ONE FOR ALL, ALL FOR ONE
Marlon van den Bergh
Op ’t Hout in Geldrop, in the extension of the Bogardeind street.
The Derks family, comprising sixteen children, eight boys and eight girls, lived in ’t Hout in the town of Geldrop. The family was not well off and the sons sold potatoes to make a living. They showed a lot of dislike for the German occupiers during the war. But eighteen year old Riek, one of the daughters , had different feelings as she was in love with a German Feldwebel (sergeant). The fact that he was married with two children did not deter her. Their sister’s behaviour was a point of contention for the brothers Henk (35), Gerard (24), Theo (?) and Christ (22).
A cold winter’s night
The night of 2 February 1942 was very cold, as it had been the previous month, and the residents of Geldrop were up to their knees in snow. The Derks family were settling down for the night, and when Gerard came home blind drunk and wanted to close up, his mother told him to wait. Gerard angrily picked up a bread knife in the kitchen and went out. “She’s hanging around somewhere with those Jerries”. He walked to the door with the knife. A cold wind blew in as Gerard closed the door behind him. Mother stayed behind, anxiously, but Christ understood his brother’s anger all too well.
Riek and her lover went with other German Soldiers to the IJzeren Man gravel pits in the woods just outside the village. Not long after Gerard arrived, large red patches covered the snow. The bread knife had made deep wounds in the German sergeant’s body and he died on the spot. Footprints in the snow next to the pools of blood confirmed that the other soldiers had run away. An act of cowardice, as it was later judged by the Germans, but Gerard’s deed did not go unpunished.
A heroic proposal
That same February night the Germans surrounded the Derks family’s house. Riek had informed the Germans and let her own family be detained. At the time, father, mother, Henk, Gerard, Theo, Christ and one of the sisters were at home, and all were taken to the police station except mother. She stayed home by herself. Everyone was interrogated at the police station. Father and sister were released after they had convinced the Germans that they were innocent. Gerard pleaded guilty but the German police did not believe that it was the work of just one person. The four brothers were detained at the German airbase of Welschap in Eindhoven.
“Death by firing squad for all four, for the murder of a soldier of the Third Reich,” was the verdict. The brothers had just a few minutes together. Henk, the oldest of the four, came up with a heroic proposal. “If I also confess, you two might stay alive,” he said to Christ and Theo.
They were all taken to the prison in Amsterdam. The official declaration of the forthcoming execution of the four brothers also hung on the cell doors. Every time the door opened, Christ thought that his time had come. On 10 February Christ and Theo received the news that their death sentence had been reduced to 10 years in prison. Then came the sickening news that on 8 February Gerard and Henk had been executed. That heroic decision by Henk had saved the lives of his two brothers.
Christ and Theo were sent to Siegburg prison. They did not have much time to deal with their enormous grief, they had to get to work at once. Riek, who for her own safety had been moved to a children’s home outside the village, visited on two occasions to ask for forgiveness, but the brothers would have nothing to do with her. After two and a half years the brothers were moved to Camp Eberstadt, and from there they ended up in Ebrach. Living conditions were harsh in the camps. The brothers were finally taken to Camp Bernau, close to Berlin. They were so weak they couldn’t do anything. When the Americans and the French liberated the camp in 1945, Christ weighed just 37kg.
After a journey lasting one month, Christ and Theo returned home. The family had no idea that the brothers were still alive. It took both brothers almost a year to regain their strength, and they wanted nothing to do with their sister Riek. When the family was busy arranging the sister’s return from the children’s home, Christ declined to sign the necessary papers. All members of the family had to sign, without their signatures Riek could not visit the home. Christ eventually signed it for his mother’s sake, but on the day that Riek came back, Christ was not at home. He could not bear to be face to face with his sister, whom he held responsible for all their misery. Things were difficult for Christ for a long time after the war; he died in 2015 at the age of 95.