Saturday, March 3, 2012

Wartime Heroism and Personal Ideals

I'm sorry I never met Dr. Tina Strobos, whose obituary I read in this morning's Boston Globe. But I have a new hero.

Dr. Strobos was a 19 year old medical student in Amsterdam when Nazi Germany invaded in May, 1940. When she and her fellow students refused to sign a loyalty oath to Adolf Hitler, the school was closed.

Dr. Strobos joined the Dutch underground, initially ferrying arms and supplies to resistance fighters. Then she turned to helping her Jewish friends and ultimately others to escape. She and her mother had a secret room constructed on the third floor of their Amsterdam home, just a short walk from the home that sheltered Ann Frank and her family. It became part of an underground railroad for escapees. During the war they helped save 100 Jews, for which, in 1989, the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem honored her and her late mother as "righteous among the nations."

 After the war Dr. Strobos came to the U.S. and studied child psychiatry. Despite extensive Google searching I haven't been able to learn much about her career. She appears to have run a treatment facility in Rye, N.Y. One listing said it was for people with chronic psychiatric ailments. Another site said she'd helped Katrina victims. I like to think that her work as a psychiatrist carried forward the same values she lived by during her years of wartime heroism.

I've thought a lot about the concept of health care as a "calling." For religious persons the call may come from their God. But what about agnostics and atheists? Dr. Strobos answered this way: "I never believed in God, but I believed in the sacredness of life." This outlook ran in her family. Her mother and maternal grandmother were also athiests, socialists, and activists. During World War I her grandmother had also hidden refugees! And all three of her children work in helping professions.

Dr. Strobos seems to have been a practical idealist. During the war, along with her work in the resistance, she also sought opportunities to continue her medical studies. "You have to be a little bit selfish and look after yourself; otherwise you just die inside, you burn out. There's just so much you can do for other people."

I'm proud to be part of the same psychiatric profession as Tina Strobos!

(For a moving video of Dr. Strobos receiving an award from the Holocaust and Human Rights Education Center in 2009, see here. For additional details on her life, see here, here, and here.)

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