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Alida Margaretha Bosshardt (Utrecht, 8 June 1913 – Amsterdam, 25 June 2007) was a Dutch officer of the Salvation Army. To many, she was the face of this denomination in the Netherlands in the second half of the twentieth century. She worked mostly in the Red Light District (locally known as ‘De Wallen‘), could be described as “one of a kind” and became a national hero through her work in Amsterdam.
Alida became known as Major Bosshardt, but her last rank was that of Lieutenant Colonel, since 1968.
From the age of 20 she worked for the Salvation Army as a social worker, first in Utrecht, later Rotterdam and finally Amsterdam. When Amsterdam North was bombarded in July 1943 she fled to Hilversum – 30 miles away – together with Jewish children that she kept hidden from the German Nazi invaders.
Major Bosshardt in Amsterdam’s Red Light District.
At the end of 1951, she established the Salvation Army’s headquarters at the Oudezijds Voorburgwal 14, right in the middle of De Wallen area, in a house she rented. Initially, only the ground floor was available. Bosshardt had to sleep there in the same room where homeless people were received. The living area on the first floor became available in 1955.
From 1948 onwards Bosshardt held Christmas meetings for prostitutes in Amsterdam’s Red Light District and always gave them a helping hand. She said the following about her relationship with prostitutes: “Should I believe that I can fight prostitution? No way! I try to give these women a helping hand so often that they can grab it when they want to grab it. We accept these girls and women as they are in their situation. In essence, I could have sat there.”
Major Bosshardt played an important role in the life of Henk de Vries (1950) – owner of Coffeeshop The Bulldog. Known for its coffeeshops, cafes, hotel and merchandise in Amsterdam.
Henk de Vries was born and raised in Amsterdam’s Red Light District in the 1950’s and 1960’s – in a time when things were much rougher than nowadays.
Henk de Vries once said to a radio-reporter:
‘My mother was left alone with three children by my father. My mother raised us and my childhood took place on the streets. I grew up on the streets, actually. Major Bosshardt has played a very important role in my life and has taught me many things. She taught me that one should be able to forgive and that as a human being you had to be there for humanity, for the less fortunate, for the underprivileged in society. And, Major Bosshardt taught me to love people that way. If Major Bosshardt had not existed, I would have been harder and more impersonal. Then I would also have had less understanding for the less fortunate, which I have been working on for 40 years to support these people.’ (source)
The successful cannabis entrepreneur supports the Salvation Army in many different ways. For example; all his 300 employees who are working in the Netherlands are obliged by him to work for the Salvation Army one day per year.
Major Bosshardt took crown Princess Beatrix to Amsterdam’s Red Light District, to show her the scene, the women and the work she did for prostitutes. Although Beatrix went incognito, dressed as a civilian woman with a scarf over her hair, a picture was published by De Telegraaf – a Dutch newspaper – of the event.
In 1959 she first appeared on Dutch television, in the program Anders dan anderen (translated: Other than others) by Bert Garthoff. On national television she could say sharp and true things, but she was never offensive, a virtue that not many people have.
In the tv program ‘Villa Felderhof’, she could be seen together with co-guest Herman Brood – Dutch rockband leader and artist. Brood was addicted to alcohol and drugs. The television program was filmed in a luxurious mansion in France near St. Tropez. Not exactly a background that you expect from the Salvation Army.
Sitting in an expensive boat off the coast, the question was raised if someone could go to heaven. “Well, I don’t know whether this will happen to me”, Major Bosshardt said modestly and in earnest. Her companion, the naughty alcohol and speed addicted Herman Brood had to laugh so hard, he almost fell off the boat.
France, St. Tropez, 1996. Major Bosshardt & rock artist/painter Herman Brood.
Herman Brood said to Major Bosshardt:
‘If you don’t go to heaven, my chances are zero!” “If a saint like you can’t come in, who can?’
Later he added to the conversation:
‘I think children are the meaning of existence, God cannot match that.’
To which Major Bosshardt replied:
‘I heard that, but I thought I’d better not respond.’
At the end of the show, rock singer Herman Brood took a warm bath after being burned by the sun. Major Bosshardt then walks into the bathroom and takes a washcloth. The rough, atheistic rock star let himself be washed by the most famous member of the Dutch Salvation Army. A special moment on Dutch television.
Five years later in 2001, Herman Brood – who was on a diet of one bottle Cointreau per day plus several shots of speed – jumped off the roof of Amsterdam’s Hilton Hotel and was found dead 12 floors below on the pavement in front of the hotel.
Alida Margareta Bosshardt died in 2007, at the age of 94 years old. She was a knight and officer in the Order of Orange-Nassau and was distinguished with many prices and awards. One of which was the Israeli Yad Vashem distinction, for brave and excellent citizenship for her actions during the Second World War.
The Major Bosshardt statue is located in front of the Salvation Army.
Major Bosshardt was immortalised in a bronze statue on the Oudezijds Voorburgwal in the Red Light District – in front of the Salvation Army, where most of her life took place. It presents this wonderful woman sitting on a bench, in her simple Salvation Army uniform.
The Majoor Bosshardtbrug in the Red Light District.
A bridge in Amsterdam’s Red Light District was named after her. The Majoor Bosshardtbrug (bridge no. 211) is a bridge over the Oudezijds Achterburgwal. The bridge connects the Molensteeg with the Oudekennissteeg.
The bridge was named on 7 June 2013 after Alida Bosshardt, the Salvation Army officer who was active for the prostitutes and the junks who were very present in this part of the Red Light District back then. Attempts had been made a year earlier to name the Oudezijds Armsteeg and / or Armbrug after her; those attempts failed. The bridge in Amsterdam is not the first bridge named after the major. A year earlier, on 11 July 2012, a (until then unnamed) bridge in the Broersepark in Amstelveen was named after her.
Amsterdam has 5656 bridges. Amsterdam is by far the city with the most bridges in the world. Of these bridges and locks, 888 have a name.