The best way to describe this story is a microcosm of the Holocaust history. But before I go into the story I have to explain the wider background, to put it into context.
Although I am fully Dutch, I was seen as a child of a mixed marriage, The Netherlands is a small country, however, that doesn’t mean there are significant cultural differences in the various regions.
My mother was from Friesland in the North West of the Netherlands. Her parents moved with all the kids to Limburg in the South East of the Netherlands, and although my mother was born in Limburg she was always considered Frisian.
My mother’s family ended up in Geleen, my birthplace, in the 1920’s. The coalmines brought employment. The ended up in the part of town called Lindenheuvel, and in the group of streets called ‘Auw Kolonie’ the Old Colony, it was called like that because the street names all had the names of Dutch colonies. My mother married my father in 1960, she was considered a Frisian protestant, whereas my Father was a Roma Catholic, Limburg was and still is a predominantly Roman Catholic, this did cause issues. But in the compound of the Auw Kolonie that was ok. I was born in the Borneo street(named after an Indonesian island) It was mainly Frisian migrants who resided in the Auw Kolonie.
The story I came across is about Sjaak Ketelaar, and his family . Sjaak’s mother, Sietske Kuitert, was born in Drenthe, just like his father. The special thing is that mother Sietske could speak Frisian. She must have learned it from her mother (Antje Kootstra) because she came from Friesland. She honored that language, as witnessed by the fact that she regularly attended evenings organized by the Fryske Kriten. The Ketelaar family lived in Geleen in a neighborhood known as ‘the old colony’. They belonged to the Reformed Church. Father worked as a topsoiler at the Maurits state mine.
Sjaak grew up in Limburg. He lived there during the first twenty years of his life (until about 1963). It is striking that most of the people with whom I reminisce about the post-war period seem to be impressed by the Catholic processions. So is Sjaak:
“What I also remember were the processions. It was a poor neighborhood here, but the streets were covered with colored sand. Beautiful runners were made. When the procession was over, we all took to the streets as children to sweep that sand together. That was wonderful to play with. How they did that, I still don’t get it. And all from the poles along the road with flags on them (…). That was 60 years ago with us. I thought it was beautiful. The people had then opened the front door and placed a table there. They had their own altar, with statues on it. It was something. It was always exciting to see who made the most beautiful altar. I don’t know if prizes were given for that… And during the procession the pastor came by and I remember – I was standing there in front – there were many people standing on the side; everyone knelt, they had to do that when the host came by. I thought I’m protestant, I’m standing still, I don’t have to kneel. And I felt my coat being pulled. Down you! But I didn’t kneel. I stopped. That was in the mayor Lemmensstraat. They weren’t annoying, those Catholics. I always got on well with them.”
How the Ketelaar family became involved in rescuing a Jewish child from the clutches of the Germans is described in the booklet ‘At the foot of the Steenberg’ by Anne Stap (2008/not in the trade). She documented the following story.
‘One day, during the war, the Germans raid the old colony. The Germans enter the Timorstraat early. Father Stap is not at home. He’s on early shift and he’s off to work. The children are still in bed. At Anne Stap’s aunt and uncle in the Curacaostraat, a Jewish child, without papers, is kept hidden. The child was smuggled out of an Amsterdam hospital with his mother, barely six weeks old. A pedigree or birth certificate of the now 10-month-old boy is missing. What now? Uncle and aunt know the Ketelaar family. From their own house they have a view of the house of the Ketelaars on Borneostraat. This way they can see that the raid there is already over. The Ketelaar family has three boys, one of whom is in hiding. They quickly send their daughter to pick up the pedigree certificate. It only takes the eight-year-old child two minutes to make the crossing. She does not stand out in the German bustle. She is back just in time with the pedigree. The Germans are satisfied with the excuse that the boy’s mother is in hospital in Maastricht.
For safety reasons, the daughter has to give up her ‘brother’ in collaboration with the Geleen underground. He is housed elsewhere. Painful of course, but all’s well that ends well: the child, the mother and the father survive the war.’
I don’t know what house number I was born in on the Borneostraat, but it actually gave me the goosebumps when I read the story, it could have been my house. That is how palpable the Holocaust still is.
Much closer to your life than you had realized.
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