Most of you will think I am talking about the USA when you see the title. However, you’d be wrong. The America in the title is a parish village in the Dutch province of Limburg, known historically for its peat extraction.
The Germans laughed when they read this name in May 1940.
In the village of America in the Peel, on the farm ‘De Zwarte Plak’ of the Poels family, more than 300 allied airmen, 60 fled French prisoners of war, 30 Jews and many other fugitives were given temporary shelter. Much support was obtained from the neighbours, the Smedts and Geurts family. After the liberation, allied soldiers came and went to the farm to see the famous hiding place with their own eyes.
In 1942 and 1943, De Zwarte Plak developed into a reception center for Allied airmen and people in hiding. In August 1943 a conversation started with pilot helpers from Deurne to come to cooperation. During the winter 1943-1944, the residents of De Zwarte Plak became more and more closely involved in the activities of the RVV Resistance Group Deurne due to the help provided to pilots. One or more Deurnese RVV’ers regularly settled on the Antoniushoeve.
The RVV group Deurne, later Knokploeg Bakel (resistance groups) and from September 1944 part of the Internal Forces, had its own shelter on De Zwarte Plak, a storage place for pistols and an air raid shelter under the horse stable of the Smedts family that was used, among other things, to house prisoners. to be temporarily accommodated.
Four men from the resistance group, with Cor Noordermeer as commander, were already present at Tinus Geurts when later, on the intercession of Bert Poels, Nico van Oosterhout and Johan Vosmeer were added. They were housed on the farm at Thei Geurts. This group had previously gone into hiding in Bakel, they were all wanted by the Nazis. It became too dangerous in Bakel, they were afraid of betrayal. Their connection to De Zwarte Plak was Bert Poels which was in relation to hiding and transporting Allied pilots.
The resistance group built its own air-raid shelter. That cellar had been excavated in a hillside against a ditch side. This ditch was 2.5 meters deep, but always dry because of the high terrain. The basement was four by six meters in size, with a plank floor and walls and a ceiling of corrugated iron. The entrance was virtually invisible and accessible via a low section in the ditch, twenty meters away, by walking into the ditch to a hatch of the air-raid shelter that was accessible on the ground floor on the right. When leaving, sand was shoveled onto the hatch. The air-raid shelter contained three or four iron bunk beds from the pre-war Dutch army.
A milk churn had been dug into the moor behind Thei Geurts’ farm. About half way to the vigilante’s shelter. It was a storage place for pistols and ammunition. The milk churn was so deep that after the lid had been placed on it, a suitable thick heather sod could be placed on top. That way the hiding place was invisible. When the sod dried out, a new one was stabbed somewhere further along. This milk churn had remained buried in the moor after the war and was found around 1950 when the moor was reclaimed, which was then converted to a depth of one meter.
There was a weapons instructor who had adapted one of the longer underground bomb shelters (about 20 meters long) for target practice. This air-raid shelter was covered with earth that provided soundproofing. The rear was free of paneling and served as a bullet catcher.
Near the farm of Thei Geurts was a phosphorus storage place. Behind the vegetable garden a hole had been dug in which phosphorus was stored. The phosphorus went into the hole and was covered with soil. This phosphorus came from Allied bombers. These aircraft had been shot down by German anti-aircraft defenses on their way to the Ruhr area above the Peel. Before they crashed, they dropped their phosphorus bombs first. The bombs fell deep into the peat bog and were dug up by the resistance. The phosphorus was bottled and thrown at German freight trains at night. Phosphorus was also strewn in the dark over large piles of straw at the railway stations. When it got light, the straw caught fire.
After Mad Tuesday (September 5, 1944) there were more and more signs that circumstances would change quickly. Signs that De Zwarte Plak would also be in the front line. As a result, all residents had to leave on September 30. The remaining KP members from Deurne left for Deurne again. On October 13, only the Thei Geurts family and some relatives were back at their farm. The rest of the entire area south of the railroad was empty. Three or four weeks later, the Thei Geurts family was brought to Sevenum by the Germans.
Maria Smedts, who transported the Jewish neighbours, was also responsible for feeding all those who had found shelter in “De Zwarte Plak”
These are just some of the Jewish people who took shelter in De Zwarte Plak, unfortunately I don’t know their names.
What amazes me most is that,America, is only 40 minutes away from where I was born, and I had never heard of these brave people until today.