Erik Hazelhoff Roelfzema

Soldier of Orange (1917-2007)



Soldier of Orange (1917-2007)
Sep 30th, 2007 by Pieter Dorsman


Whenever I am asked about Dutch movies I answer without hesitation that the best one ever made was Soldier of Orange (1977). It was at the time the most expensive movie production ever made and it launched the international careers of both Rutger Hauer and Paul Verhoeven. With this movie Verhoeven - who went on to achieve Hollywood fame with ‘Basic Instinct’ - brought his unique brand of realism to a larger and international audience. It meant that ‘Soldier’ was enriched with quite a bit of sex and a few torture scenes that stand the test of time and are as haunting today as they were thirty years ago. But above all it was the script that was able to condense the experiences of the Dutch under Nazi rule into a compelling film built around a hero who waged his own struggle against the brutal German oppressor.

The movie was based on the autobiographical book written by the man who came to be known as the ‘Soldier of Orange’, Erik Hazelhoff Roelfzema who died in his home on Hawaii earlier this week at the age of 90. The story follows the adventures of a group of rather privileged Dutch college students whose careless life at Leiden University is disrupted by the Nazi invasion of May 1940. The group falls apart during the war, a few side with the enemy, one Jewish member perishes, and some end up in the resistance, notably Hazelhoff Roelfzema. The movie follows his daring crossing of enemy lines across the North Sea to reach the British shores and a subsequent return with Royal Navy assistance to the occupied beaches of the Dutch mainland. In actual life the Dutch hero made about fourteen such crossings which sought to maintain vital links with Dutch resistance forces in the occupied country. After this he entered the RAF as a pilot carrying out some seventy bombing missions over Germany. Towards the end of the war he became the adjudant to Queen Wilhelmina, a role which earned him his nickname as ‘Orange’ is not only the Dutch national color, it is the royal family’s surname.

Yet, his life after the war proved to be equally interesting. Of course his efforts and hero status had rendered him totally unfit to return to regular Dutch life and a short spell as a diplomat ended rather abruptly after having spoken his mind about the future of the Dutch East Indies. His passion for this part of the world led him to carry out a few missions on behalf of the Republic of the Moluccans a rather large part of eastern Indonesia that was counting on independence following the Dutch departure in 1949. That quest was stifled by the international community – notably the US – who had a vested interest in the post-war world to keep Indonesia a unified entity and a bulwark against communism. Of course, his mission failed and Hazelhoff Roelfzema started a new life as an immigrant in the US, holding a variety of jobs, working among other things for NBC and Radio Free Europe.

In his biography Hazelhoff Roelfzema makes it clear that he essentially was an adventurer and loved nothing more than writing. It was his second wife who encouraged him to put his Soldier of Orange memories to paper and it became a major bestseller in 1971. It gave him instant celebrity in The Netherlands and as a ‘war hero’ the small nation got something its own narrative of the Second World War deeply lacked. Hazelhoff himself - by that time retired on Hawaii – never considered himself as such and made it clear that many others had done the same: that what was required under extremely difficult circumstances. He had just been lucky enough to stumble into the limelight.

Despite his American passport and passion for the Big Island, he always remained a Dutchman at heart, visiting his homeland regularly, while at the same time realizing that he could not ever live there again. His life is a remarkable one and the movie remains an absolute must see.

UPDATE: Here’s another obituary with a lovely quote:

The ending of the movie is one of the ultimate expressions of the Dutch national character: Rutger Hauer drinks a glass of wine with an old school buddy who basically just sat out the war without doing anything. He says something to Hauer (Roelfzema) like “gosh, did all those things really happen to you?”



Big Island resident was WWII hero in Netherlands
By Rod Thompson

Erik Hazelhoff, considered the greatest hero of the Netherlands against Nazi occupation during World War II, died Wednesday at his home in Ahualoa on the Big Island. He was 90.

Hazelhoff is best known for his book, and the movie version that followed, titled "Soldier of Orange," a reference to the Dutch royal House Orange.

His exploits ranged from piloting 72 missions with Britain's Royal Air Force against the Nazis, to serving as a director of Radio Free Europe, to helping to create the NBC "Today" show.

"There wasn't anything that man hadn't done," said Lorraine Dove, a former Honolulu actress and a longtime friend. "Erik had it all," she said.

Born in the Dutch East Indies as Erik Hazelhoff Roelfzema, he returned to the Netherlands before World War II to earn undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Leiden.

During the war he became a friend of Prince Bernhard and maintained a lifelong friendship with members of the Dutch royal family.

After the war he became the principal aide to Queen Wilhelmina and rode with her at the head of a parade welcoming her home.

Many years later the Dutch royalty stayed at his home in Ahualoa near Waimea, Dove said. Hazelhoff's widow, Karin, has received telephone calls expressing sympathy from Crown Prince Willem-Alexander and Princess Irene, said family friend Frank Morgan.

Among other activity credited to him was the founding of an international television conglomerate in Amsterdam, serving as vice president of an oil exploration company in Israel and creating Racing Team Holland.

Hazelhoff became an American citizen in 1953 and moved briefly to Maui in 1971 before settling on the Big Island.

Despite years of associating with royalty, he was humble and had a marvelous sense of humor, Dove said. He was equally at home with young people and older ones, she said.

Hazelhoff is survived by wife Karin, son Erik H. Roelfzema Jr. of Amsterdam, daughter Karna Hazelhoff-Castellon of San Francisco, a granddaughter and a great-granddaughter.

A private memorial gathering will be held next Saturday in Waimea. Hazelhoff's ashes will be buried later with military honors in the Netherlands.