THE BOY BESIDE THE GRAVE
“I was always compared to the other Hans”, said Hans van Alphen (1946) from Uden. During the bloody liberation of Brabant, his mother Riek found refuge in Heusden together with her four sons (5, 8, 13 and 14 years old). Father Wim, who worked for the police, stayed behind in Eindhoven. Riek arrived in Heusden on 26 September 1944, at her sister Dora’s house. Eindhoven was already liberated by that time, but it was impossible to go back home due to the fighting in Brabant.
The fighting reached the fortified town of Heusen in October ‘44. The first grenades fell on Heusden on 28 October and a curfew was imposed. German soldiers came and went and on Saturday morning 4 November the residents of Heusden saw the German soldiers carrying green packages and crates into the town hall. The residents became restless.
On her lap
After half past four in the afternoon, the town once again found itself in the line of fire and, despite the turmoil, a group of roughly 170 residents hid in the cellars of the town hall. Amongst them were Riek van Alphen-Eeuwijk and her four sons Piet, Jan, Joop and Hans. Sister Dora, her husband Jo and daughter Riek also joined them. The stuffy cellars were crowded. Riek took her youngest son Hans on her lap and her other sons stayed close by during the anxious hours of the night of 4 to 5 November 1944.
The first explosion was the Roman Catholic Church, ten minutes later the Reformed Church was blown up. The third explosion in Heusden that night followed at 2.20 a.m.: the town hall’s tower. The whole building collapsed. The 170 people in the basement were helpless; only 30 of them survived the disaster. Riek was one of them, with her dead son Hans on her lap she was rescued from under the rubble.
Her three other sons didn’t survive the disaster either. Sister Dora was rescued but lost both her husband and her daughter that night. Heusden was plunged into deep mourning; 134 innocent people became victims of the murderous German regime. Just a few hours after the disaster, Scottish liberators arrived in the town to help recover and bury the victims.
Father Wim van Alphen, who stayed behind in Eindhoven, heard the sad news about the death of his four sons from the priest. Riek then travelled to Eindhoven on her own. Her children stayed behind in the cemetery in Heusden. Mother Riek struggled with this and the couple did everything in their power to bring the bodies of the four boys to Eindhoven. It was only after a personal letter to Queen Wilhelmina that they received permission and thus the boys were dug up in Heusden on 5 July 1945 and reburied in the Sint Theresia churchyard in Eindhoven on 9 July.
A monument of Charles Eyck was placed by the grave. “My father identified his sons when they were dug up; they were quickly recognised by their clothes. My mother used my father’s worn uniforms to sow new clothes for her children”. Sad as the burial was, Riek soon became pregnant after that day and in March 1946 a boy was born, Hans. Four years later his little sister Marianne followed. Together they formed the second Van Alphen family.
“I was always compared to the other Hans”, said Hans van Alphen. His other names, Piet, Jan and Joop, were also daily reminders of the four brothers he never knew. “It seemed inevitable that my mother was psychically damaged, and she was always sickly. When I was young, we used to visit the little monument at the Sint Theresia churchyard in Eindhoven every Sunday. My mother would cry by my brothers’ grave. There is even a photograph of me beside the grave of my brothers. ‘The boy beside the grave’ is what I always called the picture”.
Hans van Alphen next to the grave of his four brothers.
(Image: private collection of Hans van Alphen, n.d.)