Palm Beach, FL, February 7, 2014… John Henry Weidner, a Dutch hero who helped save more than 1,000 individuals, including approximately 800 Jews, from the Holocaust, has been posthumously honored by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) with the ADL Jan Karski Courage to Care Award.
Established in 1987 to honor rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust era, the award was presented at the ADL National Executive Committee Meeting in Palm Beach to Dr. Kurt Ganter, Executive Director of the John Weidner Foundation for the Cultivation of the Altruistic Spirit, who accepted on behalf of Weidner’s wife, Naomi, who could not be present.
Weidner was recognized for developing a network and escape route known as the Dutch-Paris Line or “Swiss Way.” Under his leadership, this network of over 300 individuals helped refugees by issuing forged papers, arranging hideouts, and when possible, smuggling fugitives to neutral Spain and Switzerland from the Nazi-occupied Netherlands. Weidner and the Dutch-Paris Line participants helped anyone in need of hiding or support regardless of their ability to cover expenses, with Weidner often covering the expenses himself.
“John Weidner lived his entire life giving back, in the spirit of what we call Tikkun Olam,” Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director and a Holocaust survivor, said in presenting the award. “Until his death in 1994, he lived a life of selflessness and service, working tirelessly to make the world a better place.”
“When asked why he did what he did, he answered simply, ‘I had no choice.’ But we know differently. Everyone has a choice. Weidner and his team of 300 did not look the other way when most did. They risked their lives constantly to save those the Nazis were targeting.”
Born Johan Hendrik Weidner in 1912 in Brussels, Belgium to Dutch parents, he grew up in France, where his father was a minister of the Seventh Day Adventist Church. When the Netherlands, Belgium and Paris were occupied, Weidner moved to Lyons, France, then in the unoccupied southern zone where he continued his work. Lyons had become a magnet for thousands of refugees.
As a devout Seventh Day Adventist, he believed he had a moral obligation to help all those needing sanctuary. The Dutch-Paris Line saved over 1,000 men, women and children, including Allied airmen who had been downed over France, political refugees and individuals whose assistance to Jews had provoked the wrath of the authorities.
“John learned from his father that when you have a profound conviction and you follow your conscience, you have to be ready to accept the consequences. Sometimes the price of following your conscience is steep,” said Dr. Ganter in accepting the award. “Weidner was high on the Gestapo most wanted list. In an attempt to get Weidner to turn himself in, the Gestapo arrested his sister, Gabrielle, in February of 1944 while she was attending Sabbath School in Paris.”
“In one of the more agonizing decisions of his life, Weidner was forced to choose between continuing his rescue work or surrendering himself in exchange for Gabrielle’s freedom. He chose to continue his work. Gabrielle Weidner died in the Ravensbruck Concentration Camp in February of 1945.”
Created in 1987, the ADL Courage to Care Award was rededicated in 2011 in honor of one of its first recipients, Jan Karski, a Polish diplomat and righteous gentile who provided the West with one of the first eyewitness accounts of Hitler's Final Solution. The award is a plaque with bas-reliefs that depict the horrifying context – the Nazis’ persecution, deportation and murder of millions of Jews – that served as a backdrop for the rescuers' exceptional deeds. The award is made possible through a generous grant from Eileen Ludwig-Greenland.