A TREACHEROUS MURDER
Erwin Michael Joseph – always known as Michael – was Jewish. He was the only child (1925) of Kurt Joseph and Elli Glogau from Berlin. Early in the 1930s his father committed suicide. A couple of years later Jewish persecution began in Germany. Elli and Michael looked for suitable shelter in Amsterdam as a way of avoiding fate.
In 1937 Elli remarried to Heinz Graumann, a former friend from Berlin who had also fled Germany. The future seemed bright for a short time, but then war broke out and the Nazis also carried out their witch hunt for Jews in the Netherlands. The Graumanns went on the run again. Michael Joseph was 16 at the time and the family came into contact with people smugglers. They promised to transport the Graumanns to Switzerland. The price: 10,000 guilders. They must pay a deposit of 6000 guilders for the first part of the journey.
The Graumanns were joined by a German Jewish family with a nine year old son. After a secret journey to Brabant, the six of them were housed temporarily in a bathhouse in Brandsma’s wood in Vlierden.
This is where José Peerbooms turned up; the ‘Don José’ of the Peel land resistance. He and Brandhorst said they had arranged for a tanker which would take the refugees across the Dutch-Belgian border. After a week the transport was still not there.
For fear of being discovered ‘the Jew helpers’ decided on another way to get rid of their refugees. Brandhorst purchased an iron hammer and together with Peerbooms he dug a deep pit further away in the woods. The two told the refugees that they would be able to move on to another hiding place one by one. On Wednesday evening 16 September 1942 they collected Michael Joseph as the first one.
They asked Michael to sit by a ditch close to the Bikkels park. Spurred on by Peerbooms, Brandhorst knocked the life out of the boy with one blow of his hammer. Possibly Michael did not even feel what happened to him. When his ‘rescuers’ were certain that he was dead, they buried the boy in the pit. Michael’s brown suitcase remained behind in the bushes.
Shortly afterwards, Brandhorst and Peerbooms learned that a farmer in the Voorpeel in Zeilberg could still take in fugitives. At the farmhouse the remaining refugees moved into a chicken shed. They then heard that Michael has been murdered.
Totally shattered, they lived on the farm until the end of the war. But this tragedy was crying out for reprisal. While the war was still raging, José Peerbooms was liquidated by the Peel land resistance. Henk Brandhorst was sentenced to six years imprisonment at his trial in 1946
And the others?
- Erwin Michael Joseph was given a permanent grave in 1945 in the protestant cemetery in Deurne, bearing the inscription. ‘Murdered by the people who promised him safety.’
- Elli Graumann committed suicide shortly after the war.
- Heinz Graumann remarried and moved to America.
- The 9 year old son of the German Jewish family that had joined the Graumann family lost his father through a heart attack at the end of the war. He emigrated to America with his mother.
- Michael Joseph’s grave was threatened with being cleared in 1994. Ed van de Kerkhof, a journalist on the Eindhovens Dagblad newspaper living in Deurne wrote a poignant report about it.
- Michael’s senseless death once again awakened feelings of horror in many; the grave remained and various books were written about the drama.
- Many years later Michael’s suitcase turned up, it had been kept all that time by local residents.
- Barely 500 metres from the spot where the boy was murdered, this gem ended up in a small private museum belonging to Wils Verberne (1997) who at that time was the same age that Michael had been then!
The Amsterdam fugitives placed this advertisement in the Helmondsch Dagblad newspaper on 29 November 1944.
(Image: Helmondsch Dagblad, 1944)