A Brill Calendar: March 19
Few periods of Leyden’s existence as national Parnassus of scholarly learning and academic activity have been as bleak as the five years when Nazi Germany occupied The Netherlands.
The conduct of the Professors themselves was noble enough, if limited by opportunities in the face of an overwhelmingly strong occupying power. Nevertheless, after the watershed caused by the imposition of an ‘Arian Declaration’ on teaching posts, some 90 % resigned from their position voluntarily in protest against this anti-Jewish edict.
A cogent protest against the bureaucratic procedure which would make Jewish colleagues easy prey for dismissal and persecution was formulated by Professor Benjamin Telders (The Hague, March 19 1903 – Bergen-Belsen, April 6 1945). Telders, a Leyden alumnus, was better qualified than most of his colleagues and peers to write that document: in 1931 he was appointed as ‘Extra-ordinarius’ in ‘Volkenrecht’ (international law), a little later upgraded to a full Professorship in that field of expertise; as well as in the general ‘Introduction to Study of Law’, a corner-stone of his Faculty. Both curricular categories are endemic in Leyden’s lifeblood as a ‘lieu de mémoire’ in European civilization.
However, the Nazi’s had their way, even after Professor Cleveringa’s historical public speech, on November 26 1940. Three days earlier ‘non-Arians’ had been dismissed; and Telders was arrested on December 18. The progressive list of places of his interment: Scheveningen, Vught, Sachsenhausen and, finally, Bergen-Belsen, speaks for itself.
The bronze tablet on a wall of the main Academy building relates the story of his humane heroism in sober, dignified words in Dutch, while ending with three words in scholarly Latin: MILES PRAESIDIUM LIBERTATIS. The last two words mean ‘bulwark of freedom’: proud motto of City & University after its victory over Spanish tyranny in 1574; and it is seldom that the first word, MILES, - ‘soldier’ – was used more aptly.