NEA honors woman who thwarted Nazis during World War II
WASHINGTON - June 23, 2011 -
Diet Eman will be honored by the National Education Association (NEA) at its annual Human and Civil Rights dinner to be held in Chicago on July 1. Eman will receive NEA’s Rosa Parks Memorial Award. Parks helped spark the modern-day civil rights movement when her refusal to give up her seat to a white passenger on a Montgomery, AL, bus led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
“Diet Eman’s story is one of incredible courage and compassion,” noted NEA President Dennis Van Roekel. “Students and educators alike can learn from her actions to resist evil and her lifelong willingness to help those in distress.”
Eman was a 20-year-old student when the Nazis invaded her country of the Netherlands. She and her fiancé joined the Dutch underground, and for five years they worked to thwart the Nazis. They provided Jews with hiding places as well as falsified identification papers and food stamps, all stolen from the Germans. They helped downed Allied pilots hide and escape. And Diet Eman walked or biked the Dutch countryside, reporting back to the Allies in secret code on the German troop movements she observed.
In May of 1944, Eman was arrested, interrogated by the Gestapo and spent time in two concentration camps. But in August of that year, she managed to convince the Gestapo that she was a harmless, simple-minded maid. After her release, she went right back to her resistance work. By Liberation Day in May 1945, eight members of Eman’s resistance group had been killed, including the man she planned to marry.
After the war, Eman, studied hard, becoming a registered nurse and learning Spanish. She worked for several years as a nurse in Venezuela, where she met and married an American, eventually moving with him to Grand Rapids, MI. She became a Red Cross volunteer who helped families all over the world in the aftermath of natural disasters.
Today, at the age of 90, Eman serves as a translator in a Grand Rapids health clinic for the uninsured. She is the English voice for Spanish-speaking patients. “I love it that I can help people and be useful in my old age,” she says.
Eman, author of Things We Couldn’t Say, a book about her wartime experiences, has been featured in the documentary film titled The Reckoning: Remembering the Dutch Resistance. And she now tells her story to high school and college students across the country. Her message is a simple but powerful one: “Stand for what you believe.”
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The National Education Association is the nation’s largest professional organization, representing 3.2 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators and students preparing to become teachers.
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