These professors also stood up for their Jewish colleagues
With his speech in protest against the sacking of his Jewish colleague, Rudolph Cleveringa, Dean of the Faculty of Law, became the foremost symbol for Leiden’s resistance against the Nazis. But there are also other brave professors who should not be forgotten: what are the stories of Ben Telders, Ton Barge and Lambertus van Holk?
Are you Jewish?
A shock went through all of Leiden when Leiden University professors and staff received an alarming letter on 23 October 1940. The letter contained an urgent request from the Ministry of Education, Arts and Sciences: let us know whether or not you are Jewish. Exactly one month later all Jewish staff were dismissed.
Ben Telders: public anger is nessecary
Ben Telders, Professor of International Law, was shocked, and condemned these sackings in a letter to the Supreme Court.The professors at the Faculty of Law held an emergency meeting to discuss what they could do. They decided to give a protest speech at the same time that Eduard Meijers, one of the professors who had been dismissed, would normally have given a class lecture. Telders suggested that he himself should give the speech, as did not have a wife and children.
Cleveringa: a dean should take this responsibility
But Professor Cleveringa rejected that idea. Being the dean, he thought that he should be the one to give the speech, and he had already asked his wife for her consent. Telders tipped the law students off about the event and supported the plan to call a strike after the speech. On 26 November Cleveringa delivered the historic address in a jam-packed Academy Building.
Barge: Nazi racial doctrine is nonsense
On the same day, just a few hundred metres away, Ton Barge, Professor of Anatomy and Embryology, also gave a public lecture. In it he expressed his repugnance for the sackings and debunked the Nazi racial doctrine. Barge explained that there was no such thing as a German race or a Jewish race. His lecture had a huge impact on the students and contributed to a growing anger among the students.
Van Holk: remain true to your Jewish friends
There was another professor who protested publicly that day: theologian Lambertus van Holk. He also condemned the sacking of Jewish staff, which he considered to be both a disgrace and detrimental to education and scholarship. He called on students to keep visiting their Jewish friends and acquaintances, urging them to remain faithful to the principles of human dignity, justice and love for one’s fellow man. But, out of fear of the consequences for his students, he warned them not to protest too strongly.
After these speeches, the Leiden students called a strike, prompting the German occupiers to close the university. Cleveringa was arrested on 27 November, while Telders was taken into custody on 18 December, together with several chairmen of study associations. Barge’s arrest was to follow a year and a half later. In May 1942, Van Hold resigned and was later sent to a Dutch prison camp.
What became of these professors?
Telders died in 1945 in the Bergen-Belsen camp, just before the camp was liberated. The other three professors, as well as professor Meijers, were fortunate enough to survive their imprisonment, and they resumed their work after the liberation. Barge was strained by the events of the war and took early retirement in 1949. Cleveringa became Winston Churchill’s honorary doctoral supervisor in 1946 and served as Rector Magnificus from 1946 to 1947. Van Holk became immortalised as the spiritual father of Studium Generale. And it was none other than Meijers, the professor who had been sacked and banned, who drafted the Dutch Civil Code and thus played a major role in the history of Dutch law.