A FATAL HAND WAVE IN PRINCENHAGE
Professional soldier Petrus Johannes (‘Piet’) van Gils joined the resistance in 1942, when he began distributing the resistance newspaper Vrij Nederland (Free Netherlands). In early 1943, he joined the newspaper Trouw and started distributing it in West Brabant. Jan van der Laan, a salesclerk from Groningen who was one of the leading propagators of Trouw, was arrested in February 1944. Van Gils had been in regular contact with him, and therefore knew he needed to be careful. Just before he was arrested, Van der Laan urged him to avoid a suspicious address in Princenhage, close to Breda.
On 13 March 1944, Van Gils and his wife Emilie went to visit family in Princenhage. They passed the Oranjelaan and the ‘contaminated’ address. The lady of the house saw Piet and Emilie and waved at them to invite them in. The couple barely entered and the Security Service (SD) burst inside and arrested Van Gils and his wife. Piet was taken to the Police Prison in Haaren. Emilie ended up in the Breda Castle, the building of the Royal Military Academy, which served as an SD office. Two weeks later, Emilie was free.
Piet van Gils lived through terrible times in Haaren. He was interrogated until late into the night; two of the sessions even lasted for 24 hours straight. Piet was also badly beaten: he lost two molars. In the end, he could no longer take it and revealed information. The interrogations stopped, and the long, anxious wait began. In the meantime, more than 30 distributors and printers of Trouw had been arrested in Haaren. It seemed like they would come before a judge in a few weeks, perhaps months. It was certain that there would be death sentences. In July 1944, Hitler stopped the trials of resistance fighters. But Rauter, the head of the SD, insisted on bringing the Trouw case to a judge and Berlin authorised him to do so.
Mientje Proost, the sister-in-law of Piet van Gils, was also in Haaren. She had been arrested almost a year earlier for collaborating with an intelligence organisation. She could see Piet when he was taken to get some fresh air in the courtyard. Sometimes, she was even able to exchange a few words with him. In early August 1944, she no longer saw him. A Flurwärter, a prisoner who distributed meals and polished the floors, reassured Mientje: ‘Piet is being moved, the trial will not take place.’ It seems that wasn’t true. On 5 August 1944, the Trouw men were brought in front of the SS court-martial in Camp Vught. Twenty-four of them, all of them distributors, were sentenced to death. Only one of them was pardoned. The other 23 were executed. Piet van Gils came before the firing squad on 10 August 1944.
Three months later, his widow gave birth to a son, whom she named after his father. The family name has been on a street sign in Zevenbergschen Hoek since 1976. Until 1997, the village was part of the Zevenbergen municipality, the birthplace of Piet van Gils, who was killed because of a hand wave on a street in Princenhage.
Piet van Gils
Source: Camp Vught National Monument