BY TRAIN TOWARDS A BETTER LIFE
Oss Station / Markt 25, ’s-Hertogenbosch
Some Dutch people fought in the German army: it’s estimated there were about 22,000 during the Second World War. These Dutchmen reported voluntarily for the German Waffen-SS. The Waffen-SS fought in places including the Eastern Front: about 6000 Dutch soldiers did not survive.
Hendrik Hoeks, 22 years old, lived in the village of Berghem. He was the oldest of nine children and his father was a workman. The family lived on the Kattenhoek in the hamlet of Duurens-eind. Hendrik was known as a go-getter, someone who wanted to get on in the world. So he travelled to Luxembourg with a friend to work hard on a farm. But by 1942 it was not clear to Hendrik what the next step should be. The girl he loved was on the verge of marrying someone else. It was difficult to find work. What should he do with his life?
In spring 1942 the Waffen-SS was signing up new recruits throughout the Netherlands. Anyone fighting on the Eastern Front, so the stories went, would have the chance after the war to get a farmhouse and a piece of land. Hendrik took this to heart; Germany had achieved a lot in recent years. Who knows, maybe the German army really could offer the chance of a better life. On Wednesday 22 April 1942, a sunny day, Hendrik put on his best suit. His mother noticed it: ‘Where are you going dressed so smartly?’ But Hendrik did not tell his mother. Together with his friend he took the train to ‘s-Hertogenbosch.
Hendrik and his friend reported to Hotel Brabant on Markt 25. There they were both inspected from head to toe and were declared suitable. Hendrik signed up at the end of the inspection. He was signing up for the Waffen-SS, he was going to fight on the Eastern Front. There was no way back. When he got home he told his parents. They were furious, how could their son do such a thing? His younger brother Leo was also furious at Hendrik’s decision.
But what has been signed remains signed. After a fierce argument Hendrik took the train a couple of weeks later to Klagenfurt in Austria, where he would undergo training. His parents phoned the mayor of Berghem and even the mayors of Ravestein and Oss – maybe they could stop the train and escort Hendrik off it? But it was in vain and after his training Hendrik ended up in the Caucasus in 1943. He went back home just once on leave in July 1943, and again there was an argument. On his last night in Berghem, Hendrik stayed not with his parents but with a friend who had just had a baby. ‘When I get back, your son will be walking’, Hendrik said as he looked at the infant. Then he got back on the train.
On 14 August 1943 Hendrik was killed on the Eastern Front after being wounded in the head: the death certificate stated Artillerie Geschoss Kopf (Artillery shot to the head). His mother only heard about it six months later. She could not accept the news. ‘Our Hendrik is dead. Our Hendrik is dead.’ Hendrik’s younger brother Jan can still remember it. The youngest brother Roelof, born in 1942, remembers nothing of his brother. Hendrik’s name was never mentioned – it was too painful. Roelof only discovered what had happened to his older brother many decades later. He then went by train to see where Hendrik had been.
(Image: Family Hoek private collection, undated)