Eric Alink

There must have been a deadly silence in the changing rooms of the PAZO football club on 2 May 1940. Teammates  Koos and Alfred were probably also staring at the ground. There had seldom been such a crushing defeat, losing 0-8 to the Tilburg SET team. What’s more it was at their own grounds in Oisterwijk! But revenge was delayed, eight days after the changing room humiliation, war broke out. Not inside Dutch football lines, but beyond them

The teammates were twenty years old. Koos Diepens came from a catholic family with ten children in Oisterwijk. The protestant Alfred Wolter had German origins. In 1928 the family had emigrated from Neumünster to Oisterwijk. Father Fritz started work at the Koninklijke Lederfabrieken (Royal Leather Factory) in Oisterwijk.

Koos and Alfred got to know each other after primary school. Their friendship went way beyond nationality, religion or ideology. Another thing that brought them together: Alfred’s courtship with Zus Diepens, one of Koos’ sisters. They were also members of the same PAZO football team, the workers’ football club that was associated with the Paijmans and Sons shoe factory. They swirled around the pitch in yellow and green. They each saw danger approaching. Except the danger of that double offside trap that was to come.

It was March 1941 when one day there was a letter for Alfred Wolter: It was a call-up, the German national had to sign up for the Wehrmacht. Reluctantly Alfred left. Would he ever see his mother again, who for two years had sheltered two Jewish lodgers in the Wolter house? Would his father, who sometimes walked around in Nazi uniform, continue to place more worth on the lodgers’ money than on  his sympathy for national socialism? Would Alfred ever touch Zus’ lips again? And would he ever celebrate victory with Koos again? The score was 1 – 0 for evil.

Two years later Koos was also caught in an offside trap. He was forced into compulsory labour in Germany, together with his brother Theo. Their train left for Cologne in January 1943. On the way they were given tuber soup and suffered from food poisoning. Their destination was the Thyssen foundry in Duisburg.

From new steel to pockmarked steel: seventeen hundred kilometres further on the battle of Leningrad was raging. Alfred suffered back and leg injuries and was allowed to return to the Netherlands in the spring of 1943. What an opportunity! In Breda hospital Alfred and Zus – their lips still speaking the same language – tried to persuade the doctor to slow down the recovery, but in vain. Alfred had to return to the eastern front.

In Duisburg Koos had also not forgotten the old football saying ‘always look for openings’. He was given leave of absence every three months, but after a visit to his grandparents’ golden wedding in June 1943 he decided never to return to Germany. Brother Theo did likewise. But their liberty was short-lived. After being arrested and serving six weeks hard labour in the camp in Amersfoort, they had to go back to Duisburg. At the start of 1945 Koos and Theo saw their chance to set off again. Homewards!

They reached Oisterwijk. But Koos did not play football after the war. He didn’t want to any more, now that Alfred had been missing for years. So no football awards in the Diepens household. Instead, there were the little earthenware pots from Russia that Alfred had sent to his fiancée. Zus Diepens would cherish them for a long time.

Koos Diepens and Alfred Wolter’s football team
Source: van den Oord, A. (2012) Gestolen Jeugd (Stolen Youth). In Brabant – Number 2 April 2012