HERO: Alida Margaret Bosshardt
Years Fighting: 1913-2007
Hero ID: The Major & Angel of Amsterdam
Mission: Love the orphans, prostitutes, addicts and homeless
Strength: undercover work, stirring up media mania, loving the unloved
Alida Margaret Bosshardt was born in Utrecht, the Netherlands in 1913 and grew up as an ‘ordinary’ girl. Her parents ran a delicatessen shop and they lived in an apt. above it. Like many of her peers, she attended public school and worked part-time in her teens. Alida didn’t much care about religion as her father was Roman Catholic and her mother was from the Dutch Reformed Church. However, the direction of her life drastically changed one day when she ran into a street meeting being held by The Salvation Army. The simple message of the preacher-”The God who loves me loves you”- gripped her heart and started her life on a new course. In 1932 she became a full-fledged member of The Salvation Army, becoming enrolled as a Senior Soldier and, quickly after, in 1933 was trained and commissioned as a Salvation Army officer (pastor). And with that extraordinary act of commitment to Jesus and the salvation of others, that is where everything ORDINARY about the life of Alida Bosshardt ends.
UNDERCOVER AND ON THE RUN
After a short stint as a Corps officer- about 4 months (this would be the full extent of her experience leading a Corps)- Alida was switched over to work in The Army’s social work where she really excelled. Soon after, she was appointed to take charge of The Zonnehoek orphanage in Amsterdam. During the second world war the Netherlands were invaded by the Nazis who immediately made The Salvation Army and all its work ILLEGAL- uniforms, money, and even buildings were confiscated. Quick on their feet, the officers switched all their children’s homes, including The Zonnehoek, to private institutions so that they could continue operating.
The orphanage, which was located in a Jewish neighborhood, suddenly had an influx of illegal and on-the-run Jewish children. When the Germans would no longer allow the home to run unless it came under their control, Major Bosshardt fled with ALL 70 CHILDREN to northern Amsterdam!!!! They all survived a round of bombing and fled on foot and by train to the North. One child was instructed to hold and guard a kettle in which was hidden all their money and food vouchers. When they exhausted all their own resources, Bosshardt would head out and go door to door collecting food- an activity that was strictly forbidden and even got her arrested! After two weeks of questioning and interrogation, Bosshardt must have made a good impression on at least one German. The officer in charge “forgot” to lock the door behind him, and allowed her to escape.
Helped by the Dutch Resistance, she was able to rescue and transport 75 Jewish children to ten safehouses, many times carrying them on her bicycle. To keep everyone safe from being tracked and found, names and addresses were never written down. Often, when collecting food out on bicycle, (oh, did I mention it had WOODEN TIRES?- aside from having steel courage the woman must have had legs of steel!), she would be given donations of cigarettes. While accepting cigarettes was strictly forbidden for a Salvation Army officer, she simply neglected to inform her superiors and exchanged them for potatoes.
RIGHTEOUS AMONG THE NATIONS
There were four Jewish sisters in particular who appreciated the efforts of Major Bosshardt. The youngest Terhorst sister, Roos, was born in the Zonnehoek and was often hidden and covered in blankets throughout their travels because of her distinctly Jewish features. The Major managed to keep all four sisters together as a family. They wrote to the Yad Vasham committee: “Although she had nothing, Major Bosshardt was able to give us a feeling of warmth and protection during this period. The Major is like a mother to us and she still calls us ‘her children’. We thank her for our lives, and the lives of our children and grandchildren”. Because of their letter, Major Bosshardt was awarded the highest honor from the nation of Israel in 2004- the Yad Vasham, or “Righteous Among the Nations” award for the work she did rescuing Jewish children during World War 2, at great personal risk.
SOCIAL WORK? … <> wink
After the War, Major Bosshardt was once again sent to Amsterdam to pioneer ‘social work’ projects. Since everything had been interrupted by the war, there was very little to work with, so the Major was left to conceive and create just what this ‘social work’ would look like. It didn’t take her long to start many different projects, but with her heart for the ‘least of these’, the Major soon lamented that The Salvation Army was not active in Amsterdam’s Red Light District (the area of the city where prostitutes were and are able to solicit freely). After passionately advocating, the Salvation Army gave her permission to start this important work. She spent her time visiting prostitutes, drug addicts and the homeless, showing them love, treating them as her friends, and telling them about Jesus. For the next 30 YEARS she did many things to brighten up their lives, giving her time and attention and doing things as simple as throwing Christmas parties and providing for the women’s needs. Many people today talk about compassion fatigue and burn-out, but this lady presented the gospel everywhere she went in the roughest of situations and circumstance with unwavering faithfulness and, incredibly, perpetual cheerfulness!
FAME AND A ROYAL VISIT
In 1959 Major Bosshardt was featured on a Dutch TV show and was instantly rocketed overnight into fame. This had almost zero effect on her, since she constantly reminded others that she was simply serving others for God and “all honor goes to Him!”. Besides for making ‘The Major’, as she was always known (even after her rank was promoted to Lieut-Colonel), a household name, she was able to solicit many funds to help with the Army’s social work. One night she took a lady with her through the shabby streets and pubs of Amsterdam selling War Cry’s and visiting prostitutes. Because of a diligent member of the paparazzi, the following morning all the Dutch newspapers revealed that this was no ordinary friend of the Major’s, but, behind the glasses and wig it was the Dutch Princess Beatrix in disguise! To Major Bosshardt, whether you were descended from the royal line or working on the streets for a living, you were her friend and a child of God- worthy of dignity, compassion, and love. With many other TV appearances and interviews and lectures, the Major remained an active and prominent figure in Dutch culture and media.
Despite a stroke, she continued to reach out and visited the sick even up to the age of 92! In 2007, at the age of 94 Alida Bosshardt passed away. Her funeral was covered nationally, and her casket was marched through Amsterdam’s Red Light District. This past month The Salvation Army held numerous events to celebrate The Major’s centenary. The legacy of this radical, selfless, and extraordinary woman lives on.
R-U a part of The Salvation Army? If so, this stuff is in your D.N.A- it’s part of your spiritual tree! Tap into it. Let it speak and breathe life into you. Wake up from your trance. Dust yourself off.
Do yourself a favour. Sit down for a minute. Turn off your cell phone and ipod and reflect for a couple minutes of ‘you’ time to do some soul searching. Answering these questions below will help give you a sense of purpose in your life.
- How ordinary are you? There is no question that there was nothing super special about Alida Bosshardt the girl and young woman. Yet, when she gave her life to God and The Salvation Army, extraordinary things happened. You may never hang with princesses or become a national celebrity, but you can be the face of The Salvation Army and the love of Jesus to those in need! Go to the sketchy areas of town, befriend someone you normally wouldn’t give a second look, devote your life to serving others as though they were Jesus and see what extraordinary things happen!
- Major Bosshardt was a media master. How can you use the media at your disposal to raise awareness and promote issues of justice? How much of your facebook/twitter/instagram/vine/youtubechannel do you devote to championing your faith and the cause of those in need? SendTheFire provides lots of resources to ‘share’/’retweet’. Instead of using media to post all your complaints or share goofy pics and vids, let’s use our media and online identity for a holy purpose!
- The Major rescued many women and children during the second world war. We may not be in a time of war, but there are just as many vulnerable women and children being preyed upon today. Why not choose to be a rescuer today? Sponsor a Salvation Army children’s home, give a loan through kiva.org, buy the gift of literacy or medical care through the Gifts of Hope campaign, or research and find your own way to rescue a child.
- The Red Light District in Amsterdam is the classic case study of legalizing prostitution. Today many Canadians are lobbying to legalize prostitution in Canada- a recent internet survey here in NL showed that as high as 80% feel this way. Educate yourself on the effects of legalizing prostitution! (What’s meant to protect and help women often does the opposite). Write your Member of Parliament (MP) and fight against sexual exploitation in our country.
- Is God calling you to full-time service as an Officer (pastor) in The Salvation Army? If He is, don’t hesitate! He can use your life to bless many! Check out the Centre For Officer Training website to see and read about the testimonies of the amazing people in Canada that God is equipping to be Salvation Army Officers.
See previous Heroes Episodes:
Frederick Booth-Tucker | Joe The Turk | Donut Girls | Eliza Shirley | Sarah Beaty | James Barker | Abolitionist Trio | Elijah Cadman | George Scott Railton | Herbert Lord
Fight against injustice // Fight hard // Fight with love
:: by Heidi Adams of Triton, NL
I’m a Salvation Army youth pastor and enjoy unicycling, playing the ukulele and singing off-key, loving Jesus, making the world a better place, and refusing to grow up. Check out Just Youth.