Zwart-wit van een poserende, lachende Diet Kloos
Zwart-wit van een poserende, lachende Diet Kloos

Getting to know resistance fighter Diet Kloos better through letters: student Hanneke tells more

Jewish poet Paul Celan wrote the famous poem Todesfuge. He had a brief love affair with Diet Kloos-Barendregt, a Dutch singer, to whom he read the poem in Paris and handed over the typescript. Professor Paul Sars is researching Paul Celan and knew Diet Kloos-Barendregt personally. He asked student Hanneke Roos to write a biography on the life of the resistance fighter.

Hanneke Roos has been studying the life of Diet Kloos-Barendregt since September. Hanneke is a second-year History student and has a great passion for music. Yet she did not know the Dutch singer who was active in the resistance during World War II. How would she describe Diet's life? 'In three words? Music, love, fervour.'

16-year-old girl in resistance

Diet grew up in Dordrecht and joined the resistance at 16 years old. Hanneke: 'Together with her brother, she made music. They gave living room concerts in 1941, the proceeds of which went to Jewish families. Living room concerts were where rich people invited musicians to perform at home on their grand piano and were very common in those days. During the resistance, she met her late husband, Jan Kloos.'

Great love Jan Kloos

Jan became her great love. But just sixteen days after their wedding, they were rounded up by the Germans. In prison in Utrecht, she had to watch her husband being tortured. Diet was released after nine weeks, and Jan was shot in early 1945. 'This made her a widow in one fell swoop at the age of 20.'

The letter correspondence with Jan shows that a short love can last a lifetime: she always carried his farewell letter with her. In the letter, Jan asked Diet to pick up life again. It contained the words: 'Sing and be happy'. 

Hanneke: 'Diet had a successful career as an oratorio singer. She performed for many years in the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, France and Italy. During her singing career, she became a singing teacher at the Conservatorium in Tilburg, later becoming the head teacher.'

During those trips abroad, Diet didn't let anyone tell her what to do. 'For instance, in the Italian city of Siena, she attended a fair as a singer. The concierge there got close to her, which she clearly didn't like. In a letter to her mother, she wrote: I just gave him an elbow; I won't give up that easily. This shows her direct character.' Hanneke laughs: 'Being whistled at and called 'beautiful Hollandaise' was something she liked.'


Diet was a free-spirited woman and had several loves in her life. After liberation, she celebrated a week's holiday in Paris with a friend. She was still studying at the time. There, on a terrace by the Seine, she met the poet Paul Celan.

'They felt an instant connection as they had both suffered war trauma. She, as a resistance fighter, and he, as a Jew who had survived the labour camps. In the Netherlands, the relationship continued through letters and poems, but Jan remained her greatest love of all.'

Hanneke has since read countless letters. 'I have lost count. I consider myself lucky that, as a student, I get to work with all this source material and give meaning to such important research. Paul Sars knew Diet well and also tells beautiful stories about this heroic woman.'

It is meaningful that Diet was given the typescript of Todesfuge. After she passed away at the age of 90, this document was handed over to Paul Sars.

High school students

Paul Sars: 'I deliberately chose to have the biographical sketch written by a student who did not know Diet. Fellow supervisor Floris Meens praises Hanneke's scholarly talent; her age and love of music bring her close to Diet at the time. High school students also learn more about the love life of Jan and Diet Kloos through our teaching materials. At the Johan de Witt Lyceum in Dordrecht, pupils create a workbook, a website and an exhibition. Three themes are covered: Diet as a schoolgirl in the resistance, Jan and Diet's wartime love and life after the war. The students' presentations will take place in May.'

Hanneke is studying the undergraduate History course at the Faculty of Arts. Want to know more?


Hanneke is also following the Honours programme of the Radboud Honours Academy, where this project allows her to do research in her own field of History. Want to know more?

Honours programme 

The teaching material 'Diet and Jan: Life and Love in Wartime' is particularly suitable for History, ML, CKV (music), Dutch, German. Want to know more?


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