Johanna Adriana Appels (Jo) was born on the 9th of May 1906 in Driebergen (central Netherlands) as the fifth and last child in a rather well-to-do family where the father owned and ran a building contractor company and the mother was a midwife.
She obtained a bachelor’s degree in English language and literature and would later in life also attend courses at university level in theology.
In the early thirties she met her future husband, Bastiaan Jan Ader (Bas), born on the 30th of December 1909. They married in September 1935, after he had acquired his bachelor’s degree in theology. (In the summer of 1936 he set off on an epic bicycle journey to the Holy Land, with her consent and full support, also financial.) Johanna worked as an editor in a publishing company in Amsterdam.
On his trip through the Middle East the young Reverend was much impressed by the selfless work he witnessed being carried out by protestant missionaries in the area, and the couple contemplated to do so as well but ultimately decided to stay in their country to face the gathering storm of war.
In October 1938 they went to live in Nieuwbeerta, in the North East of the Netherlands, where he had been appointed the local protestant Reverend. They saw it as a challenge: the population had become predominantly communist and atheist, due to extreme income disparities between farmers and farmhands, and had turned away from the church, due to teachings so liberal that they lost next to all content. Jo worked alongside Bas in the parish.
Life during the first years of the German occupation remained relatively untouched. That changed when a Jewish former acquaintance of Jo asked by letter if she could come to stay with them to hide from the Germans. The answer was positive and accompanied by the advice to bring someone else to fight boredom. It was the beginning of their heavy involvement in the resistance. Yad Vashem reckons that they, with the help of many, managed to save between 200 and 300 Jewish compatriots.
On the 19th of April 1942 Jo gave birth to Bastiaan Johan Christiaan (Basjan), and on the 4th of November 1944 to Diederik Antonius Viktor Emanuel (Erik) while her husband was in prison. On the 20th of November 1944 he was executed by the Nazis.
The wartime diary Jo wrote in deep secret she turned into a book: “Een Groninger Pastorie in de Storm” of which there have been 13 reprints over the years. It has been translated into German and Finnish and very recently into English*. One of the survivors devoted part of her own book on her time in hiding with Bas and Jo: “Selected to Live” by Johanna-Ruth Dobschiner
After the war the parish elders appointed a new Reverend. Jo moved to the nearby village of Drieborg that was part of the parish and worked towards the goal of founding a building that would house all the club activities her husband and she had set up there and would also double as a small church for services. In 1950 this dream came true, paid for by the royalties of her book, the receipts from her many lectures and from sympathisers. She worked there until her late seventies. In her eighties she became gradually incapacitated by the onset of Alzheimers. Jo died on the 31st of July 1994 and is buried in the graveyard in Nieuwbeerta.
She had created a Foundation, named after her late husband, as the basis for the work she had set up in Drieborg. This Foundation still exists and received a large donation from Jo’s private wealth. At the moment this Foundation still supports the ongoing work of the church in the wider area. The proceeds of the English translation of the book will also go to the Foundation.
Their youngest son Erik, served as an ambassador in the Dutch Foreign Service. He is the chairman of said Foundation, named after his father.
Their eldest son is the internationally renowned conceptual artist Basjan Ader, lost at sea in 1975. For the interpretation of his art more and more people turn to his youth and background, with good reason. The book is an invaluable source to that end.
*The English translation is called “House of Defiance” published by Mirador Publishing. ISBN: 978-1-911473-77-0