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Dutch Resistance Fighter Confesses to 65-Year-Old Murder—and Learns She Killed an Innocent Man

She had carried the secret for 65 years but did not want to take it to her death. So 96-year-old Atie Ridder-Visser, a hero of the Dutch resistance, confessed in January to the 1946 murder of a suspected Nazi collaborator. Only then did she learn that she had killed an innocent man.

Her victim, Felix Gulje—the owner of a construction company in Leiden—had actually sheltered Jews himself, gave money to families who hid others, and secretly remained a leader of the banned General Catholic Employers Association, which held clandestine meetings in his home.“If I had known, I certainly would not have done it,” Ridder-Visser said.“We did it based on the information we had at the time.”

In fact, it was the slain Gulje, not his assassin, who was more typical of the Dutch resistance. Defiance in the Netherlands was largely nonviolent. An April 1945 assessment by the Office of Strategic Services, predecessor to the CIA, called the Dutch underground “primarily nonmilitary” and said it carried out few attacks until Allied forces entered the Netherlands.

Resistance activists focused on quietly obstructing the German administration, publishing underground newspapers, gathering intelligence, and, most of all, caring for an estimated 300,000 onderduikers (“undergrounders”) who were hiding to avoid forced labor, arrest, or deportation to concentration camps. An Amsterdam secretary, for example, hid Anne Frank and her family in her attic for two years. The Dutch resistance efforts were largely modest and decentralized—one reason few knew about Gulje’s secret wartime activities.

In August 1945, he was jailed on suspicion of collaborating with the Nazis, and released two months later. But veterans of the resistance, frustrated with the postwar investigations, continued to target Gulje, assigning his assassination to Atie Visser, who gunned him down in the doorway of his home.

The murder upset Dutch politics and confounded police, who never considered Visser a suspect.

Visser, meanwhile, fled to the Dutch East Indies (present-day Indonesia), married a man named Herman Ridder, and eventually settled in Rotterdam. In 1982, she was given a medal for her service in the resistance.

But the killing gnawed at her, and she finally confessed to it in a letter to the mayor of Leiden, Henri Lenferink. He went to Rotterdam to interview her, where he told her for the first time that Gulje had sheltered refugees and had opposed the Nazi occupation.

Prosecutors have declined to pursue the case, and the mayor has urged the press to leave the Gulje family and Ridder-Visser alone. She “is a very old, very frail woman who hears poorly, is disabled and needs help,” he said.

Mystery Nazi Photographer Identified

The aging album contained pictures of Hitler meeting an ally at a train station, candid shots of gap-toothed German infantrymen grinning at the camera, haunting portraits of Russian prisoners—and a mystery. Who had taken the 214 wartime pictures that wound up in the hands of a New York fashion industry executive?

The New York Times and Spiegel Online decided to tap the power of the Internet to find out. The Times’s photography blog “Lens” and Spiegel’s “EinesTages” (Once Upon A Time) blog posted the photos online the morning of June 21. By lunchtime, they had the name of the picture taker and his story.

The photographer was Franz Krieger, an Austrian businessman11 who wound up working for the Wehrmacht’s propaganda unit. Krieger traveled across the Eastern Front, recording the devastated terrain of Poland and Belarus. His war-torn landscapes were a sharp contrast to his personal photographs—of an attractive blonde woman in the postcard-pretty Bavarian countryside. She turned out to be Krieger’s wife, Frieda. The different worlds Krieger captured on film—a world at war and a family at play—soon blurred tragically. Frieda was killed along with their two-year-old daughter when the 15th Air Force bombed Salzburg in November 1944. Krieger would live until 1993.

The executive acquired the photos—and a collection of baseball cards—as payment from a manual laborer he had lent money to.

American Fighter Ace’s ‘Preposterous’ Story Proven True

When he read a newspaper account of his heroics in the skies over Java in February 1942, fighter pilot Jim Morehead shook his head. “Preposterous,” he said.

The story, by Pulitzer Prize–winning war correspondent George Weller, claimed that “Wild Man’’ Morehead, an ace who downed eight enemy aircraft in the Pacific and European Theaters, had single-handedly driven off a formation of Japanese bombers trying to destroy an American bomber base on the island in the Dutch East Indies. But World War II historian William Bartsch, while conducting research for a recent book, found that Morehead had in fact done just that.

Morehead and other pilots took their P-40s up on February 23 to intercept a Japanese formation of Zero fighters escorted by G4M “Betty” bombers. While some pilots engaged the Zeros, Morehead went right at the bombers, knocking out one G4M’s engine with his .50-caliber machine guns. In Weller’s account, the bombers abandoned their mission and returned to their base on Bali.

Morehead was unaware of that because he had had to shake off a pursuing Zero and then land to refuel. By the time he returned, the Japanese were gone. He only had one bullet hole in his banged-up P-40.

Weller recorded the dogfight for the Chicago Daily News. For years, Morehead dismissed the newsman’s account as wartime hype. But then Bartsch came out with his book, Every Day a Nightmare: American Pursuit Pilots in the Defense of Java 1941–1942. Bartsch had gone through Japanese records and concluded that Morehead did indeed stop a bombing raid in its tracks. None of the bombers he attacked crashed, but with the left engine of one element leader knocked out and its pilot badly wounded, the Japanese squadron commander decided to order his planes to dump their bombs on a secondary target and head back to base. The only thing the newspaperman had gotten wrong was that Morehead had turned back nine Japanese planes, not 54.

“Maybe I did save a bomber base,’’ a stunned Morehead, now 94 and living in Petaluma, California, told the local newspaper.

Mengele’s Diaries Sold—to an American Jew

The postwar diaries of Nazi death camp doctor Josef Mengele sold at auction for $245,000—much less than expected—to an American Orthodox Jewish man.

The purchaser, who prefers to remain anonymous, is the son of Holocaust survivors. He says he bought the diaries— which had been expected to sell for as much as $1 million—to keep them out of the hands of neo-Nazis, and plans to donate them to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Israel.

Mengele, the notorious “Angel of Death’’ who conducted medical experiments on concentration camp inmates, fled to South America in 1949; he died in Brazil in 1985. The 31 notebooks date from 1960 to 1975; their 3,380 pages—excerpts from which have been previously published—contain poems, drawings, musings on nature, philosophical meanderings, and political opinions.

Mengele worries that sexual promiscuity has led to the “dreadful mixing of the races with the northern Europeans,” and adds that “when you start mixing the races, there is a decline in civilization.” He concludes that the Chinese “have no practical system to solve problems…and basically they are just lazy.” He dismisses President Eisenhower’s “timid mediocrity” and insults Khrushchev’s “petty bourgeois brutality.” He tells an old fable, the message of which, he says, is that Jews don’t trust anyone, even their own fathers.

Writing in the early 1960s, Mengele concludes: “It is absolutely necessary that the German people forget their past or there is no going forward.’’

The Connecticut auction house that sold the diaries would not reveal the name of the seller or buyer.


Originally published in the December 2011 issue of World War II. To subscribe, click here.