Beekvliet hostage camp

Birgit Barten

On 4 May 1942, 460 prominent Dutch citizens were arrested. They included politicians, professors, clerics, musicians, lawyers and writers, who were taken hostage by the Germans to help them tighten their grip on the Dutch resistance. One of the youngest hostages was Piet Sanders from Schiedam. ‘It was a complete surprise, I opened the door to them myself.’ The lawyer was arrested unsuspectingly and taken to the minor seminary in Beekvliet near Sint-Michelsgestel.

On arrival, Piet heard the famous Dutch writer Willem Asselbergs (Anton van Duinkerken) telling the other prominent hostages an engaging story about the province of Brabant. Together, they were held in a majestic building in the forests in what seemed like a forced ‘rotary club’ with tennis and courses, in fact everyone was free to do whatever they wanted. The only problem was that ‘You’d been hauled away from your home and had no idea what would happen.’

Farewell letter

A large black cloud hung over the relative luxury and that cloud burst on 7 August 1942 when a bomb, planted by the Rotterdam resistance, exploded on a train being operated by the German army. Although the attack failed, it enraged the Germans and they announced that the perpetrators would surrender themselves before 14 August or there would be reprisals. 25 of the hostages from the ‘camp’ were chosen immediately, Piet Sanders was one of them. He began to write a farewell letter to his wife. The following three days he lived with the constant thought that any one of them could well be his last.

During the night of 14 August, Piet Sanders was awoken by a bright light. ‘One of the soldiers was shining a torch right into my face. Then it started to move away and at that point I knew ‘it’s not me’. The solider chose at random. He shone the hostages in the face while he walked along the ends of the beds. But who would he choose? The soldier came to rest next to Schimmelpenninck, and he was taken away together with four other hostages.’ Early in the morning of 15 August, the five men were executed: Christoffel Bennekers, Alexander Baron Schimmelpenninck van der Oije, Robert Baelde, Willem Ruijs and Otto Ernst Gelder, the Count of Limburg Stirum. A remembrance takes place at the execution site in the Goirle forests ever year.

Sanders as secretary of state

Sanders organised the activities in the camp devotedly, something which did not go unnoticed, and he caught the attention of fellow hostage and chairman of the camp authority, Professor Willem Schermerhorn, a cartographer. After the liberation, Schermerhorn was invited by the Queen to become the Prime Minister of the Netherlands. He agreed, but on the condition that Piet Sanders could be his secretary of state for General Affairs. And so he was. But it did not stop there, and in fact there was so much work during the post-war reconstruction, that Piet Sanders also became the secretary of the Council of Ministers.

Hier toelichting op foto’s