I’VE HIDDEN YOUR FATHER UNDER THE FLOOR
Marlon van den Bergh
Frankrijkstraat 40, Eindhoven
During the war, the Sicherheitsdienst (Security Service or SD) hunted down state enemies, a group that included Jews, communists and resistance fighters. The SD was founded by the German Nazi party, the NSDAP, as part of the SS. Some people tried to escape these investigations by fleeing to neutral territory or by hiding. Others didn’t take such precautions and lived with the great danger of being caught.
In 1937, the Bruining family moved to Frankrijkstraat 40 in Eindhoven. Hajo worked at the Philips Physics Laboratory and his wife, Nora, took care of the four children at home. Their eldest daughter, Annette, suffered from tuberculosis and was forced to spend her days in bed. In 1942, Annette watched everything happen from her bed. She knew that her father was sending messages to England from a box with all kinds of buttons. Her father seemed to be cooperating in secret with the resistance. She was always told, “Don’t say anything and don’t talk about it.”
In 1943, Hajo arranged a hiding place for a Jewish doctor named Betty Levi: his own house on the Frankrijkstraat. Their secret resistance work put the Bruining family in jeopardy. Less than a year after the new occupant moved in, a hard knock came on the front door one night. It was agents from the Sicherheitsdienst, looking for Hajo. Annette, too, was scared of all the noise. Soon, her mother came into her room: ‘I hid your father under the floor, but the door doesn’t close properly. The tarp is draped over it.’ She picked up her half-asleep daughter and took her to the other bedroom. ‘I’ll put you in your father’s bed because it’s still warm. Pretend you’re asleep.’
When her mother opened the door below for the SD agents, Annette saw her father’s transmitter. Her mother tried to convince the SD that her husband was not at home, but it wasn’t working. Annette quickly put the transmitter under the blankets and kicked it to the end of the bed, along with her fathers’ slippers that were still lying in front of the bed. The men walked up the stairs, the door opened and Annette’s mother pointed a torch at the bed. The sheet was pulled off Annette’s face. “This is my daughter,” she said. “She is very ill. She has tuberculosis”. The men immediately let go of the sheet. They wanted nothing to do with that!
The men searched the rest of the house and when they went into Betty Levi’s attic room, mother quickly told them that Betty was the nanny. Betty was sleeping in bed and nothing but her blonde curls stuck out above the blankets. The SD bought the story and left. But the danger still wasn’t past. The men didn’t intend to leave without finding Hajo. One of the men stood guard at the front door, the other behind the house. Throughout the night, father remained hidden in the small space under the floor. Mother turned off all the lights and lay next to Annette.
In the morning, mother put the cat out through the front door. There was no one there. Then she took coal out of the shed behind the house, and there was no one to be seen there, either. Father hurried outside, with the maid’s Bible under his arm, and joined the passers-by on their way to the church. That’s how he reached the Royal Psychiatric Hospital. The director, one of Hajo’s friends, had him admitted as one of the patients to hide him from the Germans. Betty Levi found another, safe hiding place in Eindhoven.
Not long after, Eindhoven was liberated and Hajo returned home. But even then, the fear of danger loomed. The Ardennes offensive kept everyone in suspense. There was a great fear that the Germans would recapture Eindhoven. Immediately after the liberation of the Netherlands, Hajo received an award from the British government in the Ridderzaal in The Hague and became a member of the Order of the British Empire. Hajo said “the war is over,” and never spoke of it again. Betty Levi emigrated to Israel and stayed in touch with the Bruining family.
Frankrijkstraat 40, Eindhoven
(Image: private collection of Annette Haas-Bruining, undated)