Immediately after the founding of the Dutch Association for a Voluntary End of Life (NVVE) in 1973, Betty Radema registered as a member. Ten years later I became a volunteer and started mentoring people who want to end their lives in a dignified manner. In 2018, when she retired at the age of 85, she was named an honorary member. She passed away on May 13.
Since 1943, Betty and her sister Renee have been feeling insecure about their parents in various hiding places. After the liberation, their aunt found the girls in Friesland, relaying the news of their parents’ murder in the Sobibor extermination camp. And that was not all: shortly before liberation, a man who had once saved the sisters and provided them with a new place to hide, died in a robbery murder. Jaap van Rimsdijk, retired attorney and fellow volunteer at NVVE: “Losing her parents and the man they consider an adoptive father was a terrible blow. I think 12-year-old Betty sowed the seeds of a desire to fight for a dignified end of life.”
† As a volunteer counselor for NVVE, Betty Radema has helped people die. In doing so, she sometimes brushed the limits of what was allowed, says Van Remsdijk: The euthanasia law didn’t exist yet, and assisted suicide was outlawed as it is now. “In that initial phase of NVVE, advisors like Betty had a lot of freedom to work.”
Radema also gave lectures on the importance of the Chosen One himself. Jaap van Rimsdijk: “She was a well-mannered lady who could convey such a contentious matter firmly and was spontaneously respected. She also treated others with respect. But when the conservative Christian parties, for example, presented her image that the Lord comes to all in His time as the only dogma They began a heated debate, with the obligation that the other should also respect the view of a dignified end to the life they had chosen themselves.”
Her daughter, Ingrid Zilstra, says she made no secret of her war past at home. We knew everything, but she only started talking about it publicly in 2009 after hearing football chants screaming “Hamas, all Jews for gas”. She had to fight a lot of ignorance.”
“She was already approaching 80 when she considered it her social mission to make the events of the war tangible for younger generations,” says coordinator Sipke Witteveen of Remembrance Center Camp Westerbork, where Radema was guest speaker. “It takes courage. But staying home and solving puzzles just wasn’t right for her. She continued to contribute to building a better world, without finger pointing or any kind of missionary urging.”
“She was already approaching 80 when she considered it her social mission to make the events of the war tangible for younger generations,” says coordinator Sibeck and Stephen of Camp Westerbork Memorial Center.
She told the students about her mother, who had messily sewed a Star of David onto her clothes when it became mandatory for Jews, much to Betty’s dismay. Why didn’t you sew this thing straight? By choosing this child’s perspective, she engaged her young listeners in the story. Then I thought of a broader perspective. Was the mother’s neglect an expression of her feelings? Her little act of defiance?
One of the few times that Ingrid’s daughter was allowed to join, Betty Radema addressed Argentine visitors at the Museum of the Resistance. “I wasn’t allowed to sit near her, she didn’t want to see me cry over her story.” Then Radima could get angry himself. Wittvin agrees, “At first, her eyes were especially teary when she told her story.” The more you talk about it, the less it is. Wittvin: “She was a victim of the Holocaust, but she did not speak of her injuries, but of her enjoyment of life. It is enough for others to speak away from their pain, purely out of self-protection. But Betty showed her feelings and has the strength to deal with it.”
In 2019, Radema received a Royal Award for her volunteer activities. She has worked on interviews, TV shows and campaigns. Good friend Mino Metselar, whom she met through Anne Frank’s house, always remembered her busy schedule at her funeral. „Receiving guests, giving lectures and dinners at her home with friends and family, to the theatre, cinema and museums. She travels to her friends in beloved Canada, with Ingrid to New York and Norway. Betty’s world was bigger than her past.”
Her husband, Hermann, passed away in 1998, her grandson Teigen in 2014, and her son Jeffrey in 2015. He didn’t break her. “You can’t sum up her grief,” says Metzlar. She was an optimistic and brave personality. Warm, hospitable, humorous and has a wide range of interests.”
After suffering a stroke in November, Radema gave up research or rehabilitation, believing her life was complete. On a Monday evening, her granddaughter Joost was able to fulfill her dying wish by reading the last six pages of a book she so desperately wanted to finish, I’m looking for Ramona From Qadir Abdullah. The next day she didn’t want to get up and didn’t have any more drinks. In this way she was controlling her own death.