FYI: Some of the text of this post is lifted from last year’s A to Z post on Eindhoven. It’s not a crime to plagiarize yourself!
Frits Philips was the second child and only son of Anton Philips and Anne Henriëtte Elisabeth Maria de Jongh. His paternal grandfather, also named Frederik Philips, was a first-cousin of Karl Marx. The family lived in Eindhoven, in the southern Netherlands, where their family business, Royal Philips Electronics, was based.
The Philips Company manufactured lightbulbs, vacuum tubes, technology, electronics, electric razors, and radios. It was natural for Frits to join the family business after his university education, particularly since he’d earned a degree in mechanical engineering. In 1935, Frits became vice-director and a board member of the Philips Company.
After the Nazi invasion of The Netherlands in May 1940, the Philips family fled to America and took much of their company capital with them. Frits was the only Philips who stayed, and together with his relatives abroad, they kept their company alive during the hard years of the war.
Statue of Frits Philips in Eindhoven, Copyright Robert de Greef
Following an anti-Nazi strike, Frits was interred in the nearby Vught camp. Miraculously, he was only a prisoner from from May–September 1943, and went into hiding in mid-1944. However, Frits had been forced to establish a branch of his factory in Vught, and was able to use this location to save lives. Of the 469 people he employed, 382 survived. His employees’ deportations were delayed because he convinced the Nazis their work was indispensable. For his heroic actions, he was honoured by Yad Vashem as one of the Righteous Among the Nations in 1996.
He was greatly esteemed by the people of Eindhoven for how he made no distinctions between factory workers and higher-ups in the company, and often talked with his workers as friends. The people called him Meneer (My Sir) Frits.
There was a huge celebration in Eindhoven for his 100th birthday in 2005. The city was temporarily renamed Frits Philips Stad (Frits Philips City) for the occasion, and a special coin, the Fritske, was minted. That year, the annual Lichtjesroute parade put a lit-up image of Frits along the route. Eindhoven also has a magazine named after him; other namesakes include the Muziekgebouw Frits Philips concert hall and the Meneer Frits restaurant within the concert hall. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg regarding his immense popularity in Eindhoven, and all the many honours he received in his lifetime.