Nieuwstraat, Demer, Prins Hendrikstraat, Eindhoven

Laurie Wolffs

Philips was founded in the centre of Eindhoven and developed into one of the largest companies in the Netherlands during the beginning of the 1930s. When the Second World War broke out in the Netherlands, Philips was ordered to produce radio equipment for the Germans. This made the company a target for the Allied forces. On Saturday 5 December 1942, the children in Eindhoven followed tradition and put their shoe out before they went to sleep, in the hope that Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas) would leave something behind. The next morning 100 bombers took off from Britain with one single goal: eliminating Philips.

Jos Coppen was six years old and lived in the Nieuwstraat, in the centre of Eindhoven, above his parents’ bakery. When Jos woke up on Sinterklaas morning, he immediately ran to his shoe, which he put by the fire place the night before together with his little sister.

‘The best surprise was a small billiard table with real ivory balls. I have no idea where my parents found such a present in that time, but I was extremely happy with it’. It was a festive Sinterklaas morning.

Later that morning the family decided to go out. Would they first visit acquaintances who lived on the Demer, the main street in Eindhoven, or would they go to grandma instead, who lived close by? On the street corner they decided to first visit grandma.

As soon as they arrived at grandma’s house, they heard an unexpected but deafening noise. The family hid under the table. Then a policeman knocked on the door and ordered them to leave the house. The family found themselves on the street. Jos couldn’t believe his eyes. ‘We were told to run and not look back. When I did, I saw two houses on fire at the end of the street’. A hundred British bombers flew over and dropped their load. Outside, Jos shivered because of the cold and people were running, driven by the sound of a loud siren. They left their home, the city and their memories.

In the months that followed, the ravage in the city centre was cleared. The house of the acquaintances around the corner was completely destroyed. The Demer had changed into a large empty area. ‘I could see the Philips tower from my home. Everything had been destroyed, except for what the British had wanted to destroy.’ Jos and his family evacuated to a neighbouring village and stayed there until the end of the war. When Jos returned to the family home and bakery three years later, the only thing that he found was the three ivory billiard balls, a present from Sinterklaas.

The British bombs were part of a strategical plan but the citizens of Eindhoven became the victims. The acquaintances survived, but their home was completely destroyed. In 1942, roughly 150 people were killed and many lost their homes. The attack is now known as the Sinterklaasbombardement (Saint Nicholas bombing). Philips was damaged but the company recovered within six weeks and carried on as usual. Jos began his career at Philips at age 23. He worked there with great pleasure for 32 years.

The ivory billiard balls that Jos received on Sinterklaas morning
(Image: private collection Jos Coppen, 2018)