THE GERMAN BATH ATTENDANT AND THE BOOK SHOP
1933. The year that Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany and the Nazis came to power. In that same year the German Paula Pottgiesser from Borken in Westphalia married Arnold van den Hoogenhoff from Veghel. Arnold was the owner of the unremarkable bookshop ‘Arnold’s Books’ in the Molenstraat in Veghel. The determined Paula quickly found a job as bath attendant in the Veghel municipal swimming pool where she was known as the Pool Lady.
Meanwhile the Jewish population in Paula’s home country was being rounded up. During Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass) in November 1938, Paula’s brother was an eye witness to the terror inflicted upon Jews in the village of Gemen. Appalled by these events he decided to help his Jewish compatriots. He smuggled them over the border near Winterswijk, from where others would help them. These included Paula and Arnold who sheltered the Jewish refugees in their house.
10 May 1940. The German army invaded the Netherlands. Right at that moment Paula and Arnold were offering refuge to a Jewish couple. They decided to continue and confided in a priest from Uden who was living as an evacuee in Veghel. He decided, his heart full of fear, to help them. A Veghel Resistance had come into existence.
More and more refugees reported to Albert’s bookshop. They were brought to the shop by members of the resistance where they pretended to be looking at books as though they were a customer. When the coast was clear Arnold quickly took them up to the attic. A statue of a gnome was placed between the books in the shop window; this was a signal for the priest that a safe house must be found.
Meanwhile Paula kept up appearances to the world at large. She received German soldiers in her kitchen to chat with them in German, play chess or cards and drink Bonenkaffee (ground coffee) with them. One floor above, in the attic, there was a printing press for falsifying identity documents and hiding Jews who needed to be taken to other places. A nerve-racking situation that would only come to an end after the liberation of Veghel on 17 September 1944.
Could the ‘bath attendant’ be trusted?
The seemingly close contact between Paula and the occupying forces resulted in strange reactions from the people of Veghel during and after the war. But few of Veghel’s residents knew about the underground activities of the Van Hoogenhoffs, and some of them felt after the liberation that they were unjustifiably portrayed as resistance fighters. Only after the evidence of those in hiding and the host families slowly emerged was it clear to the outside world what had taken place in Arnold’s bookshop: 20 Jewish children and 15 adults survived the war thanks to Paula and Arnold’s underground network.
Arnold’s bookshop stayed open until 1971, after which the unassuming building was demolished. For many years Paula was a familiar figure as the bath attendant in the municipal swimming pool. In 1984 Paula Pottgiesser and her husband were awarded the resistance memorial cross for their heroic deeds.
Part of the identity card of Paula Pottgiesser (Image: Heemkundekring Veghele, z.j.)