THERE’S PLENTY FOR ME TO DO IN THE LITTLE TIME I HAVE LEFT
Waalwijk Town Hall
On 6 September 1944, the day after Crazy Tuesday, armed SS troops marched along the Langstraat out of ‘s-Hertogenbosch on their way to the front near Antwerp. They became very angry when they saw flags flying everywhere. In Waalwijk the Commander summoned mayor Moonen to do something about it immediately. But that’s where the problems began.
Two women had accosted the soldiers and told them that their husbands had been detained by ‘partisans’ the day before. The SS Commander gave the mayor an ultimatum. He gave him just half an hour to locate the detained paramilitary Landwachters, and it was now almost eleven o’clock. Moonen sent out the police and phoned around. Then one of the women remembered that ‘those Hoffmans’ had been involved in the arrest. Eighteen year old Joop and twenty five year old Vincent were dragged from their house and taken to the Raadhuisplein, the town hall square. The mayor was taken from his office and put next to the boys. If the Landwachters were not found they would all be executed.
SS-men kept pushing them around and forcing them to stand in different spots. The atmosphere was tense and the threat sounded serious, but Vincent didn’t really think the SS troops would kill them. It was half past eleven and the town crier was permitted to cycle through the streets to spread the word that the missing Landwachters must be back before one o’clock. The soldiers were measuring the distance for the execution. Vincent told the SS Commander that the Landwachters were probably in Capelle. He had to go with them but after a wasted journey they returned to Waalwijk. In the meantime Doctor Lenglet, a trainee GP, had been added to the group. Mayor Moonen, a former officer, pleaded constantly for the lives of the boys and the doctor. Only the last one was let go.
It was quarter past one and the streets of Waalwijk were deserted. ‘I held my arms folded in front of me, sweat was gushing from me and my hands were clammy,’ Vincent Hoffmans remembered later. The pastor gave the three men the last rights. The SS officer’s patience was exhausted. “It’s time,” he snarled. As a last favour Moonen asked if the execution could take place behind the town hall so his wife and daughter would not have to see how he was executed. His request was granted. Joop clung to the pastor in desperation but the clergyman was pushed aside roughly and the group walked around the corner to the back of the town hall. The three men from Waalwijk had to stand with their backs to the wall. It was 13:37 and it seemed to Vincent that the world was disintegrating. Shots rang out. ‘I felt a burning pain, then everything went black.’
But Vincent was not dead. A bullet had passed through his arm, a second had hit his right lung but just missed his spinal cord. ‘Pastor, pastor,’ me moaned. He cannot remember the exact details. The pastor managed to distract the attention of the departing SS. Vincent stumbled over the dike and into a meadow, right into the barbed wire and just above a ditch. He almost drowned, but again he had good luck and was found by Doctor Lenglet. He had lost almost three litres of blood. The doctor was able to get him to the main hospital in ’s-Hertogenbosch where they operated on him immediately. He was in a coma for three weeks, but his life has been saved.
‘When I came round again I could see everything in front of me. I saw the mayor walking straight across the square. I heard my brother crying, I saw the grey uniforms and the steely appearance of the SS troops. (…) I wished I was dead as well.’ Vincent stayed in the hospital in ‘s-Hertogenbosch for three months, then he was moved to Switzerland where he had to rehabilitate for nine months. It was a long time before he regained the will to live.
Life after death
When he was fully recovered, he became the same friendly, somewhat introverted person that he always had been, but he needed twelve pills a day to remain calm and be able to sleep at night. At first he ran a business with his brother but the past continued to haunt him. Vincent was declared unfit and had to stop work. Ten years after the execution one of the murderers in Breda prison asked for his forgiveness. Vincent granted it. When a journalist asked him if he wanted to get married, he replied, ‘I was not engaged in September ’44 and I’m still single. I think that’s a pity but it’s not responsible to have children in my case. There’s plenty for me to do in the little time I have left.’ These were prophetic words, he died on 12 December 1984, just sixty five years old.
Vincent Hoffmans – Joop Hoffmans – Mayor Moonen