Holocaust Remembrance Day, April 12, 2018: Remembering Henriette Pimentel

The New York Times reported in today’s paper that the Holocaust is fading from popular memory. Most millennials believed only 2 million died and couldn’t identify where the death camp Auschwitz was. Six million were killed and Auschwitz is located in Poland. Soon to leave this life, the remaining Holocaust survivors and the WWII veterans who liberated them are in their 80’s and 90’s, frequently unable to give personal testimony. Still, the memory of that time, that place in history needs to be shared, and a day in April is just as good as any other date. We are doomed to repeat what history we do not know. Let me share with you one story, told within an astrological framework of an amazing woman’s life:  Henriette Pimentel. 

Henriette Pimentel was born on April 17, 1876 in Amsterdam into a well to do Portuguese-Jewish family. With no public birth time recorded, the natal chart above is set at the neutral time of 12 noon. (Determining an ascendant, ruler of the chart and planets placed in house position requires a time of birth or chart rectification. I’ve chosen to focus only on planetary relationships and important transiting aspects.) Her Sun, Chiron and Mercury form a stellium in the late degrees of the dynamic, fire sign of Aries, indicating a forceful character and intellect, aware of her own internal failures. Her third quarter moon is in the independent, community oriented sign of Aquarius, suggesting a rational and cool soul aware that actions have consequences. She is part of a cohort born with Pluto in the sign of Taurus – a generation of people who lived to see their homes, lives and lands transformed by the Great Depression and World Wars I and II.

Henriette married when she was 23, in the year 1899 as transiting Jupiter moved to conjunct her natal Jupiter at 00° of Sagittarius in December of that year. For her, the beginning of her life’s second Jupiter cycle signified a renewed commitment to participating in the larger community through the act of marriage.

The chart above also speaks to the confluence of Jupiter, Uranus, Mercury and Saturn flooding the world with the adventurous, restless energy of the mutable Archer. 1899 saw an elderly Queen Victoria sending troops to fight the Boer War in South Africa, while Alfred Dreyfus was pardoned in France and Marconi successfully transmitted the news via radio across the British Chanel.  

Trained as a teacher and nurse, Henriette worked as a governess and later as a kindergarten teacher. She herself appears to have had no children, leading one to speculate that by 1916, this may have become a sensitive issue in her late Victorian marriage, culminating in her divorce.

Transiting Mars may have served as Henriette’s personal alarm clock, setting off the first bell in November of 1915 and completing her wake-up call in April of 1916 as the planet completed a series of conjunctions with her natal Uranus, both in Leo. A transiting Uranus in Aquarius simultaneously opposed natal Uranus in Leo – demonstrating how a classic mid-life crisis over identity and its place in the larger community resulted in a release of the bonds of marriage for the forty-year old Henriette. Place this personal crisis within the context of the larger chaos of WWI, when the Netherlands somehow absorbed over 1 million refugees from neighboring Belgium and France. Henriette’s teaching and child care skills were of use and probably kept a roof over her older but wiser head.

In 1926, Henriette was appointed director of the Crèche and Kindergarten Institute in Amsterdam, then located on the Plantage Middenlaan. Infants and young children, many Jewish but also of other faiths were cared for by a team of female attendants, allowing mothers to enter the work force. She was roughly 50 years old at the time of her appointment and soon became known for being a strict but capable director, with a small dog named Brunie as her constant companion. Shown in the chart below, transiting Uranus in Pisces once again shakes up the status quo, joining forces with the natal north node providing a career shift into her life’s potential fulfillment.   

In 1941, German troops occupied the Netherlands and by the autumn of 1942, Jewish citizens in Amsterdam are forced to gather at the Hollandsche Schouwburg, a repurposed theatre located in the heart of the Jewish neighborhood. From there men, women and children were transferred to the Westerbork Camp, a Dutch collection point before deportation to the death camps located in occupied Poland: Auschwitz- Birkenau, Sobibor, Bergen-Belsen, and Theresienstat. Anne Frank was briefly interned in Westerbork before being murdered at Auschwitz in 1944. From 1942 – 1945, 107,000 people were deported from Westerbork with 5, 200 thought to have survived. Of note to my Canuk readers – Canadian troops from the 8th Reconnaissance Regiment along with The South Saskatchewan Regiment liberated Westerbork in April 1945.

In 1941, Henriette experiences the German occupation with a life time lived as an able administrator, teacher and guardian to countless children. She is now called to care for Jewish children being prepared for transit to Westerbork. She has proven to be intelligent, capable, independent – interiorly how did she respond to this dire situation? What strength or belief sustained her? In the chart below, note transiting Saturn in practical, earthy Taurus conjuncts Henriette’s natal Pluto. Her world has turned inside out and upside down and nothing will ever be the same, yet with sustained work and discipline a radical rebirth is possible.

Henriette collaborates with Walter Suskind, the Jewish official in charge at the theatre along with Johan van Hulst, who directed the adjacent teacher preparatory college. Together, the troika made arrangements with Dutch resistance groups to smuggle an estimated 600 or more children to safety. Somehow, a scheme to remove the childrens’ names from transport schedules went undetected, even as many more were deported. Henriette was often tasked with securing parental approval, asking mothers and fathers to choose which in their family would live. Babies were transported to safety in boxes and backpacks, while deported mothers carried inert dolls wrapped in blankets as they boarded the trains to Westerbork. Other children slipped away with help of the crèche’s care givers to the waiting resistant groups, or through the help of van Hulst and staff at the college. The Germans closed the crèche in July 1943, sending Henriette, the remaining staff and children to the theatre and on to Westerbork.  Henriette died in Auschwitz in September 1943.

Henriette Pimentel so clearly lived a full life, serving her community and saving lives at a moment in time when hope was almost extinguished and death was a certainty. In an astrological framework – she lived her natal chart’s potential to the fullest, finding the strength and skills necessary to meet the many challenges of each transit and planetary cycle.

It is said that we die twice. Once with our last breath, and then a second time when the last person who speaks our name takes their last breath. On this Holocaust Remembrance Day, Henriette Pimentel lives. May her story quicken your heart and challenge you to remember.