In the last two posts I’ve described the hard choices that two young men made during the war. In both cases, they did what they felt they had to do to protect their families. Here’s another example of a choice that looks compromising from the outside but was actually an act of self-sacrifice to protect the young man’s family.

This story involves a young Dutch resister who had a Jewish father and a Catholic mother. We’ll call him Henk. Henk was a university student when he wasn’t busy searching out hiding places for Jews or sneaking over the border between the Netherlands and Belgium on Dutch-Paris business. In the spring of 1943, however, the German occupation authorities decided that the Dutch university students were causing them an undue amount of difficulties and would be better utilized as factory workers in the Third Reich. They decreed that students had to either sign a loyalty oath or report for labor duty.

The great majority of students, more than 80%, refused to sign the oath. The German shut down the universities. The students went into hiding, joined or continued to work for the Resistance, or left the Netherlands in hopes of getting to England to join the Allies. Henk, however, signed the oath.

Did he sign the oath because his beliefs had undergone a sea change and he now supported Hitler and his goals? Certainly not. Henk perjured himself and risked his reputation and good standing int he community in order to protect his father. Everyone knew that the Germans would go after the family of anyone who displeased them. What would they do to the Jewish father of a rebel student, even if he was married to a Catholic?

On paper, Henk counts as a collaborator because he signed the loyalty oath. But no one could doubt the resistance qualifications of a man who rescued dozens of Jews, guided Engelandvaarders across the Netherlands, crossed the Dutch-Belgian border illegally on Resistance business at least five times and gathered intelligence for the Resistance. Sometimes, the collaborator was camouflage for a resister just as sometimes the resister was really a collaborator in disguise.

The great political positions and ideologies of the Second World War may represent a clear cut, easily classified moral dichotomy. But on the individual level of young men trying to survive and to protect their families, the moral issues of the war can be murky indeed.