A Dutch school teacher who saved more than 600 Jewish children from death at the hands of Nazis has died at the age of 107.
Johan van Hulst served as principal of a Christian school in Amsterdam when Nazis began rounding up Jews and sending them to ghettos and concentration camps.
The school’s garden shared a fence with a Jewish day-care center. When the Nazis went looking for Jews, the children were passed over the fence and temporarily hidden by van Hulst before being smuggled to safety.
“Try to imagine 80, 90, perhaps 70 or 100 children standing there, and you have to decide which children to take with you…. That was the most difficult day of my life,” he told Yad Vashem as he recalled when the day-care was scheduled to be cleared out of Jews in 1943.
“You realize that you cannot possibly take all the children with you. You know for a fact that the children you leave behind are going to die. I took twelve with me. Later on I asked myself: ‘Why not thirteen?'”
After World War II ended, Van Hulst served in the Christian Democratic Appeal Party and later became a senator.
However, he is most known for risking his own life to save hundreds more.
He was recognized as Righteous Among the Nations in 1972 and received praise from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a 2012 trip to the Netherlands.
“We say, those who save one life save a universe,” Netanyahu said. “You saved hundreds of universes. I want to thank you in the name of the Jewish people, but also in the name of humanity.”
Despite this, van Hultz struggled with feeling like he didn’t do enough.
In 2015, he said: ‘I actually only think about what I have not been able to do. To those few thousand children that I could not have saved.’