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War hero, peace champion honored

After a rich and colorful life, Tony van Renterghem died in his Carlsborg home far from the glitz of his former life in Hollywood but surrounded by the love of family.

He leaves behind his wife of 34 years, Susanne Severeid, their 12-year-old son Pablo and - say people who knew him - a legacy of unflinching courage and unfailing humility.

"He was always a gentleman and that was really how he led his life," Severeid said.

"Tony was called a Renaissance man and he really was."

The family would spend their time in Sequim at the bluffs, in their garden and enjoying quiet times together.

"He was so young in life," Severeid said.

"He just kept jumping off cliffs because he was never afraid of the adventure of life."

Van Renterghem was 90 when he died.

"He had never seen the inside of a hospital until his mid-70s," Severeid said.

"He was still doing the shopping and cooking late in life."

He spent a lot of his time outdoors, which has influenced Pablo, who enjoys photography and sports.



War veteran, peace advocate

A celebration of van Renterghem's life will start at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 29, at the Olympic Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship, 73 Howe Road, off North Barr Road, Agnew.

His birthday, June 28, 1919, is ironic for he shares it with the Treaty of Versailles, which served as one of the peace treaties in World War 1.

Van Renterghem was a Dutch Resistance fighter during the World War II German occupation of Holland, hiding people persecuted by Nazis.

"I never saw it as helping Jews, I saw it as helping people," van Renterghem said in a Nov. 8, 2006, Sequim Gazette interview.

"If a totally innocent family is being shipped off to death camps, I don't care if they are Jewish or Iraqi, I will do what I can to save their lives."

He hid for five years after Nazis came looking for him, taking on false identities and never sleeping in the same bed two nights in a row.

"At the end of the war, he realized its futility and he fought against war all of his life," said Nelson Cone, treasurer of the North Olympic Peninsula chapter of Veterans for Peace.

While in Sequim, van Renterghem co-founded the local Veterans for Peace chapter and wrote articles in opposition to the war and the Bush presidency.

Members of the group renamed their club the Tony van Renterghem Chapter 139, Veterans for Peace, in his honor.



Peace in America

Van Renterghem immigrated to America in 1948 and lived in Malibu, Calif., for 35 years. He and his wife also lived in Amsterdam, other European cities, and Flagstaff, Ariz., before moving to Sequim.

His 35 years in film saw him serve as one of Hollywood's top researchers and technical advisers.

He was technical advisor for every version of "The Diary of Anne Frank."

He researched "The Greatest Story Ever Told" for four years and became an expert on the biblical Gospels.

Hundreds of A-list celebrities such as Gary Cooper and John Wayne were on a first-name basis with him.

"The reason you might not have heard more about him is because he chose that," Severeid said.



Memoirs and memories

Van Renterghem spent the last year-and-a-half of his life working on his memoirs.

Severeid said he found it difficult to revisit hard times in the war but believed it was necessary to share them.

"Tony was about communicating and if in any way his experiences can inspire people, then it was worth it to him," she said.

His autobiography "The Last Huzaar - Resistance without Bullets," is scheduled for release in spring 2010 by Dutch publisher Conserve.

Severeid plans to finish the English translation in the future.

His photos during World War II are in museums and publications around the world.

He received awards and honors for his work from the Dutch government and the Israeli Yad Vashem "Righteous Among the Nations" honor.

"Our country will always be positively affected by his selfless contribution to the Dutch Resistance, which proved him to be a man of great courage and integrity," said the consul general of The Netherlands in Los Angeles, Bart J.M. van Bolhuis.

"The community outpouring has been tremendous," Severeid said.

"We still have him within us. There's a strong presence around, but you still miss him like hell."



Reach Matthew Nash at mnash@sequimgazette.com.

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