THE SAVIOUR OF THE LANGSTRAAT
Elias van der Plicht
The farm of the Koekkoek family in Dussen.
He was so happy and relieved. On Monday 30 October 1944, Sprang-Capelle, the place where 21-year old Jan Hendrik de Rooij was born and lived was liberated. Three days earlier, Jan had seen the Allies arrive in Tilburg, fifteen kilometres to the south. It was in Tilburg that he’d gone into hiding, having refused to work any longer in a shoe factory in Germany – he’d been ordered to work there under the forced labour rules of the occupation. The arrival of the Allies meant an end to the yoke that he and his loved ones had lived under for so long.
Someone has to step up
But although Jan was able to enjoy freedom in the place where he was born, just a couple of kilometres further north, the German occupation was still underway. There, in the area around Heusden and Altena, on the other side of the River Maas, the Wehrmacht eventually assembled 16,000 soldiers, with the apparent aim of forcing a way from there through to the harbour at Antwerp. Members of the André Group, an underground movement from Sprang-Capelle, which Jan had been part of while he’d been in hiding, decided that they needed to head to the other side of the River Maas with a radio transmitter so they could send information about German activity in the north of Brabant back to the Group. Jan volunteered himself. He told his mother about his intention to cross the water: someone had to step up, and it might as well be him. He didn’t yet have a family or a sweetheart.
A great deed
On 4th December Jan was in Dussen, a village on the other side of the River Maas. He ended up at the farm of the Koekkoek family, where to the outside world he pretended to be a servant, while in fact, for three weeks he’d send regular messages back to the André Group about German troop movement from a hiding place in the attic of one of the barns. Jan made a promise to the family: that if anything went wrong, he’d take all of the blame.
And things did go wrong. On 22nd December, the occupying forces attacked the farm where Jan was staying. The Koekkoek family and a passing visitor were threatened with being shot. It seemed that Jan would be able to get away though, as he wasn’t at the farm at the time the soldiers arrived. When he did arrive, he was told what had happened by a few people who had seen everything that had gone on. An eye witness said: “We warned him not to go back to the farm. But Jan went anyway. He freely surrendered to the Germans, knowing what the consequences would be. He had made a promise to the family, and he wanted to fulfil it: if the radio transmitter was found, he’d take the blame.”
Jan was arrested and transferred to Amsterdam. There, he was shot by firing squad on 6th January 1945. When his mother heard that her son had been killed, she said “Then he must have done a great deed.”
A few months later, a young man arrived at the home of the De Rooij family. He’d been one of Jan’s cellmates, and he’d come to give Jan’s parents a few final words from him. “Don’t mourn me”, Jan had said. “Everything’s fine, I’m going to a better home”.
On 7 July 1945, Jan was reinterred at the reformed church in Sprang-Capelle. He was later posthumously awarded the Bronze Lion for the incredible courage he’d shown. By then he was already known as the saviour of the Langstraat. Stories about Jan have grown to mythical proportions. Some say that he was dragged behind a car to the capital city, and tortured there for a long period. Jan is a hero.
Jan de Rooij
(Image: © Heemkunde Sprang Capelle)