Jewish resistance to the Holocaust

An outstanding individual

Lodewijk Visser, who died 17 February 1942, was an outstanding individual. He defined what Jewish resistance meant and was a leading figure in that resistance.

The Nazis installed Jewish Councils to implement measures that resulted in the deportation and extermination of Jews, as discussed at the Wannsee conference. Lodewijk Visser was one of the most publicly outspoken Jewish opponents of these Councils.

He came from a privileged Jewish provincial background. Born in 1871 in the small town of Amersfoort in the Netherlands, Lodewijk graduated from university and obtained a doctorate in Law. However, his early career was jeopardised by discrimination. For several years the young lawyer acted as an advisor in the Dutch foreign ministry. He left that post in 1903, seeing no opportunities for promotion as a result of anti-Jewishness, which increased at the time of the Dreyfus affair in France.

After working in a law firm, he was appointed as a judge in a district court. Later the judge sat on the Dutch Supreme Court, becoming its vice-president in 1933 and president in 1939, losing that position in 1940, after the Nazis occupied the Netherlands.

The choice

Not known as religiously observant, the judge held several positions in pre-war Jewish organisations, for example, in Zionism, despite disagreeing with other Zionist leaders about fundraising matters. He was a typical Jewish establishment figure, comparable with the leaders of other population segments, who were prepared to take responsibility for their group, represent them and work with the authorities.

With the formation of the Jewish Council, Jewish leaders had to decide whether and how to work with the Nazis. Some choose for pragmatic cooperation and implemented anti-Jewish measures – sometimes under private protest – to avoid the Nazis executing the measures violently. In contrast, the judge emphasised the illegal character of the measures and didn’t accept the authority of the Nazis. He took a principled, legal stand, which resulted in resistance.

He wrote to the chairman of the Jewish Council:

It’s possible that in the end the occupier will achieve his aim [in relation to the Jews], but it’s our duty as Dutchmen and as Jews to do everything that will prevent him from achieving that aim, to refrain from anything that will pave the way for him.

The judge thus not only defined Jewish resistance, but he also set a personal example.

A personal example

When the synagogue where he lived was attacked by Nazis, he successfully urged the lay leaders of the congregation to continue the services. On the following Sabbath the judge walked demonstratively to the synagogue wearing a top hat and holding his prayer shawl and prayer book under his arm (in September 1941 he became chairman of the congregation).

He also refused his official identity papers because they were stamped with a J. The judge openly condemned segregation of Jews. He worked with people who published a clandestine resistance paper (his son, Ernst Lodewijk was a member of the group that produced and distributed the paper; he was arrested in July 1942 and murdered in Mauthausen).

When the Jewish Council on behalf of the Nazis threatened the judge with deportation to a concentration camp if he wouldn’t end his actions, he replied on 14 February 1942 that he took note of the threat but refused to sit still.

However, these were almost Visser’s last words; he died three days later.


My new book, Individuals and Small Groups in Jewish Resistance to the Holocaust. A Case Study of a Young Couple and their Friends, is published by Anthem Press.