The Von Dutch story began on December 10, 1969.
As 20-year-old German citizen Hans von Dutch and his 17-year-old Australian wife Christine were looking for a castle in Luxembourg that could serve as a base in a future deployment to Vietnam, von Dutch saw one in Hohe Fill where he had grown up as a boy. He wanted a country and, as he saw it, a castle would complete the picture. He described the basic stone structure, then noted it had a basketball court, a large balcony, and a bathroom.
He signed the paperwork, and rented the site. In April 1970, von Dutch took his wife for a walk and discovered he did not have to wait long for his wife. A fellow German living there was interested in a possible court-room. They would have a casual meeting, and shortly afterward von Dutch was on his way to South Vietnam. As he toured the site, he went down the hall past the tennis court where the court was striped with white lines. As he entered the tennis court, he saw red flags flying, and soon a fighting game was underway in the only court in Luxembourg, where Korean, Chinese, and Vietnamese were in it.
Von Dutch joined the fight, to help those Koreans, Chinese, and Vietnamese who were seeking refuge in Luxembourg. Those fighting games did not stop. Local teenagers fought the teenagers from Vietnam. The Chinese and Koreans were losing, but nothing would stop von Dutch from fighting them; he was there to protect the Koreans, too.
Then his luck ran out. After he and his wife sat at the official Korean Embassy compound in Luxembourg, intending to see some other Korean refugees, they were interrupted. The Koreans in the compound were eating a Chinese-sponsored lunch. When they found out about von Dutch, they started making trouble. The Koreans complained that he was not a legal refugee and should be out of the compound. The officers then told him to go to his room. Then they informed him that he could be kicked out of the compound if he continued to threaten or provoke the Koreans. He asked what that would mean. The officers said it would mean that he was not a protected asylume, but a guest. He went back to his room and received news that he would not be leaving Luxembourg in four days.
What happened then is a testimony to courage and commitment and to von Dutch’s unbreakable belief in justice. He swore on the Bible that he would never leave the Koreans unprotected. This was von Dutch’s first lesson in fighting injustice. He got worse. When the Vietnamese found out what had happened, they told him that the Koreans would be shot if they wanted to leave the compound and they would fight back. He considered suicide but decided to stay and fight. In truth, he was fighting not for himself, but for his friends who had been deported to South Vietnam and needed protection. He challenged those officials who took him out of the country. To this day, no one has ever been willing to testify about how they physically assaulted him.
In 1985, the Koreans returned to Vietnam. Their papers showed that they had been shot for having been deported from Luxembourg. But the Koreans did not return with their papers in order to face justice. Instead, they just refused to leave. The Vietnamese built a wooden bridge and a barbed-wire fence around the compound. They made it clear that anyone who wanted to walk over the fence would be shot. Every time Christine von Dutch, who could understand the various Vietnamese dialects and said how she had died of hunger in Vietnam, begged to cross, she was shot. Instead of telling her to leave, the Koreans went through the German Embassy to Vera Meyer, von Dutch’s superior in the embassy, who said it was his rights as an embassy to control and maintain the compound. The Koreans eventually stormed the building and seized von Dutch’s collection of records and documents.
Von Dutch protested against this interference, but the Koreans made it clear to him that they were taking over the compound and taking away all he had.
Christine von Dutch drove to Paris and spoke with the Germans government, demanding that they return von Dutch’s papers.
Von Dutch’s example, despite the injustice he was experiencing, becomes more human because it is brought to light through the example of his wife who was worried for her husband and the amazing courage von Dutch demonstrated in fighting for his friends and loving a country that had the audacity to arrest and imprison him.
Peter MacDonald, Ed.D., is an award-winning writer, attorney, humanitarian, human rights activist, and bestselling author of The Great Escape: A True Story of Friendship, Sacrifice, and Courage in Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam.