From the Archives

Roehampton Club Member Selma van de Perre receives a Royal Distinction

Emotions ran high last Friday, 12th February at 3.30pm as Roehampton Club Member Selma van de Perre-Velleman was appointed as Knight in the Order of Orange-Nassau – a Royal distinction conferred on this amazing lady by the Dutch Ambassador, Karel van Oosterom in a virtual event hosted by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in London attended by an invited audience of just under 90 participants across Europe which included a member of the Dutch Royal family – Princess Mabel van Oranje.

Selma was invited to attend the event at the Dutch Church in the City of London where she sat alongside a chair dating back to use by Her Royal Highness, Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands from 1890. Roehampton Club Members may recall a previous feature in the Roehampton Club Recorder in March last year highlighting Selma’s incredible story of her time in the Dutch Resistance during the Second World War, her subsequent capture, and her transfer to the Ravensbruck Concentration Camp in Germany where she endured the most severe conditions in which many thousands perished.

Selma remains one of the few remaining survivors living today and continues her relentless campaign to spread the message of the lessons learnt from the past and the need to recognise the notions of freedom and tolerance.

Selma is a National figure in the Netherlands and is one of the honoured guests each year to mark the liberation of her country in the annual celebrations held in May. She also makes the journey each year to mark the liberation of the Ravensbruck Concentration Camp and spends much of her time lecturing students making sure that the victims of war have not been forgotten. These lectures have taken place since the 1990’s inspiring hundreds of trainee teachers to carry her message.

During the ceremony on Friday, it was the Dutch Ambassador who formally announced the decoration of the royal distinction, acknowledging Selma’s role in the Dutch Resistance and the dedication of her life to inform future generations. Her Royal Highness, Princess Mabel then went on to offer her own congratulations and the impact of Selma’s work reminding us all the value of our freedom and democracy in the world in which we live today. Perhaps the most poignant contribution to the event was the moving account of Danique van Wijk – a student deeply influenced by Selma during one of her lectures and is now a qualified teacher. Her words describe the astonishing impact of someone who has endured so much but sees the need to share the power and influence of human spirit for the benefit of future generations. The recording of the event is available on Facebook using the attached link:

In the previous Roehampton Club Recorder article about Selma, reference was made to her 30-year association with the Club and the intended publication in the UK of the story of her life My Name is Selma. This book is now available through Waterstones or Amazon. The following synopsis of the book reads as follows:

Selma van de Perre was seventeen when World War II began. She lived with her parents, two older brothers, and a younger sister in Amsterdam, and until then, being Jewish in the Netherlands had not presented much of an issue. But by 1941 it had become a matter of life or death. On several occasions, Selma barely avoided being rounded up by the Nazis. While her father was summoned to a work camp and eventually hospitalized in a Dutch transition camp, her mother and sister went into hiding–until they were betrayed in June 1943 and sent to Auschwitz. In an act of defiance and with nowhere else to turn, Selma took on an assumed identity, dyed her hair blond, and joined the Resistance movement, using the pseudonym Margareta van der Kuit. For two years ‘Marga’ risked it all. Using a fake ID, and passing as non-Jewish, she travelled around the country and even to Nazi headquarters in Paris, sharing information and delivering papers–doing, as she later explained, what ‘had to be done’.

But in July 1944 her luck ran out. She was transported to Ravensbrück women’s concentration camp as a political prisoner. Without knowing the fate of her family–her father died in Auschwitz, and her mother and sister were killed in Sobibor– Selma survived by using her alias, pretending to be someone else. It was only after the war ended that she could reclaim her identity and dared to say once again: My name is Selma.

We were ordinary people plunged into extraordinary circumstances, Selma writes. Full of hope and courage, this is her story in her own words.

Steve Riedlinger | Club Archivist