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Carel Jan van Oss, 94, microbiologist, saved lives working with Dutch Resistance in World War II

Sept. 7, 1923 – Feb. 22, 2018

Carel Jan van Oss joined the Dutch Resistance in World War II quite by chance. He only intended to help some girls he knew by making fake identity cards for them.

“I was about 18, just out of school. It was a matter of some of our classmates being in some difficulties. We were fairly adept in meticulous drawing from our school days, so we offered to do it and see what came of it,” he told The Buffalo News in 1994. “Quickly acquaintances in the Resistance heard about this and thought this is precisely what they needed, so they put me to work.”

As the Germans became better at detecting the forgeries, Mr. van Oss and his associates became more adept at concealing them. They developed methods of transferring photographs, recreating official stamps and using acetone to dissolve markings. At one point, he was arrested and imprisoned for three months.

“We did not consider this unlawful, being directed against the German occupation,” he said in a video interview for the Holocaust Resource Center of Buffalo. “Although it might be dangerous, you didn’t consider yourself a criminal.”

He estimated that he created about 900 identity cards for Dutch Jews, which helped them to escape to Switzerland. He also forged documents for scores of Allied pilots who had been shot down by the Germans.

His career as a forger ended with the war, and Mr. van Oss went on to become an eminent microbiologist and professor at the University at Buffalo. He died Feb. 22 after a brief illness. He was 94.

After the war, Mr. van Oss accepted a commission with the British Royal Air Force as an intelligence officer, screening recruits as the Dutch Air Force was being rebuilt. He then went to France, where he first studied law, then earned a doctorate in physical biochemistry with honors from the Sorbonne in Paris in 1955.

He pursued post-doctoral studies in laboratories at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands and at the Sorbonne, then served for five years as director of the Laboratory of Physical Biochemistry at the French National Veterinary College of Maison-Alfort in Paris.

In 1963, he came to the United States to become assistant director of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Montefiore Hospital and Medical Center in New York City. Two years later, he was named director of Serum, Plasma and Immunochemistry at the Milwaukee, Wis., Blood Center and was an adjunct associate biology professor at Marquette University.

Mr. van Oss came to Buffalo in 1968 as an associate professor of microbiology and head of the Immunochemistry Laboratory at UB, becoming a full professor in 1972.

In 1980, he was appointed an adjunct professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering at UB and in 1995 he also became an adjunct professor in UB’s Geology Department.

He was a member of the Ernest Witebsky Center for Immunology at UB and held visiting positions at the Central Laboratory of the Netherlands Red Cross Blood Transfusion Service at Amsterdam and at the University of Bristol in England.

He was editor of three scientific journals, two of which he founded, and editor of four academic journal series in book form. Fluent in Dutch, French, English and German, with a working knowledge of Latin and Greek, he was author, co-author or editor of 11 scientific books in three languages and published more than 360 scientific papers and chapters.

Awarded 14 grants as a researcher, he was world-renowned as an expert in negative van der Waals forces, the repulsion of molecules from each other in gases and liquids. A contributor to a method for calculating surface tension, an equation was named after him. He held four U.S. and French patents and was active as an author, professor and researcher until he was 89.

Mr. van Oss became a U.S. citizen in 1969 and the following year was appointed honorary consul of the Netherlands in Western New York, a post he held until 1990. He was a member of the board of directors of the International Institute of Buffalo.

In 1983, he was awarded the Netherlands Commemorative Resistance Cross for his actions during World War II. Queen Beatrix also awarded him a knighthood in the Order of Orange-Nassau.

He was honored with the Righteous Among the Nations Humanitarian Award in 1994 from the Buffalo Chapter of the American Jewish Committee.

A Williamsville resident, he enjoyed boating, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and cycling. A prolific reader and book collector, he had a library of more than 5,000 volumes.

Survivors include his wife of 67 years, the former Rosine G. Ambard; a son, James; two daughters, Anne Roach and Vivian Gentil; and seven grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday in Amigone Funeral Home, 1132 Delaware Ave.

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