First published in ACCESS Spring 2018 magazine
“I did what had to be done. And I am not a hero." – Paul Kaetzke
Delving into the past, DISDH Grade 9 students Alizée, Anna and Chiara came face to face with the true story of a hero who helped save lives during the Second World War.
Paul Kaetzke was a pastor at the German Protestant Church in The Hague from 1935 to 1966. He was critical of National Socialism and in the attic of his church in Bleijenburg Street in The Hague, he made the conscious decision to hide Jews and others fleeing danger.
Taking part in a history competition supported by the Federal President of Germany under the heading, “God and the world. Religion makes history,” the students won a special prize for the creation of the website paul-kaetzke.de in which they presented their findings.
In The Hague’s archives, they discovered Dutch newspaper articles on Paul Kaetzke’s life and bravery. Old church records chronicled further facts relating to the German pastor and the difficult times during which he lived and worked in the Netherlands. In addition, an interview with Kaetzke’s youngest son provided the students with a personal view of the hero they grew to admire.
Due to the danger involved, no records were kept. To this day, neither the number nor the identities of those hidden is known. It was in the attic above the church vault and between the organ pipes that Kaetzke hid those in need. This area was inaccessible for the church parishioners, making it an ideal hiding place. Moreover, the Nazi regime did not expect Jews to be given refuge in a German church.
The present church pastor brought the students up to the hiding place. They physically experienced the narrow confines and darkness. They said, “We could imagine the fear, the danger and the hopelessness which those hiding must have felt.”
Paul Kaetzke is indeed a hero who risked his life to save others. His memory lives on, and thanks to his courage, the three young students now see it as their duty “to take a stand for what they believe in every facet of their lives.”