The Story of Diet Eman Part Two

Diet Eman and her fiancé, Hein Sietsma

If you missed Part One, read it first here!

   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. 

   At one point on that train ride, Diet noticed a woman was staying in the bathroom a very long time. When the train went around a small curve, Diet saw that she had gotten the bathroom window open. She was going to try to escape! Diet went and stood by the bathroom door as if she was in line to make sure no one else went in. Then she saw the woman jump. She had timed it perfectly at a curve where the train had to slow considerably and there were trees and shrubs. When they reached their destination, the concentration camp of Vught, about eight women were missing. Eight women had escaped! 

   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. 

   Then Betsie and Corrie were transferred to a different part of the camp. But Diet had learned to depend on God alone and not other people. She continued to pretend to be very dumb. When the Germans would order her to stand up straight or take her hands out of her pockets, she would say, “I can’t understand what you’re saying.” She really spoke German fluently, but she had vowed at the beginning of the war that she would not speak a word of German while they occupied her country. 

   Diet prayed for her family and friends every night, but beyond that she tried not to think of them and not to worry about them. She knew she had put her parents in danger. One day, she and her fiancé, Hein, had come to her parents’ house with a bunch of rifles and revolvers they didn’t know what to do with and had buried them in the garden. Possession of a gun in Nazi-occupied Holland was punished with immediate death. 

   Diet trusted two main women in the barracks–a woman named Mrs. Folmer and a Catholic girl named Freddy. But there was one woman in the barracks she knew was a German spy, and others she wondered about. 

   Eventually, Diet was put to work doing laundry. Some of the clothes were bloody, and Diet found out they belonged to executed prisoners. She began to look closer at them. Sometimes the bullet holes were not at the heart as the Geneva Convention required but at the stomach, which meant the men probably suffered for hours before finally dying. And Diet had to wash their clothes to 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. 

   One day, Diet was called for a hearing. As she was being led away, her friend Freddy swept past her and whispered, “I’m going to storm the gates of heaven for you.” 

   That brought great comfort to Diet, but still fear clutched her inside. Suddenly, though, God’s promises came to her.

   Don’t worry. If you appear before authorities and kings, I will give you the words. Not a hair of your head will be harmed without the will of your Heavenly Father. 

   Okay, Diet thought. I have often broken my promises to You, Lord, but You’ll never break Your promises. You take over now. You have promised it–now You have to do it. I am going into my hearing, and You have said that You would be my God. Now I’m going to hold you to it. 

   And as Diet walked through the camp, her hatred disappeared, and she found comfort. 

    “Don’t be afraid,” a little voice said. “They can’t hurt a hair of your head unless it’s the will of your Heavenly Father.” 

   And God was faithful. Diet again played dumb, and her interrogators could find no holes in her false story. 

   As she sat there in her dirty prison gown with greasy hair and horrible oozing boils on her face, she felt pity for the well-fed, clean, healthy, and smartly dressed Germans, because God was on her side. They thought they had power, but they couldn’t touch a hair of her head unless it was God’s will. She’d always believed that when we do wrong, we’ll have to give a final accounting, and she thought, I would absolutely hate to be in your shoes, boys. 

   Diet believed that in many wars, God isn’t on one side. But in this war, she was absolutely certain God was on her side. 

   One evening after her hearing, Diet was talking to the other women prisoners and one of them asked her, “If you could choose what day you would go out and be free, what day of the week would you choose?” 

   Diet thought of Sundays with her family and how they would get all squeaky clean on Saturday and said, “If I had the opportunity to choose, I would want it to be a radiant sunshiny day. I’d love it to be a Saturday morning. I’d go home and take a bath and soak and shampoo and put on clean underwear and clean clothes. And then Sunday morning I want to go to church and thank God for freedom–with capital letters.” She added, “Of course, if it’s Monday morning, I’ll go too–even if it’s pouring.” 

   Saturday, August 19th, a radiant sunshiny day, Diet was released from Vught concentration camp. 

   Soon, Diet was at her parents’ home. She and her mother hugged and hugged and talked and talked. When her father came home and saw her, tears streamed down his face. Diet had never seen him cry before. And then her brother Albert! Diet said she had blue spots from him hugging her. 

   But it wasn’t safe to stay with her family, and Diet was soon hiding at Aalt and Alie’s farm again. And she was soon back in Resistance work. After one particularly hard day when she felt like giving up, Diet found inspiration to keep going in a verse in a Biblical diary book her parents had given her. The verse was Judges 8:4, “Being exhausted, yet keeping up the pursuit.”

   One Sunday afternoon, Diet was at Aalt and Alie’s with military maps and charts spread in front of her. She was gathering information to give to a friend who was a spy. Gathering information for the Allied armies was one of the very biggest crimes under the Nazi regime. 

   In the middle of all Diet’s map reading and marking, she happened to look up and out the window. There, at the end of the long driveway, were two Dutch Nazis. Diet hurriedly hid her maps and told another girl who was staying there to hide the Jews. The Dutch Nazis found a few trivial things–bikes, butter, a hog–but they had no idea that there were Jews hidden in the home (one who made false IDs) and that Diet was a Resistance worker who had just been working on spy maps. 

   If she had not happened to look up… But as Betsie ten Boom said, “There are no ‘ifs’ in God’s world.”

   The Allied shelling came closer and closer until Diet and everyone else at Aalt and Alie’s farm sat in a tiny space under the kitchen stairs for three days. The Allies were getting nearer to liberating the area, but the shelling that would break the German defenses could also make a quick end of any unfortunate Dutch in the vicinity. 

   Suddenly, after three days, on April 20th, 1945, the bombardment ceased. All was quiet. Diet decided to have a look outside. 

   Dead cows were everywhere. Diet walked to the road, and then she saw them. Canadian tanks stretching as far as her eyes could see. Liberation! She wanted to run back to the farm and tell the Jews in hiding. She wanted to scream: “It’s over.” 

   But then she spotted three heavily armed and camouflaged German snipers in the brook along a row of weeping willows. They saw her and knew that she had seen them. 

   Diet took off, zigzagging her way up to the Canadians. 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. 

   “There they are,” Diet cried. 

   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. 

   The Canadian soldier asked Diet what else she could tell him and she gave him all the information she could. He then told her there was to be a grand thanksgiving service, and Diet flew back to the farmhouse to tell the good news. 

  That evening, they went to the celebration and with tears streaming down their cheeks, sang their national anthem. The next day, with all the dead cows, there was lots to eat. And Diet went to check on all “her Jews.” Every Jew that she had found a hiding place for survived the war. She said that by the end of the war, she could pick out Jewish people, almost as if she had a sixth sense about it, even if they had blue eyes and blond hair. “I would have been a very valuable Gestapo person,” she said. 

   Now if only Diet could see Hein and her parents. Even though the country was free, the war wasn’t over yet, and travel was restricted. It was a long, adventurous trip to go see her parents in The Hague. Diet rode next to a coffin in the back of a truck part of the time. At one point, the Dutch officials wouldn’t allow her to cross a bridge, so she walked along the river until she found a place to cross on foot. 

   She finally made it to her parents’ house. Not long after, she received word that Hein was dead. Her brother Arjan died in a Japanese prison camp in Indonesia. And many friends were dead also.  

  For the first few weeks after receiving the news of Hein’s death, Diet was angry. She even struggled with being angry with God at first. Her dreams were crushed and her heart broken. She didn’t know what to do or how to go on. But soon she began to receive letters from men who had been imprisoned with Hein, telling how he was a light in their darkness. 

   She also got one last gift from Hein. (Later, she couldn’t remember exactly when she received it.) While on a transport train, he’d dropped a letter written on a piece of toilet paper from the railway car. Miraculously, someone found it and mailed it and Diet 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, she could not think of that part of her life without crying. But when people asked her if she wished she could skip that whole part of her life, she said she did not. Those years of her life were years when she was very close to God, when she not only knew He kept His promises, but experienced His faithfulness. 

   Still, right after the war, Diet did want to forget. She left the Netherlands and worked as a nurse in Venezuela with Shell Oil Company. Eventually she moved to the U.S., married an American man, and had a son and a daughter. Sadly, her marriage ended in divorce, and afterward Diet settled in Grand Rapids, MI. 

   But when Corrie ten Boom came to her town and spoke of her experiences and God’s faithfulness, the Lord began to nudge 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. 

   She was also concerned by polls showing that a disturbing percentage of the U.S. population did not believe there was a Holocaust. The story had to be told and learned from. So Diet told her story and shared the message that God always keeps His promises. 

   In addition to sharing her wartime testimony, Diet also did volunteer work as a translator for Christian doctors and relief organizations during her retirement years. 

   Diet Eman went home to be with her Lord on September 3rd, 2019, at ninety-nine years old. 


Things We Couldn’t Say by Diet Eman with James Schapp

Making Choices (documentary film) 


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