75 personal life changing war stories
75 stories, one for every year we have lived in freedom. Together they give a good impression of the impact the Second World War had on the people of Brabant. These stories form the starting point for a programme throughout Brabant and an(inter)national campaign called Brabant Remembers. Its aim is to allow as many people as possible, and especially younger generations, to experience these stories. The ultimate dream is to bring at least one life-changing story to life in every community under the title:
Brabant Remembers – 75 personal life changing war stories.
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At the beginning of 1940, Aarle-Rixtel – now in the municipality of Laarbeek – was a quiet little village with 3056 inhabitants. Tracks in the roads led to three places: the church, the pub, or the bell foundry. It’s not known what books its library contained, but the adventures described in Dutch children’s books like Dik Trom, Peter Bell and Little Crumb pale into insignificance compared to those of Johan Wigmans.
For many people in Brabant, it was the Polish who were the real liberators, as well as the British, Canadians and Americans. What was less well-known then, as now, is that many Polish men were also involved in the battle in the air. Just after midnight on 28 August 1942, two of them floated down on parachutes above the darkness of the Brabant countryside, towards an uncertain future.
Dozens of German cities were the target of British and American bombers during the war, including Berlin, Cologne, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Düsseldorf, Essen and Dortmund. German anti-aircraft guns and fighter aircraft tried to shoot down the bombers, sometimes over Brabant. The Resistance in Brabant tried, wherever possible, to give refuge to crew members who survived the crash. That is how in May 1944 the lives of a young British pilot and a Brabant farmer became inseparable from each other.
A front page announcement in the Trouw newspaper on 8 September 1965 stated that C. Sleegers had been killed in a road accident while driving his car. Many readers continued reading unconcerned, but in Southeast Brabant and especially in Veldhoven, there was a shock reaction to the death of their fellow villager who had distinguished himself during the war in an unusual way.
The Derks family, comprising sixteen children, eight boys and eight girls, lived in ’t Hout in the town of Geldrop. The family was not well off and the sons sold potatoes to make a living. They showed a lot of dislike for the German occupiers during the war. But eighteen year old Riek, one of the daughters , had different feelings as she was in love with a German Feldwebel (sergeant). The fact that he was married with two children did not deter her. Their sister’s behaviour was a point of contention for the brothers Henk (35), Gerard (24), Theo (?) and Christ (22).
Resistance movements were established in many places in West Brabant during the period of occupation. When the Landelijke Organisatie voor Onderduikers (National Organisation for Fugitives) started organising itself in 1943, the town of Rucphen was part of the Roosendaal district. One of the places where people could hide underground was at the ‘Gerda Hoeve’ farm in the district of Rucphen, part of the parish of Nispel. An unexpected encounter took place there just before liberation.
The village of Cuijk on the River Maas found itself in an unfortunate situation in September 1944 as being right in the no man’s land that had been created by the opposing troops during Operation Market Garden. For two long weeks the population hovered between fear and hope.
The British started bombarding strategic targets in Germany soon after the start of the Second World War. The roar of the planes flying from England to Germany could often be heard in the Netherlands. That was the case on the evening of 23 May 1940 in Mierlo-Hout, two weeks after the war came to the Netherlands.
The Jewish community in Geertruidenberg was small, its few members met every week on the Sabbath in the synagogue that stood in the shadow of the majestic Geertruidskerk church. This was not far from the Koestraat, where Bethrina Kooperberg grew up with her sisters and brother. Records in Geertruidenberg show that the last major celebration in the synagogue was Jaap (Jacob) Kooperberg’s Bar Mitzvah. By the time the Second World War broke out the sisters Netty, Betsy and Trijntje were already engaged or married, and no longer lived in Geertruidenberg. The oldest daughter Bethrina was still single and lived with her ageing uncle Salomon and her aunts Rika and Sofia (Fie) Kalker in the Stationsweg in Geertruidenberg . She could often be found at the Van Beek family where she looked after the young children Jet and Jan.
Colonel Frank Krebs, commander of the 440th Troop Carrier Group, was sitting at the controls of the Dakota C-47 Stoy Hora, with co-pilot Major Howard Cannon next to him. Both American fighters played a heroic role during D-day: on 6 June 1944 they dropped paratroopers from the 101st Airborne Division in Normandy from their Dakota and then returned safely to their home base in Nottingham. These events signalled the start of the Allied advance in Europe.
‘Operation Market Garden’ was the Allied attempt to defeat the Germans as quickly as possible and put an end to the war. In the autumn of 1944, thousands of paratroopers landed deep in enemy territory. They had to take and defend all the great river bridges until they received help from the Allied army that was advancing from the south. This long-awaited operation inspired some ordinary Dutchmen to join the international force.
Most of the thousands of Dutch soldiers who died during the Second World War did so at the beginning, when the Germans invaded. They were not even necessarily fighting when they were killed. That was the case for the first victim from Brabant too, who found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time on 10 May 1940.
Because of his military experience, Stanislaw Maczek became commander of the 10th Motorised Cavalry of Poland in 1938. After the German invasion in 1939 he arrived in France via North Africa. In France he fought against the Germans alongside other Polish fugitives. After that he formed the 1st Polish Armoured Division in Great Britain.
By the start of 1945, Brabant had largely been liberated but was not yet safe. V-1 flying bombs were regularly flown over Brabant from the occupied area to strategic Allied targets, such as the port in Antwerp, but the V1s did not always hit their targets.
Stories went around about Winando even before the war. The man, whose real name was Henk van Heusen, said he had many gifts, including an ability to predict the future. For the illusionist, uncertain times were golden times. The war ripped families and loved ones apart. Relatives left behind could do nothing except wait and hold on to every little piece of hope.
‘I’m very far away, but my heart is back at home. With my wife, who is alone. All I have now is the memory of the fairy tale of my past. However, the day that I will be with you again, is already in my mind. Because my firm belief in you and the loyalty gives me strength to continue waiting’. – Cees Meeuwis
Someren had already been liberated and there was heavy fighting 1500 metres away at lock gate no. 11. The English liberators attacked with heavy artillery, the Germans defended themselves stubbornly. Without warning a stray German grenade landed close to family Kruijf on the Slievenstraat. It exploded in the yard.
Allied troops landed on the coast of Normandy in June 1944 and quickly liberated Paris followed by Brussels and Antwerp. On 11 September of that year, British troops reached the Dutch border at Valkenswaard, prompting anxiety and excitement amongst those living in nearby villages like Borkel en Schaft, where the postman rushed through the streets to announce the good news.
For a lot of people, daily life continued during the war. The farmers kept their jobs and worked their land. But most of the horses were taken by the Germans, which made work in the countryside extra difficult. The harvest had to be given to the occupying forces for a “fair” distribution of the food. For the farmer and his family, there was often little left to live on.
The Battle of the Schelde was a large military operation in northern Belgium and south-west Netherlands. The operation was started by the Canadian 1st Army Division (including Polish and British units) on 1 October 1944 and continued until 8 November of that year. The most important aim was to liberate the River Schelde so that the allied supply ships could access Antwerp harbour. The harbour itself fell into allied hands on 4 September and was virtually undamaged. But it was unusable for as long as the Germans had control of the Schelde. When on the initiative of the British Field Marshall Montgomery, attention was shifted to Operation Market Garden, it gave Hitler’s generals time to fortify the Zeeland islands and the banks of the Schelde estuary.
The unsuccessful Battle of Arnhem brought the liberation of the Netherlands in the autumn of ’44 in Brabant to a halt. This meant that the Biesbosch in Brabant became a sort of no man’s land during the last winter of the war, with boats crossing over many times during the night to bring people, medicines and secret documents to safety without being seen.
There was a ghostly atmosphere in Asten in the night of Wednesday 20 to Thursday 21 September 1944. British grenade fire had caused total ravage in and around the church. Asten was evacuated on the Thursday, followed that evening by the parish of Ommel, a favourite pilgrimage place to the Virgin Mary. ‘Das ganze Heiligtum geht kaputt’ (the entire shrine will be destroyed), the Germans had said. Many residents of Ommel were looking for shelter, but many stayed at home. They did not see the need to leave…
Before 1 November 1944, the seven year old Rien van Broekhoven had been unaware of the severity of the war. His parents’ house in the village of Welberg had been impounded but the forced relocation to his neighbours had not bothered him much. He spent his days playing in the woods, cycling through the bomb craters near the village and attending school in the village café. At the end of October, the liberation of Brabant was in full swing. The villagers of Welberg had keenly awaited this moment.
West Brabant was strategically important for the German army, and also for the Allied forces. From Friday afternoon on 6 October 1944 three Canadian battalions advanced towards Woensdrecht, passing right through the village of Hoogerheide. German soldiers sat waiting in foxholes and in the corn fields. A battle ensued which lasted for days. Meanwhile many villagers were trapped like rats, including those in the neighbourhood of Zandfort.
At the beginning of November 1944 the Allied advance came to a standstill at the Hollands Diep and de Bergsche Maas waterways. From that moment on the Land of Heusden and Altena became the front line, bringing with it much misery. Almost immediately, all the farms on river were evacuated, the start of a long series of evacuations.
Things were tense around the village of Best from 18 September 1944 onwards. American soldiers were approaching from Eindhoven, German soldiers were entrenched in the tall church tower in Best. Everyone was hoping for a quick liberation, but on the contrary things were getting more dangerous by the day: one day the village was in American hands, the next day it was back under the control of the Germans. On the orders of the Americans many people, and especially children, were evacuated from the area.
In September 1944, the Allied forces started the largest airborne operation in history in order to free Europe from German occupation: Market Garden. A ground attack was started from Belgium and an airborne assault from England.
The objective of the Allied soldiers was to secure a number of important bridges in the Netherlands, after which they would be able to push through to the IJsselmeer and then to the German Ruhr area. The operation started on 17 September, when thousands of Allied parachutists landed between Eindhoven and Arnhem and to the southeast of Nijmegen. British soldiers advanced via the Corridor from Belgium in the direction of Grave. The fifteen-year-old seminarian Wim Boeijen lived near Reek in 1944. Reek was of strategic importance to the Allied military plan and was a significant crossing place for the river Maas at Grave in the direction of Nijmegen.
The village of Ulicoten near Baarle-Nassau was on the front line for almost a month. On 13 October 1944 there was fighting and an air raid. The next morning the twelve year old son Neel ventured outside. For the first time he was confronted by what war really meant.
At the end of October 1944 the German army retreated in the direction of Moerdijk. The storm clouds of war were still hanging over the Westhoek (Western corner). The Red Cross division in Klundert, with doctor Hendrik de Ruiter in charge, tried to save anything that could be saved.
Harrie van Daal, born in 1908, was a civil servant at the Municipality of Overloon–Maashees (later to become Vierlingsbeek). He had visited the battlefields in the Belgian town of Ypres between the two world wars and they had made a deep impression on him. Memories of the First World War were kept alive here in a poignant way. During the Second World War Van Daal continued his work as a civil servant. He managed to prevent a number of men from being conscripted into the Arbeitseinsatz (Forced Labour Deployment) by making them members of the volunteer fire brigade, at least on paper.
The liberation of the Netherlands began in September 1944 with the start of Operation Market Garden. Numerous paratroopers and aircraft with military equipment landed in the area around Son and Best.
William Baird was born into a musical family in Canada in 1922. His mother played the piano and his father the violin. During the summers, there was work to be done on the farm. William used the winters to learn how to dance, with his parents as musical guides. At the age of twenty, William joined the Royal Canadian Air Force as a maintenance engineer for airplane engines.
In 1940 George Eardley from Congleton was conscripted and in July 1944 he joined the Shropshire Regiment. He received his first award, the Military Medal the following month. But George was really an unlikely hero: not big and strong. “He was no daredevil”, according to his father. He had worked at a printing company before the war, was married and had three children.
His name was Werner Klemke. He got his baptism of fire at the front line in North Brabant. Just like every other German in the Third Reich, Klemke was called up for military service. He was stationed in the Luftwaffe in the occupied Netherlands, more particularly at the air defences in the Gooi. Klemke had significant graphic skills and in the Erasmus bookshop in Amsterdam he made contact with the Dutch resistance and, together with a friend he helped to forge papers. He risked his own life to rescue a Jewish family, and then the two German soldiers helped the family save hundreds of other Jews from deportation.
On 6 September 1944, the day after Crazy Tuesday, armed SS troops marched along the Langstraat out of ‘s-Hertogenbosch on their way to the front near Antwerp. They became very angry when they saw flags flying everywhere. In Waalwijk the Commander summoned mayor Moonen to do something about it immediately. But that’s where the problems began.
“I was always compared to the other Hans”, said Hans van Alphen (1946) from Uden. During the bloody liberation of Brabant, his mother Riek found refuge in Heusden together with her four sons (5, 8, 13 and 14 years old). Father Wim, who worked for the police, stayed behind in Eindhoven. Riek arrived in Heusden on 26 September 1944, at her sister Dora’s house. Eindhoven was already liberated by that time, but it was impossible to go back home due to the fighting in Brabant.
The Second World War erupted with brutal force and bloodshed. Every now and again there was a glimmer of hope for peace and happiness. Love kept people going. The love between Elaine Smith and her paratrooper Carman Ladner was also promising. They met at the end of the 1930s in Augusta (Maine) in the US. They both dreamed of love. Together they contemplated their future, their own flower shop. A flower for her every day…
September 1944: the allied troops arrived in the south of the Netherlands. The first communities in Limburg and North Brabant had been liberated. However the occupiers did not surrender without a struggle. German soldiers formed a solid line of defence between Boxmeer and Weert. With the River Maas on one side and the marshes of the Peel on the other, this was not easy terrain for the British and the Americans to control.
It was not only the Canadians, British and Americans who helped to liberate our country — in October 1944, some 16,000 Polish troops crossed the border into Brabant from Belgium. En route from Baarle-Nassau to Moerdijk, they retook towns including Breda. Where did the Poles come from? And where did they stay?
All life has a small beginning. A single cell which then divides. From this division come new cells which then also divide. The Jewish Annie Troostwijk-Samuel  knew that is how life begins. Just another six weeks, according to the calendar, and then her little baby would be due. But there were regular raids in her home town of Arnhem. In October 1943 Annie fled to Amsterdam with her husband Abraham (24). She left her one year old daughter Greetje behind in a safe hiding place.
As the war progressed, Jewish persecution in Europe was increasing at a frightening rate. Concentration camps were built in various places in Europe, including in North Brabant. An SS concentration camp was established at Vught in which about 12,000 Jews; men, women and children, were imprisoned.
In April 1934, nine-year-old Lore Samson, her parents, and her 12-year-old brother, Alfred, fled to Tilburg from the German Rhineland to escape increasing anti-Semitism in Germany. Joseph, Lore’s father, was injured in the First World War and his courage was rewarded with an Iron Cross. In Tilburg he earned a living as a leather and shoe salesman. The family moved into a beautiful house at Bosscheweg 418 (now Spoorlaan 72).
Simon van Adelberg was secretly in love with his aunt Maaltje, and particularly loved her red hair. Aunt Maaltje van Adelberg-Hartog and her sister Betje Hartog were both childless. Simon and his brother Louis were spoilt rotten; the aunts had a cupboard full of toys. The sisters ran a tobacco shop in Tilburg.
Roosje Glaser, the daughter of an affluent family, was raised in Kleve, Germany, where her father was a factory manager. The growing anti-Semitism towards the end of the 1920s was a huge blow to the family and the father lost his job. Seeing no future in Germany, the family relocated to the Netherlands.
As a child, Veronica (born 1911) was known simply as ‘Wies’. She was raised in Bergen op Zoom in a devout Catholic family. The fact that her parents, Mr and Mrs Löb, were once Jews was never discussed, all that mattered were worship of Jesus and reverence of the Holy Virgin Mary. Where better to do that than in the monastery? And that’s precisely where the children’s future lay.
On Tuesday 16 May 1944, a roundup took place in Eindhoven and a young girl was arrested. Three days later, she was deported together with her family from Camp Westerbork to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where she also died.
Joodse kinderen liepen tijdens de bezettingstijd evenveel gevaar als hun ouders. Maar op een goed onderduikadres en onder een andere naam kon je soms een heel eind komen. Joost en Freddie Oppenheim probeerden het. Hun ouders vluchtten al in 1933 uit Duitsland en gingen in Eindhoven wonen. Totdat in 1942 ook daar serieus jacht op hen werd gemaakt. Ze moesten weg, allemaal. Maar waarheen? Waar vind je voor iedereen veilig onderdak?
Erwin Michael Joseph – always known as Michael – was Jewish. He was the only child (1925) of Kurt Joseph and Elli Glogau from Berlin. Early in the 1930s his father committed suicide. A couple of years later Jewish persecution began in Germany. Elli and Michael looked for suitable shelter in Amsterdam as a way of avoiding fate.
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.
His father was director of the Voba light bulb factory in Tilburg. Even so that could not prevent a lot of darkness in Theo Vogel’s life. He developed diphtheria while still in the cradle; when he was six he suffered severe concussion in a car accident. Eleven years later Theo escaped death. While shooting water rats – a pastime with friends – a bullet penetrated his pericardium and an operation was necessary. After that, Theo’s health remained very weak.
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.
In the summer of 1944, unmarried brothers Janus (60), Jan (58) and Driek Hoeks (54) lived together at Hertheuvelsehoef, a farm on the border between Eersel and Bergeijk. The farm was owned by the Postel Abbey. Janus arranged the field work and dealt with all the trading. Jan did the housework and Driek, the youngest, was the carpenter. After May 1940, they lived in relative ease on their remote farm, never wanting for food.
The soldiers may have braced themselves or shut their eyes, but they didn’t make a sound as they jumped out of the plane. It’s the 17th September 1944 and under the leadership of Allied Field Marshal Montgomery, they are getting ready for a secret daring attempt to drive the Germans out of the Netherlands in one fell swoop. In order to get the troops behind German lines, in the middle of occupied territory, Montgomery devised a life-threatening ruse: Operation Market Garden. He drops his soldiers from aircraft just south of the three great rivers, the Meuse, Waal and the Rhine. The aim was to free up the bridges crossing the rivers so that the ground forces could invade from Belgium.
It was the summer of 1942 and the raids on Amsterdam were well under way. During one of the raids, a student from Utrecht noticed four Jewish toddlers who had been left out on the street. She didn’t hesitate and took the children back to Utrecht where, together with a fellow student, she found a family that could hide the children. That rescue helped pave the way for a student resistance group called the ‘Utrecht Children’s Committee’.
‘I remember it all so well,’ explains Jeanne Hoevenaars-Voets. ‘I was only three years old, but I have so many images in my mind.’ Jeanne was born in 1941. Her parents lived on Hoofdstraat, which at the time was called Dorpsstraat, in Heeswijk and ran a confectionery shop. The couple secretly hid a Jewish couple for three years. ‘We still have contact,’ explains Jeanne.
The Biesbosch – the tidal zone of land and water – was avoided by the German occupiers during the Second World War. For a long time, the people hiding in this wilderness felt safe and they sometimes worked for local farmers. On 10 November 1944, the German occupiers set up machine gun posts and started patrolling the area by boat. The recently liberated town of Drimmelen was showered with gunfire.
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.
She came from a weaving family and was familiar with a needle and thread, but Coba Pulskens had never needed to crochet a bedspread for her marital bed. “The boys don’t think I’m pretty enough”, is how she explained her unmarried status. But actually Coba was married: to Tilburg, her town. Only once would she ever go on a long journey – one of more than seven hundred and twenty kilometres.
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.
Churches in the Netherlands had healthy attendances during the war. Many churches, abbeys and monasteries condemned national socialism, and some even called for resistance. Dutch churches also openly protested, particularly against the persecution of the Jews. Ministers, vicars and priests were arrested throughout the country. One of those was priest Kerssemakers.
There was no wind that morning, thin patches of mist were lying low on the ground. It should have been a glorious day. Despite that, mayor Fried Manders cycled nervously across the Leenderhei heath on 6 July 1944. He knew the Germans had lost patience with the ‘Brabant mayors’ resistance’. At 9 o’clock he had to report to Commissioner Heinrich Sellmer.
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
That day – 5 September 1944 – will go down in history as Crazy Tuesday. The Allied advance was going smoothly when suddenly the Germans seemed to be in a hurry to get home. That was enough to make even the most cautious people over-confident.
When the war broke out, Mientje Proost from Bergen op Zoom was a 19 year-old girl. She grew up in a close middle-class family and dreamt of becoming a nurse.
They were German according to their paperwork. in the 1930s they lived on the Wolvenhoek across the road from the tax office in Den Bosch (‘s-Hertogenbosch). Life was simple then, the only things to worry you were the tax return or soot in your chimney. The War seemed a long way away.
Wars are fond of ordinal numbers. But you only realise that after the second or third. In November 1918 Adrianus Brogtrop and Aurelia Nuyens were especially relieved: the Great War was over. Whether or not they lit up a cigar to celebrate in their ‘Aroma’ cigarette shop and smoking parlour on Breda’s main market square is not known.
Philips was founded in the centre of Eindhoven and developed into one of the largest companies in the Netherlands during the beginning of the 1930s. When the Second World War broke out in the Netherlands, Philips was ordered to produce radio equipment for the Germans. This made the company a target for the Allied forces. On Saturday 5 December 1942, the children in Eindhoven followed tradition and put their shoe out before they went to sleep, in the hope that Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas) would leave something behind. The next morning 100 bombers took off from Britain with one single goal: eliminating Philips.
On the table in front of Ed Post (81) is an aerial photograph of Kaatsheuvel. He points with his finger to where he grew up. He explains that as a child, he would sometimes play in the forests near Kaatsheuvel, but that during the Second World War, part of the forest was used as a storage area for ammunition, everything from bullets to bombs. On 5 September 1944, it was alleged that Allied forces had liberated Brabant. The day was to become known as ‘Dolle Dinsdag’ or ‘Crazy Tuesday’ since many NSB members and collaborators gave up the fight on that day. The forested area in which Post had grown up was still full of ammunition. After all, the Germans were fleeing and couldn’t take everything with them. Leaving it behind wasn’t an option either, as it would then fall into the hands of the Allies. ‘They blew everything up into the air. There was a huge explosion, so huge that every window in a two-kilometre radius was broken.’
The brutal violence of war did not touch everything. Often the children were able to play without a care. For them, the war was a great adventure, every day there was something to do.
How can I get hold of reliable news? This question became more urgent for many Dutch citizens as the war years progressed. Slowly but surely fewer sources of news in the Netherlands were autonomous. So it meant listening to the BBC which broadcast every day ‘This is Radio Orange, the voice of strife in the Netherlands’, much to the irritation of the occupiers. On 13 May 1943 came the order: all Dutch citizens must hand in their radios. Anyone not doing so risked imprisonment or worse. Many people decided to hide their radios.
On 4 May 1942, 460 prominent Dutch citizens were arrested. They included politicians, professors, clerics, musicians, lawyers and writers, who were taken hostage by the Germans to help them tighten their grip on the Dutch resistance. One of the youngest hostages was Piet Sanders from Schiedam. ‘It was a complete surprise, I opened the door to them myself.’ The lawyer was arrested unsuspectingly and taken to the minor seminary in Beekvliet near Sint-Michelsgestel.
Some Dutch people fought in the German army: it’s estimated there were about 22,000 during the Second World War. These Dutchmen reported voluntarily for the German Waffen-SS. The Waffen-SS fought in places including the Eastern Front: about 6000 Dutch soldiers did not survive.
“Oh darling, you will understand that it has been a difficult time, I never heard from you. It was torture, until I received your wonderful letter. Oh sweetheart, I am so happy now. One hundred thousand kisses from your always loving Aria”. The first letter from her beloved Karel van de Werken from Sprang-Capelle, after being separated for over six months, was a godsend for Aria Colijn (1919-1990) from Almkerk.
After Hitler had overwhelmed the Netherlands in May 1940, every Dutch person was faced with a choice: resist against the Neuordnung (New Order), accept the situation, or collaborate. This choice would later be seen to be ‘good’ or ‘bad’ with a thousand shades of grey in between. Anyone who sided with the Germans would have to justify themselves after the war. This led to a bitter feud in the town of Deurne which attracted nationwide attention.
There must have been a deadly silence in the changing rooms of the PAZO football club on 2 May 1940. Teammates Koos and Alfred were probably also staring at the ground. There had seldom been such a crushing defeat, losing 0-8 to the Tilburg SET team. What’s more it was at their own grounds in Oisterwijk! But revenge was delayed, eight days after the changing room humiliation, war broke out. Not inside Dutch football lines, but beyond them
Page 2, top left. “Mr and Mrs H. Arts-Woestenbergh hereby announce the birth of their daughter Susanne.” It was a modest family announcement in the Nieuwe Tilburgse Courant on 13 November 1916. But the joy at the newspaper was without doubt great. The editor, Harry Arts had a new daughter. Two and a half months later he placed another announcement in his own paper. An obituary. For his wife.
During the occupation, hundreds of Dutch police officers actively served the German cause as members of the NSB, Rechtsfront or German SS. The assiduous, brutal nature with which these Jew hunters went about their work was unprecedented. Piet Gerrits was one of them. A Tilburg police officer and agent of the German Sicherheitsdienst (Security Service), resistance fighters were eager to get their hands on him and he on them.
Hearts have been chalked on me, but I’ve also been spat on. Many things have been spilt over me: hailstones, beer, confetti. Even shell cartridges, although the war did not scare me away. Because Gemert is in me – and I am in Gemert. I am the Ridderplein (Knight’s Square).
That’s what I have been called since 1953. Before that time they called me the Borretplein (Borret Square). I don’t want to boast but I’m no backstreet place. From the start of the last century I have offered views of stately buildings, including the town hall and the mayor’s villa. The showpiece: Gemert Castle, where the Fathers of the Holy Spirit, sometimes called Spiritines, lived.
The soles of monastery sandals and genteel footwear have passed over me. But so have clogs and working shoes: they found their way to Het Anker brewery, to Café Landman and Frunt’s the saddle maker on this square. I’ve survived hundreds of thousands of passers-by. All their footstep have faded away. Except those of 11 May 1940.
On Friday 10 May 1940, a few hours after the German invasion, Dutch troops blew up the bridge over the River Maas at Grave to resist the Germans. That afternoon, large numbers of residents fled Grave to Nuland, Heesch and Geffen. At the same time, the majority of Dutch troops in North Brabant retreated to Fortress Holland, according to plan. Grave then fell to the Germans, with little resistance.
When Germany invaded the Netherlands on 10 May 1940, the 276 military police in Brabant were given an important assignment. Their orders were to get to Moerdijk as quickly as possible so they could travel to England via The Hague. But the Moerdijk bridges had already been captured on 10 May, so hundreds of military police tried to reach the coast via West Brabant, from where they could travel to England. This movement of people suddenly involved large numbers of civilians, among them, Riet Overbeeke’s father.