Foundation History

1993

The Weidner Foundation was established through the generosity of John and Naomi Weidner in 1993 and 1994, and was entrusted with the mission of carrying forward John Weidner’s legacy.  The Foundation was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization in the State of Massachusetts in 1996. Originally centered at Atlantic Union College, the Foundation was gifted by John and Naomi Weidner with a large collection of documents and artifacts related to Weidner’s life and the Dutch-Paris escape line of World War II.

In addition to serving as guardians of the Weidner Collection, the Foundation’s mission from its inception was to serve as a living tribute to Weidner’s legacy by cultivating altruistic service to humanity. In its earliest vision statements, the Foundation’s board members expressed a desire to see Weidner student chapters formed across the United States, and to establish a Weidner humanitarian prize.

During the Foundation’s first decade, vital leadership was provided by several people who knew Weidner personally, including Lawrence Geraty, Bert Beach, Frank Mazzaglia, and Alberto Sbacchi. Others who have also served in important leadership and other roles on the Foundation’s board or as friends to the Foundation include: Naomi Weidner, who remained one of the Foundation’s strongest supporters and advocates until passing away in 2020; long-time Executive Director of the Foundation, Kurt Ganter; Rabbi Malka Drucker; Michael Goldware; Norman and Winona Wendth; and Willy Hijmans.

Dr. Sbacchi was the first President of the Foundation and served as the original curator of the Weidner Collection. A respected historian of European history, the author of six books, and the recipient of the prestigious Knighthood of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic for his contributions to Italian culture, Dr. Sbacchi conducted extensive interviews and research in both Europe and the United States with the goal of publishing a biography of Weidner.

2005

Stan Tozeski, who had a distinguished career for more than 20 years as an archivist with the National Archives, provided invaluable help organizing and cataloguing the Weidner Collection. Beginning in 2005, Janet Holmes Carper expertly translated thousands of pages of often barely decipherable documents in the Collection from French into English.

In 2006, Foundation board member and sociology professor William Ervin led in the creation of the first Weidner Chapter at Butler University in Indiana.  In partnership with the Indianapolis Downtown Rotary Club, the Chapter provides endowed annual scholarships to deserving Butler students who have engaged in selfless service to their communities.

Following Dr. Sbacchi’s untimely death in 2006, the Board commissioned historian Megan Koreman in 2009 to write a scholarly book about Weidner and Dutch-Paris. After years of research in both Europe and the United States, made possible through Foundation funding and with privileged access to the Weidner Collection, Dr. Koreman’s commissioned book, The Escape Line, was published in 2018 by Oxford University Press.  The Dutch edition of the book was published by Boom Publishers with the title Gewone Helden. The Foundation hosted a celebratory dinner in Palo Alto, California, to mark the publication of Dr. Koreman’s research and the Foundation’s opening of the Weidner Collection at Stanford University to the general public for scholarly research. The event was attended by many descendants of both rescuers and survivors of the Dutch-Paris escape line. An earlier celebratory event was held in Amsterdam thanks to the friendship and generosity of persons in Europe with family ties to the Weidner story.

2013

In 2013, the Weidner Collection moved from Massachusetts to the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. The Foundation retains the intellectual property rights, permissions, and copyrights to the original documents and photographs in the Collection.  In January 2019, following the publication of The Escape Line, the Weidner Collection was opened for the first time to the general public for scholarly research.

In 2014, the Anti-Defamation League posthumously honored John Weidner its “Jan Karksi Courage to Care Award”, which was accepted by the Foundation on Weidner’s behalf. In his remarks at the ceremony, ADL National Director Abraham Foxman said, “John Weidner lived his entire life giving back, in the spirit of what we call Tikkun Olam. Until his death in 1994, he lived a life of selflessness and service, working tirelessly to make the world a better place.” In 2018, the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation paid tribute to John Weidner by commissioning a commemorative Israel stamp bearing Weidner’s image.

Another milestone for the Foundation occurred in April 2020 with the inaugural publication in a new series by Weidner Foundation Books. In the course of her voluntary translation work for the Foundation, Janet Carper  proposed a book idea to then Executive Director Kurt Ganter: an edited volume of the correspondence of the Weidner family during the war years. The original manuscript was completed by Carper in April of 2010. After a long journey, it was published by the Foundation exactly ten years later with the title, The Weidners in Wartime: Letters of Daily Survival and Heroism Under Nazi Rule.

2020

In July 2020, the Foundation published a second book, Luck Through Adversity: The Memoir of a Dutchman’s Flight to Freedom Through the Dutch-Paris Escape Line of World War II, by “Engelandvaarder” Pieter Rudolph Zeeman. The book was delivered to Rudy at his home in Tasmania, Australia, in his 100th year and in time to mark his wedding anniversary celebrations with his wife of 74 years, Berna Mortimer Zeeman. Coleman O’Flaherty was of invaluable assistance to Rudy and the Foundation in the publication of Rudy’s autobiography.

2021

In 2021, the Weidner Foundation marked its 25th anniversary since its official establishment in the State of Massachusetts. It turned its focus to fulfilling a dream of John Weidner’s before he passed away: the establishment of a major Weidner humanitarian prize. The endowed Weidner Rescuers Award will be given to persons who have risked their lives to save others faced with genocide, ethnic cleansing, human trafficking, or religious persecution. The Chair of the Award Committee, Michael Besançon, knew John Weidner personally and is the son of a Dutchman who was saved by Weidner’s rescue operation, escaping through France and across the Pyrenees Mountains into Spain in January 1944.

The Weidner Foundation is committed to continuing to find creative ways to share Weidner’s story with the world, and to advance our mission of “cultivating selfless and courageous action in the spirit of John Weidner and the Dutch-Paris Line.” Please contact us if you would like to learn more about our ongoing work or explore ways you can become involved.