THE SQUARE TELLS ITS STORY
Invasion May 1940
Hearts have been chalked on me, but I’ve also been spat on. Many things have been spilt over me: hailstones, beer, confetti. Even shell cartridges, although the war did not scare me away. Because Gemert is in me – and I am in Gemert. I am the Ridderplein (Knight’s Square).
That’s what I have been called since 1953. Before that time they called me the Borretplein (Borret Square). I don’t want to boast but I’m no backstreet place. From the start of the last century I have offered views of stately buildings, including the town hall and the mayor’s villa. The showpiece: Gemert Castle, where the Fathers of the Holy Spirit, sometimes called Spiritines, lived.
The soles of monastery sandals and genteel footwear have passed over me. But so have clogs and working shoes: they found their way to Het Anker brewery, to Café Landman and Frunt’s the saddle maker on this square. I’ve survived hundreds of thousands of passers-by. All their footstep have faded away. Except those of 11 May 1940.
Time stands still
It’s half past seven on a Saturday morning. I’m lying in the sun. The elongated shadows of the houses and trees are familiar to me. Those of the cycling German soldiers with their weapons are not. They are part of the Second Bicycle Squadron. As they cycle into the square they see several military trucks parked in front of the castle gates. The vehicles belong to Commander Fret’s Genie Regiment. His one hundred men were given a place to sleep that night by the fathers.
Soldiers, some of them in overalls, keep watch over the equipment. Suddenly they catch sight of the cycling German soldiers. It’s eye to eye. Auge in Auge. Gunfire starts immediately. In the short burst of shooting that follows the 27-year-old German soldier Emil Hoffman falls to the ground.
Every square is familiar with the blood of children’s scraped knees. But this is something else. Moments later time stands still, Emil Hofmann is dead. His commander is furious and is convinced that a civilian in overalls is the shooter. At his command the armed cyclists search all the houses on the square and in nearby streets. Hundreds of people are arrested in this raid. See them walking: Piet de Rover, pushing his bedridden wife in a wheelbarrow, the pregnant Francisca from Milheeze who is staying temporarily in Gemert, evacuees from Oploo. All the prisoners are rounded up in a half-open vaulted building on the side of the square. It’s the brick bandstand. The sounds of this morning: Fear in A minor.
For hours the Dutch and German soldiers exchange fire. Most of the Dutch soldiers are entrenched in the castle. The Germans take to the houses in the square for cover, the crowd of hostages are trapped between the warring fractions
I hear three deadly shots. A stray Dutch bullet hits the 12-year-old Nico van Vught. Disabled Bert Baggermans alias the Pope is shot without mercy because he does not understand an order in German.
Sergeant Paul van Oostveen dies in the castle after the Germans deploy howitzers and other heavy artillery.
The Dutch commandant Frets van de Genie decides that surrender is the only option. His decision starts hundreds of feet moving: the civilian hostages and fathers are allowed to leave the bandstand. That sound will never die away.
After the war a white granite statue was placed in the Fathers’ garden. Its name is ‘Vredesmaagd’ (Virgin of Peace). On the pedestal are the words ‘Names are people’.
The bandstand was demolished at the beginning of 1967, but I was spared, the Gemert square with the unmistakeable paving stones. Stones that know the meaning of the word suffering.
Hier toelichting op foto’s