WHAT YOU DON’T SEE ON AN X-RAY
They were German according to their paperwork. in the 1930s they lived on the Wolvenhoek across the road from the tax office in Den Bosch (‘s-Hertogenbosch). Life was simple then, the only things to worry you were the tax return or soot in your chimney. The War seemed a long way away.
Family Schute had arrived in Den Bosch as long ago as the nineteenth century. Their roots: Lower Saxony. Gerhard Heinrich Schute, the father, operated a flourishing wholesale business in leather goods in the Brabant capital. But death was staring him in the face. His German wife Maria died giving birth to their fourth child Hein, she was just 35 years old. Eventually he married Anna, who was also German. She also provided him with four children.
Hein is almost ninety but has a memory of steel. He relates his family history from his dining room table in Den Bosch. He was never able to do that, it was too painful. Now he’s doing it for his children and grandchildren.
When war broke out the Schutte family realised they had an unusual blood line. The red, white and blue of the Dutch flag flowed through their veins, but also the black and yellow of the German flag. Father Schute had never had the family naturalised. Red tape, an expensive procedure. A fatal negligence, as he was about to discover.
A letter arrived in the summer of 1940. The message to Geert Schute, Hein’s older brother was crystal clear. He had to report to the Wehrmacht. The Schulte family were dismayed, they had been residents of Den Bosch for fifty years. They never spoke German at home and their hearts were in Brabant. But officialdom does not take loyalty into account. As father Schute had never applied for naturalisation, they were recorded as being German citizens. So the road ahead for Geert, an accomplished student of road and hydraulic engineering in Delft, suddenly took a step eastwards.
In the winter of 1941 or possibly 1942 – the memory sometimes melts like snow – Geert came home on short leave. He sat for nights in front of an open window in Den Bosch. He was hoping for the mercy of pneumonia, but that mercy did not happen. He took his leave for the second time.
For ever? Hein vividly remembers the day in 1944 when his sister called him out of his high school class. He had to go home immediately. Hein saw an open box containing several bits and pieces on the table. They were Geert’s. A letter informed them that he had been killed in Dnjepropetrowsk on 3 February 1944. He was 21 years old. Father Schute was in floods of tears. My fault, completely my fault he cried out in his perfect Dutch accent.
Eight months later the Schute family celebrated the liberation of Den Bosch. They had followed with their neighbours the advances of the allied troops on their radio, which because they were German citizens had not been confiscated. They were finally free, they no longer had the shameful obligation to fly the German flag occasionally. But although the Schute household displayed the Dutch national colour of orange, they still had one major problem: their past identity.
In those crazy days of May, the anti-German Ordedienst detained the family. Hein, now 17 was under arrest for several days. His father and sister Annie were, to their dismay, detained in Kamp Vucht for several months. Father died in 1948. The cause of death? Guilt, regret and grief do not show up in an X-ray.
Hein remained silent; a kind, gentle man. His lesson to his children: be good to others. The German grammar rules he had to learn at school are fading, but the need for silence is fading too. Finally Hein Schute has told his story.
Geert Schute (Image: private collection family Schute, z.j)