The population of the isolated village of Nieuwlande in Drenthe,the Netherlands,increased drastically during the dark days of World War II but the new arrivals rarely were seen in public. Not many people in the Netherlands today know about Drents Jerusalem, Nieuwlande’s nickname. In ancient Jerusalem, a continent away, the village received special acknowledgement in April 1985 as the only community which in its entirety was awarded a honourary Yad Vashem medal for harbouring strangers in its homes.
A month earlier, a large majority of the villagers had received the Yad Vashem Award individually.
The majority of Nieuwlande’s unregistered people were Jews in hiding who had refused to report to the Nazi’s for deportation to concentration camp Westerbork, less then fifty kilometres to the north. Almost every family in the area around the village had taken in people, some as many as ten.
Resisting the Nazi’s in the former peat bog colony already started shortly after the country was occupied in May 1940. However is was not until local municipal councilor Johannes Post asked Rev. F. Slomp who had served a local church in the 1930s, to come over and speak to the villagers that real resistance began.
That meeting, held at a local church in 1942, was attended by 150 people. Slomp, never one to mince words about the dangers of Nazidom, challenged villagers to do their Christian duty to protect those in harm’s way.
The village inhabitants resolved that every household would hide one Jewish family or at least one Jew.
Post was one of the first to give Jews a hiding place in his home. Soon he was heavily involved as a regional representative in a group which became known as the National Organization to aid those in hiding (known widely by its Dutch acronym LO). As the number of refugees increased and this type of passive resistance became more widespread, the Germans devised ways to strangle the efforts of their opponents by new and tricky rules for food coupons and rationing, for identity cards and permits. The resistance movement countered these by perfecting counterfeit documents and rubber stamps, to fudge population numbers (at civil registreries) and swapping identities (those of deceased people were swapped with those on the wanted list). One of Nieuwlande’s counterfeit experts was a Jew hiding below a kitchen. Eventually, the resistance movement saw no other option but to raid food rations distribution centres for fresh coupons, rationing documents and the like. The Nieuwlande farmer and municipal politician was elected national leader of the combat units (knokploegen, LKP). An additional activity was springing resistance people from jail. In one such scheme involving a raid on the Amsterdam Prison, Post was betrayed and caught. The Germans did not risk holding their most wanted ‘partizan’ for long, they liquidated him in nearby Overveen. He was shot in the neck the following day, on July 16, 1944. Among those with connections to Nieuwlande who did not see Liberation Day was Post’s brother Marinus, also a resistance leader, who was a farmer near Kampen. (Another Drenthe village noted for wholesale resistance)
Life in Nieuwlande itself was fairly safe. The linear community along a canal with numerous smaller drainage branches originally was founded as a peat bog colony but over time had turned to farming and become a homogeneous community. Situated between Hoogeveen and Emmen, Nieuwlande was on the border of several municipalities. A hard-working community, that shared the sense of hospitality and fellowship for which all of Drenthe is well-known.
Another key figure in Nieuwlande’s resistance history was Albert Nijwening, who on his heavy-duty bicycle delivered bread in a wide area which also included Nieuwlande and another strong resistance community Hollandscheveld. Nijwening who by then lived in Hoogeveen was asked by Post if he knew suitable hiding places, at first for men who refused labour conscription in Germany to replace those who were called up for the German army. Soon, Nijwening was also finding homes for a growing number of Jews. Getting people to agree to take in strangers meant they had to come to terms with their fear of getting caught, but once the decision had been made it usually was not difficult to get people to take in additional people. At some addresses as many as ten people were living out of sight. Nijwening’s bread delivery route gave him a very good cover for his resistance work.
In addition to building elaborate hide-outs in homes and barns – double walls, secret entrances, etc. – just in case of unwelcome inspections by Nazi collaborators and Germans, Nieuwlande took quite a few precautions to slow down surprise raids or dragnet campaigns. These would often occur at night, during curfew from dusk to dawn. Many farms were only accessible via a private bridge across the waterways prompting the families to turn the bridge sideways at night or when danger loomed. Additionally, they removed all the house numbers, creating more confusion to unwelcome strangers. Nieuwlande’s hospitality certainly had its limits.
Remarkably, the village largely was left alone until mid 1944; only a few places had been raided and arrests made. In comparison with other places, where loose talk by otherwise supportive people put collaborators on the trail of resistance groups, Nieuwlanders guarded their secrets well. They were severely put to the test when Nazi-henchmen Pattist and Hoogendam led raids on suspected hiding places over a wide area, causing a reign of terror.