Irene van Kemenade
The forest ranger’s house on the Vloeiweide Estate (Rijsbergen)

Radio Orange, 5 September 1944. With the message that: ‘The hour of liberation has struck’, Prime Minister Gerbrandy set in motion the wheels of the Ordedienst (Public Order Agency) in the Netherlands. This section of the Dutch resistance was set up to help the liberators. Now the Allied troops appeared to be approaching so fast, the Ordedienst got itself prepared.

Anticipating the liberation

A local department of the Ordedienst had found shelter in the forest ranger’s house on the Vloeiweide Estate near Rijsbergen. Hidden deep within the forest the house belonging to Ernest and Maria Neefs-Koijen provided a perfect refuge for those in hiding and the members of the Ordedienst. Fully aware of the enormous risks, ‘Moederke’ Neefs (Mother Neefs), as she was known colloquially, offered shelter to the resistance. Maria considered it to be her normal Christian duty. Furthermore, she wanted to give something back, because it was thanks to the resistance that her 18-year-old son Emile had avoided the Arbeitseinsatz (labour camps).

Under the command of Paul Windhausen, the forest ranger’s house was immediately set up as a radio post from where four radio operators transmitted messages about the German positions. Unfortunately, the so desperately desired liberation did not come within hours or days as anticipated but took weeks to happen. With every new day, the risk of being discovered or betrayed grew for the 16 temporary residents of the Vloeiweide (radio operators, those in hiding, and a group of guards). Retreating German soldiers criss-crossed the area and the Feldgendarmerie (Field Police) patrolled there. The post was eventually betrayed by Lodewijk de Coster, a Fleming working for the Germans.

Betrayal of the radio post

In the early morning of 5 October 1944, a German military unit, under the command of Lieutenant Kurt Steinmeier, surrounded the forest ranger’s house. Two machine guns were positioned a couple of hundred metres from the house. At half-past five the attack advanced through the kitchen door. The residents of the house were not going to give up without a fight. Shots were fired back and forth and hand grenades were thrown. Commander Paul Windhausen asked the Germans to give Moederke Neefs and her children free passage. He was promptly mortally wounded. The same fate followed for Maria’s son, Emile. Maria Neefs, with 7 of her 8 children, then sought cover in the cellar. A savage assault on the house followed.

Senseless victims

At the end of a chaotic morning, it became apparent that 12 people had met their end, of which three on the German side and five from the Ordedienst. The remaining eight members of the Ordedienst were executed by a firing squad the next day. The Neefs family also paid a high price: Maria and three of her children, Emiel (18), Rietje (16) and Correke (4), did not survive the drama. A few weeks later, on 28 October 1944, the Rijsbergen was liberated by the 104th American Infantry Division.


Recorded in the collective memory

As a result of the drama a monument has been erected both on the Vloeiweide Estate and on the nearby Schietheide (execution site). Breda had previously honoured the heroic Maria with the Maria Koijenhof (a courtyard garden). Rijsbergen (Municipality of  Zundert) followed almost 75 years after the event by naming two streets after Maria and her husband in a residential area that was to be built.


The Neefs family in 1934 (Image: Rinie Maas, ‘Het verbeten verzet op de Vloeiweide’ (The stubborn resistance on the Vloeiweide)).