I had done two blogs about these children before, but because it is such an uplifting story I decided to revisit it once again, I also came across a few new pictures.
Hoensbroek Castle, one of the largest castles in the Netherlands, was used from December 23, 1942 as a children’s home for 120 children under the government guardianship. They came from the Meerzicht children’s home in the dunes near Velsen, which was led by the Congregation of Sisters of the Poor Child Jesus. For the construction of the Atlantikwal by the Germans, many buildings had to make way, including the children’s home. Hoensbroek was liberated by the American army on September 18, 1944. The children remained in the castle until May 1946, where NSB and SS men were also housed after the liberation.
The tiny Dutch children, (no more than three years old), entertaining G.I.’s in the grounds of Hoensbroek castle. The children are dressed in national costumes and dance a Dutch Folk Dance.
Hoensbroek Castle was home to 145 Dutch children who were cared for by nuns. American G.I’s would assist the nuns, by taking these three-year-old children for walks.
From left to right Walter Ward of Newark, Thomas McMorrow of Brooklyn and James Firman of Delaware, Ohio.
In October 1942 the German occupiers had ordered the boarding school’Meerzicht’ in Velsen to be evacuated.it was going to be demolished, because it would be in direct line of fire.. The Germans were going to build a 5 km long defense line and the boarding school was in the way.
Frantically the nuns looked for an alternative accommodation. They were offered the castle Hoensbroek in December 1942. They moved in on December 23 just in time for the Christmas celebrations. The distance between Velsen and Hoensbroek is about 200km. For the children that must have felt like moving to the other side of the world.
Velsen would only be liberated in May 1945. in fact technically it was only liberated on May 7,1945 which was 2 days after the official liberation day in the Netherlands. However the southern part of the Netherlands was liberated in September 1944. Hoensbroek was liberated on September 17,1944. This means the children were not only freed earlier, they were also spared the awful famine of the 1944/45 winter.
The children lived a relatively undisturbed live in the castle. Several times it had been declared unsuitable for the Germany army. However a few days before liberation there were a few nervous moments.
Some SS men who were on leave from battle in France. had stayed in the adjacent farm and had been throwing hand grenades in the canals surrounding the castle, just for fun. They had also been walking around naked.
On September 12, 1944 a highly placed SS officer had visited the castle for inspection, he was told there was no room. His reply was not too worry about that, the SS would make some room, while he was looking around at the yard where the children were playing at the time. But he left.
The following day another highly placed SS officer, who had a limp, came to the castle but he too left.
The mayor drew up a false statement, claiming that there had been an outbreak of Polio in the castle. It was therefor not suitable as quarters for the German troops. The Germans didn’t care.
But on September 17,1944 the allied troops liberated Hoensbroek and its castle.
After months of fighting fierce battles this must have been the most adorable way ever how the US troops to spend their days taking these adorable toddlers for a walk, only a few days earlier the Germans had uttered a threat to kill the children.
The castle had also functioned as a shelter for some local people, but they left on September 18 shortly after the liberation.
After the liberation, the outbuildings were requisitioned for housing prisoners, including NSB and later SS. By the end of 1945, more than 800 had been captured. Posts with wire mesh and barbed wire were installed in the courtyard and coils of barbed wire were laid along the canals to prevent swimming over. A guardhouse was placed on the square for armed military surveillance. Not an ideal combination: a children’s home in the Castle Building, prisoners in the farms and barbed wire in between.
They were sentenced to work in the coal mines by the Dutch government and the Allied forces , mainly in the Maurits and the Emma(which was located in the vicinity of Hoensbroek}
The last children and sisters left on June 2, 1946.
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