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A compendium of queer people in the 19th and 20th centuries // Drawn and researched by Michele Rosenthal

Willem  Arondeus

Willem Arondeus 1894to –1943

Dutch illustrator, author, and anti-Nazi resistance fighter. As a teenager, he was thrown out of his home by his parents when he announced that he was gay. He struggled to earn a living as an artist, designing posters and illustrating poetry. His biggest commission came in 1923, when he was asked to paint a mural for Rotterdam City Hall. In 1935, he switched to writing, penning two novels which he also illustrated, and in 1938 he published his most successful work, a biography of the painter and political activist Matthijs Maris. Art and activism would soon define his own life as well. When Nazi Germany invaded the Netherlands in 1940, Arondeus was among the first to join the resistance movement, along with his friend, lesbian cellist Frieda Belinfante. He fought against the forced registration of Jews at a time when his countrymen still considered it harmless, and urged his fellow artists to do the same through underground, illegal publications. The resistance group he belonged to specialized in forged documents, but the Nazis countered by checking documents against public records. So in 1943, Arondeus led the charge in his greatest act of resistance: bombing the registration office in Amsterdam and destroying those records. The plan was a success, and 800,000 identity cards of Jews and non-Jews alike were destroyed. But a few weeks later, Arondeus was captured, and he and many of his collaborators were executed. He had been openly gay his entire life, living with his boyfriend Jan Tijssen in the years leading up to the war. His final message before his death, as relayed to his lawyer, was to tell the world that “homosexuals are not cowards.”

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