True belief

Minister Josef Cohen was a pacifist his entire life. From the pulpit he spoke against the German occupation and Nazism, and that proved fatal.

Josef Wilhelm Bernard (Joop) Cohen was born in Amsterdam on 30 June 1904. Hew grew up in a non-practising Jewish family that had real affinity with socialism. As a teenager he went to the Christelijk Gymnasium in Utrecht, which sparked his interest in Christianity and he converted. In 1925, he started his theology studies at the University of Utrecht. Joop Cohen demonstrated his pacifist and socialist convictions at an early age.

In 1935, he became a minister of the Reformed church in Dokkum. Again, he did not let go of his principles. That same year he was arrested following a sermon and he had to spend fourteen days in prison in Leeuwarden. Joop Cohen was charged with sedition, because he had spoken out against the war and was said to have encouraged conscientious objection. Two weeks in a cell did not stop him.

Joop Cohen did not see himself as just a minister, but as somebody with responsibility for the people. He needed to tell his flock what was going on in the world and what the consequences could be for his congregation. After the Second World War broke out, the minister stayed true to his ideals and continued to preach for a non-violent solution.

After a sermon on 11 May 1941, Joop Cohen was interrogated by the Sicherheitsdienst. That time they let him go, but it was a different story on 15 June. In his sermon, Joop Cohen said that one should obey God more than people. He was referring to the German occupiers, and that proved fatal.

Joop Cohen was arrested on 22 July. His wife Tine tried to warn him, but arrived too late. The entire town had gathered in the square and saw how he was taken to prison in Leeuwarden. From there he was taken to concentration camp Dachau, where he arrived on 3 October. The thought of his family kept him going in the camp and Joop Cohen also found strength in his faith.

On 4 May 1942, Joop Cohen was put on a transport to Schloss Hartheim together with 560 other prisoners. In this castle, near Linz in Austria, some 18,000 people were murdered during the war. According to the misleading official death notice that Tine received during the war, Joop Cohen had died of a lung infection in Dachau on 23 May 1942. It only became clear after the war that he had been taken to Schloss Hartheim, where he was most likely murdered soon after his arrival.

Despite his deprivations in the camp, Joop Cohen continued to have faith in the goodness of mankind and God. Tine, who stayed behind with her three sons and survived the war, kept the same ideological convictions as her husband, even though she was well aware of the consequences. A Jewish girl hid in her house for a short period of time, and members of a resistance group regularly spent the night in the vicarage.

To commemorate minister Josef Wilhelm Bernard Cohen, a monument was unveiled in the Grote Kerk in Dokkum in 1967. Check here for the opening hours of the church.

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