Hadewijch Zwart
Beelsstraat, Helmond (Sobriëtas building)

Stories went around about Winando even before the war. The man, whose real name was Henk van Heusen, said he had many gifts, including an ability to predict the future. For the illusionist, uncertain times were golden times. The war ripped families and loved ones apart. Relatives left behind could do nothing except wait and hold on to every little piece of hope.


That was also true for Maria (Mietje) van der Kuijlen from Helmond, wife of Josef (Sjef) Meulendijks and mother to two young children. Sjef worked hard as a weaver to try to make ends meet for his family. The occupation made things even more difficult for Sjef. Although the forced labour rules only came into force in March 1942, he, like many other workers living close to the border, had to leave for Germany much earlier because work was plentiful there. From there, they sent money home to their families. The working conditions were poor. When Sjef and his colleagues protested by downing tools on 6 January 1943, Sjef was arrested as a ‘strike leader’. He was forced to work in various labour camps until he was finally transported to Ravensbrück in June.

All the while, Mietje was alone. The war didn’t have time for sadness. She dedicated herself to her most important goal: getting her children through the war as safely as she could. Finally, the moment arrived: 25 September 1944: Mietje had survived, and so had her children, but only just. Their condition was so bad that 6 year old Annie was placed in a foster home in Belgium for three months to gain strength. Mietje was happy when Annie returned, but the family still wasn’t complete.


The Amazing Winando

The children could barely remember their father, but their mother Mietje remembered her husband all too well: she kept waiting for any sign of life. All around her, families were being reunited, or lives torn apart for good with shattering news. Mietje was fed up with the silence.

On 23 October 1945, she saw an advert in the Helmondsche Courant newspaper for a guest performance of the amazing ‘Winando’ – with the added attraction of a chance to ask questions. She took the chance and headed to the Sobriëtas building in Helmond. She was sceptical, until Winando addressed her. Without Mietje saying a word, he knew that Sjef was in Ravensbrück, but that’s not all. “He’ll come home in the spring!” Winando predicted.

Elated, Mietje rushed home. He’s coming back! Spring arrived. Full of hope, Mietje worked on her beloved garden. It must look good, when Sjef arrives home! Spring turned into summer and then into autumn. At the end of 1946, Mietje finally got a letter from the Red Cross. She opened the envelope with shaking hands. “Dear Mrs Meulendijks….” her eyes flew over the sentences until she arrived at the dreaded message. Sjef Meulendijks had died on 1 September 1944 in Ravensbrück.


Expectation in the spring

Despite the facts, Mietje couldn’t let Winando’s words go. Something told her that Sjef would be by her side again one day. For almost thirty years, Mietje waited in vain for his return. Every spring her hopes were raised, and she’d make sure that the house and garden were perfect ready for her husband to return. Every summer, Mietje lost her husband all over again.

On 24 October 1971, Mietje visited her daughter-in-law. She told her about her premonition that Sjef would come home really soon. A day later she died, exactly 26 years after the prediction. Almost 75 years after the prediction, Mietje’s son and daughter don’t have a good word for Winando. They ask themselves: would no hope have been worse than false hope?


Mietje van der Kuijlen (left) waited for years for the return of her husband Sjef Meulendijks (right) 

Source: Theo Meulendijks

More stories by this theme