Tjeu Cornet

During the occupation, hundreds of Dutch police officers actively served the German cause as members of the NSB, Rechtsfront or German SS. The assiduous, brutal nature with which these Jew hunters went about their work was unprecedented. Piet Gerrits was one of them. A Tilburg police officer and agent of the German Sicherheitsdienst (Security Service), resistance fighters were eager to get their hands on him and he on them.

Before the war, Piet Gerrits (born 1896) was a sergeant with the Tilburg police force. Following the German invasion he was openly a member of the National Socialist Movement in the Netherlands (NSB). As a police officer, he was known to ignore the authority of his superiors — ‘They’re a bunch of losers.’ He demonstrated the best way to hunt down Jews — rough and ruthless. Through his misconduct and systematic sexual abuse of female arrestees, he became a nuisance to his colleagues and the Security Service itself.

Gerrits had long wanted to overthrow the resistance in Tilburg but the right opportunity never came along. Until January 1944, when Gerrits arrested a Jewish couple who he believed had falsified identity documents. And he was right. Their documents had been made by an official working for the resistance. While Gerrits was carrying out his investigations, the resistance was planning its attack on him. Two comrades were flown in from Amsterdam. The fatal shot was to be fired by a Tilburg police officer, a colleague of Piet Gerrits.

On 24 January 1944, once the curfew had started, Piet Gerrits was lured from his apartment, having been told that the arrested couple wanted to make a statement. Six resistance fighters had been posted around the junction of Nieuwlandstraat, Tuinstraat, Stationsstraat, Noordstraat and Korte Schijfstraat, with the gunman positioned in the porch of the local pharmacy, ‘De Medicijnman’. This was the exact route that Gerrits took every day en route from his home to the police station. All they had to do was wait and put the assassination plan into action.

Piet Gerrits did leave his apartment, but slightly earlier than expected and rather than take his usual route, took a detour, entering Nieuwlandstraat from the other end. Why? Betrayal, from the inside — Piet Gerrits knew of the planned attack and was prepared. Gerrits saw one of the men ahead of him on a bicycle and arrested him immediately for breaking the curfew. The others fled and went into hiding.

During the course of 1944, the members of the resistance group were arrested one by one and condemned to death. The betrayer was sentenced to fifteen years imprisonment. On 26 May 1944 at 4.30 in the morning, the six members of the Tilburg resistance group were shot in the Loonse and Drunense Dunes national park, along with eight others from Bergen op Zoom. Brabant was liberated five months later. The area has since been scoured but to this day, the graves have never been found.

After liberation, the actions of Dutch police officers during the war were investigated and a file prepared detailing the crimes of 230 agents who were jointly responsible for the arrest and death of some 4800 Jews. Gerrits was a fanatical contributor. Following the surrender, he was spotted in Winschoten and condemned to death by the court in Den Bosch. He was executed in Vught on 29 May 1947.


Piet Gerrits

(Image: Tilburg.nl archive, undated)