Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Diet Eman: Unsung Hero among Us

By Sherri Stewart

On September 4, 2019, a hero died in Grand Rapids, Michigan—one most of us have never heard of. How I wish I’d known her. But as was true of many survivors of the holocaust, Diet didn’t want to remember what happened in her early life, so she started afresh in the United States, keeping her early life a secret until Corrie ten Boom changed her mind.

As a young girl, Diet loved adventure. With her hair a mess, she was the epitome of a tomboy as she climbed trees and jumped over ditches with her friends. Her life with her parents, two brothers, and sister was normal and safe in The Hague, in the Netherlands. When she was seventeen, an eighteen-year-old named Hein Seitsma moved into their house after his mother died. This irritated Diet because there were too many boys in the house. Diet tried hard not to like him. She really did. Soon, though, she was forced to admit that he wasn’t so bad, and soon they were dating.

Normal life ebbed away when Adolf Hitler’s armies reached the borders of Holland on May 9, 1940, and Diet awoke in the early morning light of Friday to the first sounds of war. In the months that followed, Diet watched as her town was transformed by the occupying Nazi force. Synagogues defaced, shop windows graffitied—and in the newspapers, summaries of every place Jews could not be. And so began five years of enemy occupation. Radios were confiscated. Food was rationed. Identity cards were issued and had to be carried at all times. Young men were rounded up and sent to work in Germany. University students had to either sign an oath of allegiance to the Nazi party or report for deportation to Germany… or go into hiding.

“There came a day,” Diet wrote, “when my friend Herman, who worked with me in the bank in The Hague, began to understand that for him as a Jew, life could not go on in the same way anymore.” Diet and Hein found a place for Herman to live in the country, then found a place for his fiancĂ©e and his mother. Thus began Diet and Hein’s work for the Dutch Resistance. Within a few weeks, they found new homes in the country for sixty Jews, and hundreds during the next five years. Diet was kept busy delivering ration cards, fake IDs, and messages from families to those hiding, since they couldn’t use the mail system.

When the Nazis arrested one of the delivery people that brought food to the farms, under the threat of deportation, he gave them Diet’s name and address. Soon it became too dangerous for Diet to go home because she didn’t want to put her parents in danger, and the Gestapo showed up at their door regularly looking for her. For the rest of the war, Diet would only be able to come home on short, secret visits. Diet prayed for her family and friends every night, but beyond that she tried not to worry about them. She knew she had put her parents in danger when she and Hein had buried rifles and guns in her parents’ garden. Possession of a gun in Nazi-occupied Holland was punished with immediate death. 

Diet went into hiding on a farm, where she worked as a maid for a couple named Aalt and Alie and their children. Aalt and Alie also hid Jews in their home. Soon, Diet was heavily involved in Resistance work. She walked and biked all over the country. One day, Hein and she had a glorious day together. But that evening, as they rode their bicycles, Diet heard a voice say, “You’d better have a good look at him.” A few days later, Hein was arrested. That was the last time Diet saw him on earth. But there was no time for Diet to sit and grieve. On May 8th, 1944, Diet was traveling on a train with a false ID and a big envelope of illegal papers inside her blouse–including stolen ration cards and materials to make false IDs for downed Allied pilots.

Six Nazis approached and asked for her ID. They immediately said that it was fake. When the train stopped, they made her sit on a bench outside. She began to plead with God, “Lord, grant that those six men give me a half a minute so that I can get rid of this envelope.” God answered quickly. One of the Gestapo was wearing a plastic raincoat, a new thing then. “And you should see all the pockets it has,” the officer said to the other five. Soon they were all huddled over the shiny raincoat, and Diet had her chance. She pulled the envelope out of her blouse and hurled it as far as she could.

She decided her best chance of survival was to play dumb, so she did so when a cocky young officer questioned her, and she kept up the tactic for the duration of her imprisonment. Diet spent many dark days at the prison at Scheveningen. But on the wall of her cell, she scratched Jesus’ promise, “Lo, I am with you always.” On June 6th, 1944, the Allies invaded Normandy, France, and the prison at Scheveningen in the Netherlands was emptied. Diet Eman, along with about sixteen hundred other prisoners, including Betsie and Corrie ten Boom, were herded onto trains which would take them to Vught, another concentration camp.

Diet and the other prisoners were made to strip and given ugly prison dresses and a stern warning: “If you try to escape, you will be killed.” Life at Vught settled into a miserable routine. But there was light in the darkness. Betsie and Corrie ten Boom taught Bible classes. And pages of Corrie’s Bible were passed around at night. Each woman could read for about five minutes, then pass it onto the next woman.

Eventually, Diet was put to work doing laundry. Some of the clothes were bloody, and Diet found out they belonged to executed prisoners. Her job was to scrub off the blood so they could be sent to Germany. The feeling of that blood on her hands–the blood of Resistance workers, of loyal Dutch men–was one of the most horrible of her life. Shortly after this, she woke up one morning literally paralyzed. After a few days it passed, but Diet was physically and emotionally exhausted and shattered. Still, God did not fail her.

On Saturday, August 19th, a radiant, sunny day, Diet was released from Vught concentration camp. But it wasn’t safe to stay with her family, so Diet was soon hiding at Aalt and Alie’s farm again. She soon became involved in Resistance work, gathering information for the Allied armies, which was one of the biggest crimes under the Nazi regime.

Suddenly, on April 20th, 1945, the bombardment ceased. All was quiet. Diet decided to have a look outside when she saw six SS officers looking back at her. Diet took off, zigzagging her way up to the Canadian tanks that were coming up the streets. She could speak English, so when she reached the front line of the tanks, she stopped them and told the man up top about the German snipers. “Okay, hop on,” the Canadian told her. So Diet climbed on top of the tank and it moved slowly on. The tanks stopped and aimed their huge turrets at the Germans, who promptly threw up their hands. And sitting there on top of the tank, Diet felt as if she had won the war.

She also received one last gift from Hein. While on a transport train, he’d dropped a letter written on a piece of toilet paper from the railway car onto the grass. Miraculously, someone found it and mailed it to Diet who treasured it always. In the letter, Hein wrote, “...even if we won’t see each other again on this earth, we will never be sorry for what we did, that we took this stand.” 

And Diet was not sorry. Even fifty years later, those years of her life in the Resistance and in captivity were years when she felt very close to God, when she learned He kept His promises. Still, right after the war, Diet tried hard to forget. She left the Netherlands and worked as a nurse in Venezuela with Shell Oil Company. Eventually she moved to the U.S. and settled in Grand Rapids, MI. For decades, only a handful of people knew of her time with the Dutch Resistance, but when Corrie ten Boom came to her town and spoke of her experiences and God’s faithfulness, the Lord nudged Diet to share her own testimony. Her son also urged her to write a book, and finally with author James Schapp, she wrote the book Things We Couldn’t Say. Diet Eman went home to be with her Lord on September 3rd, 2019, at ninety-nine years old.
Sources: “Remembering Diet Eman.” Eerdmans September 4, 2019. “The Story of Diet Eman.”

Things We Couldn’t Say

Selah Award finalist Sherri Stewart loves a clean novel, sprinkled with romance and a strong message that challenges her faith. She spends her working hours with books—either editing others’ manuscripts or writing her own. Her passions are traveling to the settings of her books and sampling the food. She traveled to Paris for this book, and she works daily on her French and German although she doesn’t need to since everyone speaks English. A widow, Sherri lives in Orlando with her lazy dog, Lily. She shares recipes, tidbits of the book’s locations, and other authors' books in her newsletter.
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What Hides behind the Walls

If the Nazis stole your house, wouldn’t you be justified in stealing it back now that the war is over?

When Tamar Feldman admits to her husband, Daniel, and mentor, Neelie Visser, that she broke into her former home, they scold her for taking such a risk. Tamar is tired of being careful. She’s tired of living in the present, as if the past doesn’t matter. But the painting of the violin girl in her former bedroom draws her back again and again. She finally steals the painting to return it to its former owner. Now maybe this small act of justice will help her start to heal. What Tamar doesn’t realize is the past isn’t finished with her yet; in fact, it’s as close as the walls in her house and even follows her to Paris.


  1. This was a fascinating post. I recently read The Watchmakers Daugter. It introduced more details then the Hiding Place and more people like Diet. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thank you for posting this incredible story today. I wish I could have met her too! Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.