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Documenting the Dutch Resistance Effort
April 12, 2005

Seeing the film Schindler's List was a pivotal moment for Rob Prince, a moment that years later has led to his own Holocaust film.

"I knew a little but not a lot about the Holocaust before Schindler's List," says Prince, a video producer for Calvin College who was a 21-year-old college student when he first saw the film. "It created in me a big desire to learn more."

That desire ultimately led to an hour-long documentary by Prince on the Holocaust and the Netherlands called "Making Choices." It will air locally on WGVU television (the West Michigan PBS affiliate) at 10 p.m. on May 5.

Prince picked that day because it marks the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands, and his film centers on the role of the Netherlands in resisting the Germans during World War II - and the country's role in saving the Jews.

The documentary, which he began four years ago at the age of 24, features interviews with four West Michigan residents who were part of the Resistance Movement in the Netherlands during the war: Diet Eman, John Muller, John Timmer and John Witte.

In fact, Prince first heard Eman's story after a visit to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. During his time there he was astounded to learn about the significant Resistance efforts of the Netherlands during World War II.

"I'm Dutch," he says, "but I was not aware of the heroic efforts of so many in the Netherlands during the war."

Wanting to know more he visited the Museum bookstore and asked if they carried any books about the role of the Dutch in the resistance movement. He was handed a copy of "Things We Couldn't Say," the true story of Eman, who as a young Dutch woman worked with her fiancé, Hein Sietsma, to rescue imperiled Jews in Nazi-occupied Holland.

"The book tells how Diet and Hein aided the Resistance," says Prince. "Their efforts cost Diet her freedom and Hein his life. But they and their fellow Resistance members saved hundreds of Dutch Jews."

When Prince, a 1999 Calvin graduate, found out that Eman lived in Grand Rapids he sought her out and she agreed to be interviewed for what then was becoming the beginnings of his documentary. Through her and her stories he made further connections. Eventually the film became Prince's master's thesis at Michigan State University. It also became a consuming passion.

"I've spent a lot of time and a lot of money on it," he admits with a wry smile. "But it's an important topic. Near the end of the film Diet talks about making choices, making the right choices. For many years the people involved in the Resistance were reluctant to talk about what they had done. It was too hard. Now, as they enter the twilights of their lives they are more willing to tell the next generations about what they did, not for their own glory, but so that we too might consider these issues and make the right choices when we are confronted with evil."

Prince hopes to continue his work in the future, noting that he has a list of about 200 other people in North America who were in the Netherlands during World War II and were involved in the Resistance.

"Someday," he says, "I'd love to create a visual archive of their stories. I think it's a really important chapter in worldwide history and one we need to remember."