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Members in the News
Psychiatrist Sees Her Heroism as Just Doing ‘Right Thing’
Psychiatric News
Volume 45 Number 1 page 4-5

During the German occupation of the Netherlands in World War II, the Germans threatened the Dutch with death if they helped Jews.

Nonetheless, Tina Strobos, M.D.—then a medical student in Amsterdam—along with her mother, sometimes hid Jews in their home. This way the Jews could make their way through the underground to more secure refuges.

Sometimes the Gestapo (the secret police of Nazi Germany) would bang on the door of the house in which Strobos and her mother lived. They'd then enter the house, push Strobos or her mother into a chair, and bark, "You're hiding Jews! You're going to jail." They didn't say "concentration camp," although a number of Strobos' friends whom the Nazis arrested were sent to concentration camps. After that, they'd search the house.

"You know, we could be killed for this," Strobos' mother once commented after the Gestapo had left. "Of course I know," Strobos said.

Strobos also took news and ration stamps by bike—at great risk—to Jews hidden on farms outside the city. She carried radios and hid boxes of guns for the Dutch resistance. She was seized or questioned nine times by the Gestapo and once was hurled against a wall and knocked unconscious.

Strobos not only survived these ordeals, but went on, after the war, to receive a Fulbright scholarship, which enabled her to travel to the United States and study child psychiatry. After she became a psychiatrist, she remained in the United States. Today she is 89 years old and living in Rye, N.Y. She retired from practicing psychiatry only last May.

She has been honored a number of times for having helped save the lives of some 100 Jews—for instance, twice she has received a plaque from Israel, and last fall she was honored by the Holocaust and Human Rights Education Center, based in Purchase, N.Y.

Fellow psychiatrists in Westchester County, N.Y., also praise her.

"I first met Dr. Strobos, or heard her, I should say, when I attended the local APA's marking of the 50th anniversary of D-Day in 1995," Barbara Goldblum, M.D., recalled recently. "She was the featured speaker and spoke about her experience. I think she said that she had been picked up by the SS [the paramilitary force fanatically loyal to Hitler], but was let go … . One can't help but feel great admiration for what she did and only hope that we too would behave in such a decent and brave manner."

"Dr. Strobos was quite supportive of me when I was new to the Psychiatric Society of Westchester County Executive Council many years ago," said Maria Tiamson-Kassab, M.D. "During one of the women's committee meetings, she spoke of her wartime experience, and we were all in awe of her heroism."

In March 2001, the Psychiatric Society of Westchester sponsored an ethics workshop. L. Mark Russakoff, M.D., then president of the society, asked Strobos if she would participate in it since her experiences in saving Jews underscored the importance of ethics in everyday life. "We were awestruck by her humble, matter-of-fact relating of the incredible actions she had taken," said Russakoff. "It was inspiring to be with a person who has been confronted with such a challenge and rose to the occasion."

The question, of course, is: why did she?

"Because that is what I would have liked to happen to me," she replied. "It was the right thing."

However, she also talked about certain personality traits she had that may have influenced her heroic behavior.

"I'm an altruistic person. That is why I became a doctor, a psychiatrist. I also value courage a lot. It sounds kind of immodest, but I think I have more guts than many people. On the other hand, I am also very cautious. The Dutch underground dissidents I was involved with, a group of 10, all disappeared. Those boys were excessive risk takers. One, for instance, was caught using a radio to send messages to England. He was shot and killed."

And while her altruism, fearlessness, and prudence may have been inherited to some degree, her parents and grandparents were also role models for her, she said.

Her mother's father, for example, was one of the founders of a freethinking movement. "Atheists basically," said Strobos. "Nonbelievers. Theirs was a campaign against the clergy because the clergy had so much power, [and] it tended to abuse it." Furthermore, her mother's parents, as well as her mother, "moved in a bohemian, socialist circle" and had Jewish friends. In fact, her maternal grandmother as well as her mother helped hide Jews from the Germans.

Indeed, Strobos believes so strongly that altruistic behavior can be taught that she tried to impart it to her own three children while they were growing up. Today all three work in helping professions—one son is a physician, another a paramedic, and her daughter a psychoanalyst—perhaps indications that her instruction paid off. Moreover, her grandchildren do volunteer work with disadvantaged people—perhaps further indication that heroic behavior can not only be taught, but passed down through generations in a family.

In any event, whether altruistism or heroism is inherited, learned, or both, Strobos was eager to emphasize that a lot of Dutch people—not just she and her mother—put their lives on the line to help Jews.

"Fifteen thousand Jews were hidden throughout Amsterdam during the German occupation," she declared. "That took a lot of homes to hide them."

Indeed, several of the Dutch who helped Jews were the married couple and some friends of theirs who hid Anne Frank and her family—just down the street from where Strobos and her mother lived.

"No, we didn't know them," Strobos said. But what so distresses her, Strobos added, is that they were not in a position to offer an escape hatch to the Franks when the Gestapo discovered them. She and her mother, in contrast, were able to offer an escape hatch to their own fugitives when the Gestapo arrived.

When the Gestapo banged on the door, she and her mother would sound an alarm bell, which the fugitives on the third floor of the house would hear. The fugitives could then either hide in an attic recess that a carpenter had surreptitiously built or scramble out of a window onto the roof and make their way to an adjoining school.

So while she may be a hero, there are many other individuals who deserve that title as well, Strobos contends, whether they helped save Jews during World War II or are putting their lives on the line for other people in other situations. "There are far more heroes than most people realize—say, all of the Allied Armed Forces." blacksquare

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