Holocaust survivor Bienes inspired organization builder Deckers
Geoffrey Deckers, 51, co-founder of the Dutch animal advocacy organization Een Dier Een Vriend [An Animal, A Friend], died suddenly on June 29, 2020.
Deckers suffered a cerebral hemorrhage on November 20, 2017, but appeared to have made a full recovery.
As well as leading Een Dier Een Vriend since 1998, Deckers chaired the European Coalition to End Animal Experiments, served on the Dutch Federation of Animal Shelter Organizations board of directors, and was a board member for the Jakarta Animal Aid Network in Indonesia, headed by Dutch citizen Femke den Haas and originally incorporated in the Netherlands as Pro Animalia International.
“Scourge of the Dutch Biomedical Primate Center”
Elisa Brongers, campaign coordinator for Een Dier Een Vriend from 2005 to 2018, a seven-year board member of Wildlife Watchdogs, and cofounder of Palm Oil Free Certification in 2017, called Deckers “one of the main founding fathers of animal rights in the Netherlands,” who “stood at the foot of the battle for emancipation for animals around the world,” helping “Those who needed knowledge about animal rights, actions, lobbying, leading organizations, legal procedures, you name it.”
Recalling that Deckers “showed me around the Hague after the 2007 Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species,” Shirley McGreal, founder and president of the International Primate Protection League since 1973, remembered Deckers as “The scourge of the Dutch Biomedical Primate Center in the Netherlands for decades.”
Deckers became involved in animal advocacy in 1983, at age 14. A biology class field trip initially kindled his interest, lifelong companion Adrie Van Steijn told ANIMALS 24-7.
“He then started to read up about animal issues and went to slaughterhouses, fur farms etc., to see it all for himself,” Van Steijn recalled, before becoming a volunteer assistant to Marion Bienes, a Jewish survivor of the Holocaust, who was then perhaps the most prominent animal advocate in the Netherlands.
Marion Bienes, 1925-2014
Born on August 29, 1925, in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, Bienes arrived in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, at age 10, when her family fled Nazi persecution. Bienes in Amsterdam was a schoolmate of Margot Frank, elder sister of author and Holocaust victim Anne Frank.
Surrendering to the Nazis in 1943, after a year on the run in hiding, Bienes was shuttled among several different prisons before she was transported to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in February 1944.
Her father, brother, and sister all died at Bergen-Belsen. Bienes herself was on April 10, 1945 loaded aboard one of three trains that were meant to haul Jewish prisoners to be traded to the advancing Red Army for Germany prisoners. Two of the trains were instead liberated by American and Russian troops.
Bienes, however, was on the infamous “lost train” that shuttled about for 13 days, with little food or water for the passengers, before the Red Army captured it at Tröbitz. Hundreds of passengers died, but Bienes survived despite becoming infected with typhus. Her mother was also among the few Bergen-Belsen survivors.
Post-war, they struggled for a time in Amsterdam before emigrating to New York City, where Bienes took singing lessons, began a 30-year career as an operetta singer and comedienne, and in 1951 gave birth to a son out of wedlock. The son, Michael Arthur Horowitz, grew up to become an attorney, emigrated to Israel, and led the successful prosecution of Nazi war criminal John Demjanjuk, convicted of killing approximately 28,000 Jews at Treblinka.
Returning to the Netherlands in 1953, Bienes with her third husband moved on to Berlin, Germany. There Bienes enjoyed several of her most successful years, singing and making television commercials, before returning again to the Netherlands in 1964.
Except for four years performing in Switzerland, 1970-1974, Bienes spent the rest of her life in the Netherlands, turning to full-time campaigning on behalf of animals after the 1975 death of her mother.
Like the U.S. Jewish animal rights activists Henry Spira, who as an 11-year-old witnessed Krystalnacht, the night of rioting in Hamburg in November 1938 that commenced the Nazi pogroms, and Alex Hershaft, the fellow Holocaust survivor who in 1976 founded the Farm Animal Rights Movement, Bienes unabashedly drew parallels between human treatment of animals and her own experience at the hands of the Nazis.
Wikipedia recalls that Bienes “was best known for locking herself in a cage for days at central locations in cities such as Amsterdam, The Hague, Eindhoven, Zwolle, London, Brussels, Washington D.C. and New York.”
Inspired by Bienes, but working independently, Deckers at age 18, in 1987, participated in an action against a fur auction house attributed to the “Animal Liberation Front,” a name commonly used for covert animal rights actions but actually signifying no organizational affiliation at all. Apprehended, Deckers was sentenced to do community service.
Bienes, Deckers, & PETA
Bienes had at first campaigned under the umbrellas of organizations including the International Fund for Animal Welfare and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals [PETA]. In 1989, however, assisted by Deckers, she started the Foundation for the Abolition of Animal Testing, chiefly out of dissatisfaction with the older Dutch Anti Vivisection Society having invested in several companies that did animal testing.
PETA in 1993 founded a Dutch branch, with Deckers as office manager, but closed it abruptly in 1998.
Deckers, Van Steijn, and other PETA staff responded by forming Een Dier Een Vriend.
An Animal, A Friend
Een Dier Een Vriend went on to lead successful campaigns against the use of chimpanzees in biomedical research in the Netherlands, which saw the last chimps kept in Dutch laboratories transferred to sanctuaries in 2006; marine mammal exhibition in the Netherlands and coastal whaling in Japan, assisted by U.S. activist Ric O’Barry, who with his wife Helene now lives in neighboring Denmark; and is the Dutch representative for the international “Leaping Bunny” labeling program for cruelty-free cosmetics, personal care, and household products.
Een Dier Een Vriend also hosts the European Coalition to End Animal Experiments, which in 2013 won a European Union ban on animal testing of cosmetics, after a 20-year multinational lobbying effort.
In recent years Een Dier Een Vriend has emphasized an “Animal Friendly Life” campaign, promoting veganism, a “Meat Industry Climate Damage” campaign that promotes recognition of the ecological effects of animal agriculture, and is Dutch representative of the Open Wing Alliance, a global coalition of organizations opposed to battery caging of hens kept to lay eggs.
In addition, Een Dier Een Vriend continues to seek the retirement to sanctuaries of all non-human primates held by Dutch laboratories.
Deckers and Van Steijn looked after Bienes late in her life. Van Steijn in 2012 helped Bienes to write and publish her 266-page autobiography Why The Horses?, two years before her death.
“Geoffrey did the cooking. Marion just loved being and eating with us in her last years. We home-cared for her and arranged her getting admitted to a Jewish home for the elderly when she couldn’t be by herself any longer,” Van Steijn said.