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Frieda Belinfante

( May 10, 1904 - March 5, 1995 ) 

Born in Amsterdam to a Jewish father and Christian mother, Frieda Belinfante had a cosmopolitan upbringing and enjoyed music. She lived life on her own terms and defied society's expectations. After the Nazis invaded the Netherlands, she bravely joined together with other LGBTQ+ people to resist the Nazis and protect tens of thousands of Jews. After the war, she continued her life of love, authenticity, and service to others.

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This page tells the story of one individual. Read this introductory essay for an overview of the history of the Nazis' persecution of LGBTQ+ people. 

This essay was written by Pink Triangle Legacies Project Intern Grace Shaffer. It is based on the important research of Dr. Klaus Mueller and Frieda Belinfante’s own oral history testimony. It was translated into Spanish by Amilcar Ferrero.  Thank you for your work in preserving queer history.

Frieda Belinfante was born in Amsterdam to Aron Belinfante, a Jewish man, and Georgine Antoinette Hesse, a Christian woman. Frieda lived semi-openly as a lesbian throughout her life and during the Second World War was an active member of the Dutch resistance. We know about her life and actions primarily from her oral history testimony given to Dr. Klaus Mueller at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum archive. 

 

Frieda was the third of four children. Her parents allowed her to make up her own mind about religion and she always appreciated this choice. Frieda’s father was a well-known concert pianist and music instructor who encouraged his children to learn various musical instruments. Frieda studied cello. In her testimony, she recalled that she must have been her father’s favorite because of her musical ability and their similarities. After her eldest sister, Dolly, passed away from appendicitis in 1915, her parents divorced. She remained very close with her father until his death in 1925 and he encouraged her musical development. 

 

When she was 16, Frieda met Henriette Bosmans. After their first meeting, they were inseparable and lived together for the next seven years. Towards the end of their relationship, Frieda met the Dutch flutist Johan Feltkamp. He confessed his love to her and told her if she did not marry him, he would kill himself. Frieda told Johan that she did not love men the way she loved women, but he insisted they marry. Reflecting on this moment later in her life, Frieda stated that it was better that he continued to live and therefore agreed to marry him. Henriette was resentful about this decision because she felt very possessive over her time with Frieda. Frieda remained married to Johan until 1936 and during this time, she drifted apart from Henriette. This is not to say, however, Frieda didn’t have relationships with women during her marriage to Johan. She later said she “had other friendships that filled [her] life” and that she was a very romantic person, often going overboard in her relationships. 


By the late 1930s, Frieda’s professional life was flourishing and she was asked to consider conducting a professional orchestra. Frieda agreed and in 1938, became the first woman to conduct an orchestra in Europe. She also served as an artistic director and the conductor of an orchestra at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw. Upon the Nazi invasion of the Netherlands in 1940, they established the Kultuurkamer, an organization that dictated what types of art (and artists) were acceptable. Only Dutch artists, musicians, and others that were granted membership were able to continue their careers. Jews were summarily denied membership. Frieda refused to join, instead choosing to dissolve her orchestra and withdraw from public life. It was at this time she began to involve herself with the Dutch resistance.

In November of 1941, she met Willem Arondeus, a gay man. Together with other resistance members, they established a fund to support artists who were unable to work due to the Nazi occupation. By early 1942, Dutch Jews’ identification cards were required to have a J stamped on them. This created a market for forged documents. Having successfully forged travel documents for a friend years before, Frieda began making false identification cards for herself and a few friends. She soon realized that more people needed them. There were many close calls. Once, she tried to deliver false IDs for her neighbors, but they did not show up. When she went to their home, it was being searched by the Gestapo, who in turn detained her. When they escorted her home, she deftly hid a few false cards behind some sheet music. When talking about all that she had done in her life, she said “I’ve always helped people…They haven't all been worth my effort, but the effort was worth it.”

 

The scale of the forgery work escalated and soon, the resistance group had distributed nearly 70,000 fake ID cards. This created a problem for the group: the original cards—held in Amsterdam’s Population Registry—could easily be checked, thus revealing the forgeries. Frieda herself offered up a solution: bomb the building and destroy the originals. The group agreed and Frieda set about planning the attack. It was decided that Willem would lead a group of men disguised as police officers into the building to plant the bombs. Frieda herself wanted to be a part of this section of the plan, but the men would not allow her due to fear of her not passing as a man and the misguided belief that the work would be too difficult for women. She recalled this with the quip “women could have brought in some of the explosions, some of the things that were not too heavy to carry.” Frieda watched from a nearby rooftop on March 27, 1943 as the bombs went off and destroyed nearly 800,000 ID cards

 

After the bombing, Frieda and her fellow conspirators went underground to avoid being caught. With a short haircut and a “three-piece suit that fit [her] to a tee, except for this”—gesturing to her chest—Frieda passed remarkably well as a man for three months. During this time, she ran into her mother and her ex-husband’s second wife without raising suspicion. By 1943, she felt increasing fear that she would be discovered. She was able to escape the Netherlands by foot, through southern France and eventually to neutral Switzerland where she successfully claimed refugee status. She stayed there until the end of the war. Her close friend, Willem, was not so successful; he was caught by the Nazis and executed for his involvement. His final request was for the world to know that “homosexuals were not cowards.” 

 

Frieda never hid her sexuality and never felt less than or different than her heterosexual peers. When asked about it during her oral history, she said “I just lived my life and never explained anything.” This openness, unfortunately, did impact her later career. In 1947, she emigrated to the United States and was appointed the first female conductor of the Orange County Philharmonic Orchestra. In 1962, her contract was not renewed, and she was out of a job. She attributed this to homophobia and gossiping about her sexuality. After this, she moved to New Mexico where she taught music. Reflecting on her life, she said she’d had the most wonderful and romantic life. She followed it up with “you make your own life. Nothing makes it for you.” She passed away in 1995 at the age of 90

Sources & Further Reading

“Looking Danger in the Eye,” 12 Years that Shook the World podcast from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (Sept. 15, 2022).

 

Oral History Interview with Frieda Belinfante. The Jeff and Toby Herr Oral History Archive (1994) United States Holocaust Memorial Museum collection. 

 

Pasles, Chris, “O.C. Musical Pioneer Frieda Belinfante Dies at 90,” LA Times (March 7, 1995).


Pride Month: Defying Nazi Persecution,” featuring Dr. Klaus Muller. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. YouTube (July 6, 2021).

More PTL Project Resources on Belinfante

Watch the YouTube Video!
Frieda Belinfante Handout.png
For Citation

Grace Shaffer, "LGBTQ+ Stories from Nazi Germany: Frieda Belinfante." (2024) pinktrianglelegacies.org/belinfante

(Updated January 2024)

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