget I’ve been in the war. I think it’s terrible for them, for everybody. But I think they shouldn’t complain so much. People during the war, especially the Jewish people, have been for years in a little room or even under the ground.”

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