Willem Arondeus

Willem Arondeus (1894 – 1943)

Willem Arondeus was an artist-turned-author and — most importantly — a member of the Dutch resistance to Nazi occupation. He was born on August 22, 1894 in Naarden, Netherlands. His parents, Hendrik Cornelis Arondeus and Catharina Wilhelmina de Vries, designed costumes for the theater. Despite being the child of two people in the theatre, and being one of six kids, apparently there was nothing remarkable about his entire childhood. I find that a little hard to believe, but there’s literally nothing written about the first seventeen years of his life. Whatever.

At seventeen years old, Arondeus fought with his parents over his homosexuality, left home, and severed all contact with his family. That part of his story is, unfortunately, all too familiar to too many LGBT+ people even to this day. (It would have been a lot worse, had Denmark not decriminalized homosexuality in 1811. Thanks Napoleon!) He began building a career for himself as an illustrator and painter, and was even hired to paint a mural for the Rotterdamn Town Hall in 1923. However, he never had much success as a painter and was living in abject poverty.

“Salome” by Willem Arondeus (1916)

(I’m including a picture of his drawing “Salome” which was completed in 1916. I’m not trying to say this explains, maybe, why he didn’t have a lot of success as a painter but like, y’know, form your own opinions. This piece, and other surviving pieces of his, are on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.)

In 1933, Willem met a man named Jan Tijssen, and the two lived together for the next seven years. In 1935 he decided that visual arts might not be for him, and turned to poetry and writing. This turned out to be a good move. In 1938 he published two novels, and in 1939 he published his most famous and, by all accounts, his best work “The Tragedy of the Dream” which is a biography of the artist Matthijs Maris.

And then the Nazis came, and his real work began. When the Nazis came to the Netherlands, they mostly took their time with their policies. There weren’t any immediate deportations, there were no strict curfews. They were trying a subtle approach to keep the Dutch from resisting. This mostly worked. Many of the Dutch were fooled into thinking the Nazis weren’t as bad as everyone was saying. But the Nazis didn’t hesitate when it came to criminalizing homosexuality — and the open and proud LGBT+ populace of the Netherlands was not having any of that. Like many others, Willem Arondeus joined the Dutch resistance almost immediately. (I hesitate to call him a founding member, because no one else seems to be calling him that, but from what I’m reading, he probably missed being a “founding member” by like a day or two.)

Willem’s primary job during the early days of the resistance was to forge fake identity papers for Dutch Jews. Also in his unit were a number of other openly homosexual people, including cellist and conductor Frieda Belinfante. Willem did more than that, however. He also began writing and publishing an illegal magazine encouraging more Dutch to join the resistance. He attempted to call the artistic community of the Netherlands to act against the Nazi regime, criticizing the Nazi’s cultural committee. (He also published another book that had nothing to do with resisting the Nazis. it was called “Figures and Problems of Monumental Painting in the Netherlands”, and he illustrated it himself.) In 1943, Willem’s publication joined forces with a publication run by other Dutch artists, reaching even more people.

By 1943, the Dutch Resistance had a vast underground network hiding Jews from the Nazis. The Nazis, however, were catching on. They began comparing identity papers to those in the Amsterdam Public Records Office. Willem Arondeus would not stand for this. The Dutch Resistance was mostly known for being a peaceful resistance — but this next action would become a symbol for the whole movement. Willem is credited in several places for having the idea.

He determined the only course of action was to blow up the Public Records Office. Joined by his unit, the attack was carefully planned out and executed on March 27. Thousands of files were destroyed. But the success was short-lived — a traitor within the resistance turned the unit in to the Gestapo just a few days later. That traitor’s identity remains unknown to this day. Willem and his cohorts were arrested. Willem took full responsibility for the attack — but the trial was a sham, and twelve people, including Willem, were held responsible and executed on July 1, 1943. The rest of Willem’s unit was forced to flee the country.

Willem’s final words were communicated by his lawyer. “Let it be known that homosexuals are not cowards.”

Frieda Belinfante escaped execution. Most of her participation in the resistance was ignored for years — but more galling to her still, Willem’s role in the resistance was erased for decades. Credit for leading the unit was given to a heterosexual man. She insisted “[Arondeus] was the great hero who was most willing to give his life for the cause.”

In 1984, the Dutch government posthumously awarded Willem the Resistance Memorial Cross. On June 19, 1986, the state of Israel recognized Willem as Righteous Among the Nations (an honorific for non-Jews that risked their lives to protect Jews during the Holocaust). Despite this recognition, and his last words, Willem’s sexuality was not recognized until the 1990’s. Frieda Belinfante’s contribution to the resistance was officially recognized by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1994. She died one year later, at 90 years old.

Backtracking just for a second, if I may, I just want to touch on those last words. Because, if there was *ever* a theme for this whole site — it’s that. We’ve been here forever, and we have always been brave. If there’s a thread that connects the LGBTQ+ community together more than our gender identities or our sexualities, it’s courage. And, yeah, that’s mostly been out of necessity. It takes bravery to stand in front of a world that hates you and say “so what? I’m me.” But even in times and places where we weren’t hated, we still have that fire — like Osch-Tisch? She was an incredible bad ass, and she wasn’t battling bigotry (at the time, anyways).

Let it be known that LGBTQ+ people are not cowards.

(Adapted from a Facebook post.)


0ca66d0683f365676fcfe0b726b543c8Let’s look at a tremendous woman who utterly shattered the gender binary and kicked extra ass while we she did: Osch-Tisch. Osch-Tisch (which means “Finds Them and Kills Them” — in case you hadn’t picked up on her badassery yet) was born in 1854 and was assigned the male gender at birth. It turned out she was a baté, which is the Crow word for a woman who was assigned the male gender at birth. (And I’m not using Two Spirit or transgender because, as far as I can find, Osch-Tisch only ever described herself as a woman or a baté.) She filled roles from medicine woman to artist, and became a leader of the baté.

But Osch-Tisch was also known for her tremendous bravery, ferocity, and skill as a warrior. It is from this that she earned her name. The story I’m about to relate only comes from one source, as far as I can tell, because I’ve looked it up in a few places and it’s pretty much verbatim everywhere I look. That source is a Crow woman named Pretty Shield, who was being interviewed about the Battle of the Rosebud — a battle that happened June 17, 1876 where the Crow fought alongside the Shoshoni and the U.S. army against an alliance of Lakota Sioux and Cheyenne.

According to Pretty Shield, Osch-Tisch went into battle that day dressed in traditional men’s garb, which Pretty Shield said was because she was worried about being laughed at if she died on the battlefield in women’s clothing. I suspect she was worried about the U.S. army laughing at her if she died on the battlefield, because I am pretty sure (from my very basic understanding of their culture) the Lakota and Cheyenne wouldn’t have found anything funny about a baté — a bunch of white guys from the mid 1800’s? Yeah, they’d find that funny. During the battle, a Crow warrior was wounded and knocked off of his horse. The Lakota went to take advantage of the opportunity to scalp their fallen foe — but Osch-Tisch was not having any of that. She jumped off of her horse and started firing her gun as rapidly as she could at any and all approaching Lakota. A woman named The Other Magpie joined in — wielding only a coup stick (which is literally a decorated stick). The Other Magpie would hit an enemy with her stick and then a moment later, Osch-Tisch would shoot him dead. (Thus earning the name “Finds Them and Kills Them” even if, technically, The Other Magpie was doing some of the finding.) Eventually the Lakota decided that maybe a scalp wasn’t really worth all of that and fled.

The cooperation with the U.S. army was short-lived, however, and soon the Crow were forced onto a reservation and made to adopt more “civilized” customs. This meant, of course, that in the 1890’s a Federal agent named Briskow rounded up the baté and gave them haircuts and forced them into traditionally masculine clothing. The Crow Nation refused to allow this to happen to Osch-Tisch, and Chief Pretty Eagle used the very small amount of influence he still had with the U.S. government in order to force Agent Briskow into early retirement so that Osch-Tisch would left alone. Briskow’s replacement apparently didn’t want to go into early retirement as well, so he didn’t bother her.

After this, Osch-Tisch attempted to establish an underground network of Two Spirit people across the country. Her hope was that this inter-tribe effort would normalize Two Spirit people and foster understanding of them with the United States government, that they might be allowed to continue. Unfortunately, after Osch-Tisch’s death in 1929 that hope fell apart. There were no more baté in the Crow Nation for a long time after her and much of the knowledge that she held was permanently lost. The Crow Nation internalized the gender binary that was forced upon them by the United States government, and I don’t know if they even have any open baté now.

(Adapted from this Facebook post.)