Dr Jacoba (Julie) van Norden

Issue: BCMJ, vol. 50, No. 5, May 2008, Page 214 Obituaries


Dr Julia van Norden died in St. Paul’s Hospital palliative care unit from cancer. She is survived by her loving husband, Herman, three children, Sophia, Wilma, and Simon, and grandchildren Clare, Alexander, and Natalie, and her sister Johanna.

Julia was born in ’s-Hertogenbosch, in southern Holland. She was the elder daughter of Willem and Gerdina Damen Wouters. Her father was an inspector of the Postal, Telegraph, and Telephone administration of the Dutch government. 

Julia and her sister were sent to a liberal school, and early on in her life Julia decided she would become a doctor. She tutored high school students to earn money for university and was able to attend the University of Utrecht in northern Holland in 1942. 

With the eruption of the Second World War in Europe, however, and the German invasion of Holland on 19 May 1940, all universities were eventually taken over by German authorities. The majority of Dutch students boycotted the schools, and female students were sent to work in industries to support the German front, while many male students were sent to work camps in Germany. 

The Dutch Jewish population was also gradually decimated. As a witness to these events, Julia was determined to fight against the Nazi occupation, and along with her friends she joined the underground resistance movement. To protect her family, she left home.

In June of 1943, Julia began working in a job with the International Red Cross that was ideally suited to her underground activities. Located in Vught, a suburb near her hometown, Julia applied for the job of secretary to the head of the Red Cross, Charlotte van Beuningen, a wealthy and powerful woman in her seventies who lived in a villa on a large estate. 

Julia moved into the villa and was provided with a bicycle that had a small cart hitched to it that contained a secret compartment. In Vught there was an internment camp holding various prisoners, in­cluding Dutch men and women, that had a small hospital with 25 beds. The hospital was staffed with doctors and nurses who were also interned in the camp. With her Red Cross position, Julia was given full access to the medical staff who, through her, were able to communicate with the underground forces.

Julia was given false identity papers and became Jacqueline von Vlissingen, a cousin of Mrs van Beuningen, and given the title of laboratory technician. In this guise, Julia was able to assist with arranging safe houses and delivering messages from the relatives of the prisoners in Camp Vught. 

The cart, full of sandwiches and other food provided by sympathetic Dutch citizens for the prisoners, also had its secret compartment containing medicines and messages, including the names of the Belgian officers in the camp who had been captured by the German army. This information was passed on through the underground to Brussels.

As a member of the Red Cross and the resistance, Julia experienced many dangerous and terrifying incidents, but one of her most horrific memories was the massacre of 20 women in the camp. The prisoners were herded into a small room, the walls of which had been doused with sulfuric acid. They all perished. When the news became publicly known, there was a huge outcry from the Red Cross and the Dutch population. 

In September 1944, the Canadian forces, followed by the Dutch General Krull, entered the town of Vught and liberated southern Holland from the Nazis. In what turned out to be a misadventure of sorts, Julia was given permission to travel to Brussels to deliver the names of the Belgian officers who had been transferred to German camps. After arriving back in Holland from Brussels, she realized she had left her identity papers in the hired cab. 

A Canadian officer from Toronto offered to take her in an open jeep to the cab station to look for her papers, but when they got to the checkpoint, they were promptly arrested by Canadian guards and taken to the Canadian headquarters in Vught to be interrogated! The Canadian officer was grilled with questions about Toronto and happily, after about 15 minutes, the cab with Julia’s papers was located and the two were freed.

Soon after the liberation of southern Holland, Julia had met Herman van Norden, who was later to become her husband, at a medical student assembly meeting in October 1944. Herman had found a chair for Julia and she thought him very gentlemanly to do so. 

Herman was two years ahead of Julia in medicine, having studied in Amsterdam. The war in Europe ended in May 1945, and Julia and Herman were married in June 1949 after Herman finished his internship. They had much in common, for he too had been active in the Dutch underground during the war. 

After the war, there were few medical jobs available in Holland, so the couple decided to emigrate to Canada. Julia’s sister and husband and their two children were already living on Vancouver Island in British Columbia. Herman and Julia landed in New York on 12 December 1951, and reached Victoria, BC, on Boxing Day. 

As foreign graduates they were required to intern a full year at a Canadian hospital and they both got positions at Shaughnessy Hospital Vancouver. This experience led Julia to change her Christian name to Julia from Jacoba so that patients would know she was a female doctor.

The couple’s work at Shaughnessy hospital, with Herman as a surgery resident and Julia as a senior intern, enabled them to pass the LMCC ex­ams. They opened a busy practice that they ran until 1993. The van Nordens were popular and compassionate phy­sicians, and helped many patients in need, including new immigrants and patients without money or insurance. 

In 1993 Julia van Norden was hon­ored with the Knighthood of Orange Nassau by Queen Beatrix of Holland for her distinguished services and work in different fields.

Dr Jacoba (Julie) van Norden was an amazing person and we will miss her.

—Eileen Cambon, MDCM

Eileen Cambon, MD,. Dr Jacoba (Julie) van Norden. BCMJ, Vol. 50, No. 5, May, 2008, Page(s) 214 - Obituaries.

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