In the life of Gertrude van Tijn, Bernard Wasserstein has found the perfect subject for examining the appalling options that faced Jewish leaders under Nazi rule. Van Tijn was born into a bourgeois German Jewish family in 1891. The early loss of her mother and financial ruin turned her into a strong, independent woman. She married a Jewish mining engineer and travelled widely before settling in the Netherlands. She was drawn to feminism, social work and Zionism at a time when they were unfashionable causes. In 1933 she took on relief work for German Jews escaping persecution in the Third Reich.
This activity brought her into contact with David Cohen and Abraham Asscher, leaders of the Dutch Jewish community. Holland kept its borders open to Jews until 1938, but as a quid pro quo the Jewish community agreed to maintain every refugee and keep their numbers low. One communal worker boasted