Willem Frederik Einthoven

Ir. Willem Frederik Einthoven was born on 17 July 1893 in Zoeterwoude into a highly educated family. His father was Professor Dr. Willem Einthoven who had been awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1924 for discovering the mechanism of the electrocardiogram. In 1925 he had married Ir. Elisabeth Cornelia Zeeman, the second woman to become a professional building engineer in The Netherlands, whose father was professor of mathematics and physics in Leiden. One guest at their wedding was Professor Dr. H.A. Lorentz, who together with Pieter Zeeman, was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1902 for his mathematical theory of the electron. He also corresponded with Albert Einstein.

Willem Frederik Einthoven graduated in 1924 as electrotechnical engineer. He spent five years in Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia, where he worked on the longest radiotelegraphic communication link in the world, that between Kootwijk and Bandoeng. In 1927 he returned to Bandoeng, now accompanied by his wife and eldest daughter, where he became head of the PTT Laboratory. The PTT was the forerunner of KPN and was responsible among other things for radio communication. In Bandoeng three more children would be born.

Ir. Einthoven had achieved a great deal of pioneering work for the PTT. In 1934 he was given the ‘Bosscha Medaille’ awarded to the individual who during the previous period in the East Indies had been most deserving in the field of technology. In 1938 he headed the Dutch Indies delegation at the International Conference regarding future means of communication in Cairo where he ate from King Faroek’s plates of gold.  At that time he was chief engineer. In 1941, while Europe was already at war, he received the ultimate acclaim for his work – Queen Wilhelmina named him an Officer in the Order of Oranje Nassau.

Ir. W.F. Einthoven.

War with Japan and deportation to Tokio

Ir. W.F. Einthoven (tweede van links), tijdens zijn bezoek aan Egypte, in 1938.

Early in 1942 the Dutch East Indies also became involved in the war after the country had been invaded by the Japanese. Every Dutchman was interned. A small number of individuals were transferred to Japan where they were forced to work in harbors, factories, and coal mines or where their scientific expertise could be exploited.

For the latter reason, Einthoven as chief engineer was taken to Tokyo with his family. Under primitive conditions in a small laboratory he was forced to work with other Dutch engineers on an apparatus for testing radio tubes. He became seriously weakened by malnutrition. Einthoven was exhausted by the laborious 90-minute journey between the prison camp where he lived and the laboratory where he worked. He first had to travel by tram, then by train, then walk or rather climb as well as face the same strenuous return journey every evening, six days each week during an extremely bitter-cold winter. He caught a cold which became influenza with a high fever but there was no medication given to him. On 15 February 1945, 51-year-old Willem Frederik Einthoven died of acute pneumonia.

Final resting place alongside his father
His mortal remains were cremated as was customary for everyone who died in Tokyo. After the war, his widow returned to The Netherlands carrying the urn containing his ashes. At the age of 50, she became a mathematics teacher at the Kennemer Lyceum in Haarlem. In 1955 she had the urn with her husband’s ashes placed in the grave alongside his father, in the Groene Kerkje cemetery.

Left: gravestone of Nobelprice-winner Willem Einthoven (top) and in Japan deceased fron exhaustion Willem Frederik Einthoven (bottom).