THE DOG’S DROPPINGS
In the coal chambers at the church, next to the Biemans family home in Bergeijk
Marlon van den Bergh
The brutal violence of war didn’t touch everything. Often the children were able to play without a care. For them, the war was a great adventure, every day there was something to do.
Next to the church in Bergeijk, for example, was where the Biemans family lived with their seven children. Life simply went on. Mother Lien took care of the food every day and managed the housework. In the evening she did the laundry. Father Johan senior worked as a gardener for the priests, where he also maintained the heating. Every evening he made sure that the heating in the church’s boiler room was on. He then took his wife’s laundry with him to dry in the room. Every morning, before sunrise, father picked up the dry laundry.
The eldest son, the ten year old Johan Biemans, was very attentive, he thought everything about the war was terribly interesting. He noticed that when all the children were lying in bed, his parents and neighbours would secretly listen to Radio Orange from a radio hidden in the henhouse. His father was very secretive about it, and when Johan went looking for answers to his questions, he often got the same answer. “I’ll take that with me to my grave” said his father. That gave Johan the idea that much more was going on.
When evening fell, it was time for father to start to work on the heating again. The clean laundry was ready to be taken along. Johan thought there was a lot of coordination between them about that laundry. But the whole family’s laundry was so heavy that day that mother asked Johan to lend a hand. Together with his father, Johan walked through the darkness across the cemetery to the boiler room behind the church. They opened the door, went inside and put the heavy laundry basket on the floor. When the light came on, Johan saw to his surprise a few large piles of faeces lying on the mountain of coal dust.
‘How’s that possible? Who would do such a thing? And in the church?’ Johan asked confusedly. His father replied, ‘It was the sexton’s dog.’ That’s not possible, thought Johan. He knew all the dogs in Bergeijk and the sexton didn’t have one. But before Johan could ask any more questions about the origin of these stray droppings, his father took a shovel and threw them into the boiler along with some coal dust. ‘What’s going on here?’ thought Johan.
It was much later that Johan discovered the laundry and the heating in the boiler room were a set up by his father and mother. Father did not just go to church to turn on the heat, he was with the underground and had people there in hiding. His mother purposely prepared laundry for him every evening as a cover for the people in hiding. If father didn’t come back the next morning to collect the laundry, the people in hiding knew that it wasn’t safe and that there was a risk of raids.
It was only after the war that Johan dared to ask his father why the piles of faeces were lying there. His father told him that he had to come up with something to hide the fact that they were actually from the people in hiding. ‘It was a couple of idiots, they should’ve just scooped some grit over it themselves, then no one would ever have seen anything lying there,’ said his father
Johan always kept his father’s secret, even many years after the war. Starting in 1989, Johan himself set off with his recorder in Bergeijk to collect the personal war stories from all the residents. He also unraveled many mysteries surrounding the plane crashes in the Bergeijk area during the war. At the age of 85, he is still busy studying what happened back then
The Biemans family in 1944, just after liberation. Johan is wearing the dark suit.
Image: private collection of Johan Biemans, 1944)