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

Frieda  Belinfante

Frieda Belinfante 1904to –1995

Dutch cellist, conductor, and anti-Nazi resistance fighter. Born into a musical family, she began studying the cello at the age of 10. She debuted professionally at age 17, and worked as a director of various ensembles. In 1931 she was briefly married, although she explained to her husband that she was a lesbian. She had relationships with women throughout her life, keeping them private, but caring little about public opinion. In 1937, she was invited to manage the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, making her the first woman in Europe to conduct a professional orchestra. She continued to enjoy success in her career, appearing regularly on Dutch radio and conducting around Europe, but her work was cut short when Nazi Germany invaded the Netherlands. Along with her friend, gay artist Willem Arondeus, she joined the resistance movement early on, creating forged documents for Dutch Jews. Belinfante, herself, was half Jewish. In 1943, to prevent the Nazis from checking forged documents against public records, she aided her friends in the bombing of the registration office in Amsterdam. The plan successfully destroyed 800,000 identity cards of Jews and non-Jews alike. Sadly, members of the resistance group, including Arondeus, were arrested and executed shortly afterwards. For the next three months, Belinfante disguised herself as a man to evade discovery. She eventually escaped to Switzerland by crossing the alps on foot, only returning to the Netherlands after the war. In 1947, she came to the United States, where she resumed her musical career in California, forming and conducting the Orange County Philharmonic Society to great acclaim. But preferences for a male conductor and rumors about her lesbianism contributed to her dismissal from the orchestra in 1962. Fifteen years later, Orange County would acknowledge her contributions by declaring a ‘Frieda Belinfante Day.’

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