Hiding in a Zoo

I had heard the story of the ‘Zookeeper’s wife’ about the lady who saved hundreds of Polish Jews by hiding them in in the Warsaw Zoo.

However I had not been aware that Artis Zoo in Amsterdam also had hidden Dutch Jews and resistance fighters. ARTIS was founded under the name Natura Artis Magistra by Westerman, Werlemann and Wijsmuller in 1838, with the objective of “Promoting the knowledge of Natural History”.

The initial collection was not particularly spectacular – a few parrots, monkeys and a wildcat from Suriname – but a year later ARTIS was able to adopt C. van Aken’s entire ‘travelling menagerie’. A parade of animals, headed by the big elephant Jack, accompanied by numerous other animals including lions, a panther, a tiger, a puma, hyenas, polar bears, brown bears, a zebra, a gnu, a kangaroo and even a boa constrictor more than five metres long. ARTIS had suddenly become a real zoo.

Because ARTIS was located in the Portuguese part of the Jewish quarter, Sephardic artists were a regular here. Among them were Henri Teixeira de Mattos, an internationally renowned animal sculptor, his two cousins Joseph Teixeira de Mattos and Joseph Mendes da Costa, the painter-illustrator David Bueno de Mesquita, the renowned Samuel Jessurun de Mesquita, whose oeuvre consists of graphic representations of animals, and the Ashkenazi painter Martin Monnickendam.

In 1938 a large charity event was held for the benefit of the Jewish refugees, at the zoo.

Emanuel Boekman was o Jewish member of the board of ARTIS. On May 14,1940 the Dutch Army capitulated, A day later on May 15, Emanuel Boekman and his wife both committed suicide

During the Second World War, ARTIS was one of the few places in Amsterdam where people could still relax. The zoo remained open throughout the war and many Germans regularly visited the zoo to spend an afternoon there.

During the war years, between two and three hundred people found safe shelter in the garden – hidden in numerous animal shelters, in haylofts and in the cavernous monkey rock and goat rock; especially Jewish residents, young men trying to escape forced labor in Germany and people from the resistance.

No one knew exactly how many people there were. It was also not discussed for safety reasons.

For example, they were hidden in the Monkey Rock, the Buck Rock and in the attic of the Predator Gallery. During raids in the Jewish quarter, people fled to Artis, where they reported to the sitter Van Schalkwijk. He laid a plank over the moat around Monkey Rock so that the people could hide in it. Because of the water around the rock, the Germans had no idea that people were hiding in it.

That the permanent and temporary residents of Artis did succumb to hunger is due to the director Armand Sunier. Before the war, he had already stocked up on large quantities of fuel, hay, seeds and meat as a precautionary measure. In addition, Dr. Sunier had managed to get a large allocation (the Nazis loved animals more then some people) ,with great persuasion, from the Nazis for the necessary quantities of hay and straw, and a reasonable assortment of fish, meat, vegetables, fruit and seeds. For example, in the first years of the war in Artis no animals and people had to go hungry.There were even cigarettes; above the lions were in fact 2 sons of tobacconist Swaan in hiding.

The resistance fighter Henk Blonk went into hiding in the zoo in 1942 because he was wanted by the German police.

He spent several weeks in the wolf enclosure because he made or repaired weapons for the resistance. It got a little too hot under his feet when he narrowly escaped during a raid by the Grüne Polizei, He recalled:

‘Go into the chimpanzee’s cage tonight’. So I slept in the chimpanzee’s cage. It was bursting with cockroaches. They walked all over me and even ate part of my eyebrow.

In the cage next door was the gorilla Japie. Jiminy (a chimp) was watching me through a hole in the wall the whole time. You thought you were pretty safe, but that monkey actually told everything.”

During the day Blonk, like all other Artis people in hiding, simply mixed with the public. There was a strange atmosphere in the garden.

A Jewish person in hiding who spent some time in the birdhouse’s kitchen said in 2008 that he had certainly had a pleasant time – despite the austere menu of carrots, onions, leftovers of homemade bread and syrup from sugar beets cooked on the stove. Another survivor later recalled the nighttime walks by a “beautiful, bright moon.”

Minder Van Schalkwijk – 52 years employed by Artis – managed the monkey house and the monkey rock during the war. He was the one who let in the Jews looking for a hiding place:

“During a raid, the boys came through the Plantage Doklaan and then I let them through the back door into the monkey house. We then went straight to the monkey rock where I put a plank over the water. They would sit in the rock with the monkeys. Because of the water around the rock, the Germans didn’t mind that there were Jews. The soldiers also entered the garden themselves during a raid, but we were warned from the office that they were at the entrance, so that we could take our measures.”

It is amazing that no one was betrayed to the Nazis, given the fact that some Artis employees were Nazi sympathizers One employee of the planting department enlisted in the Waffen SS and traveled to the Eastern Front. Before his departure, he had added to his colleagues: “I am not betraying you!”


Hoe werden de Artisdieren in oorlogstijd gevoerd?



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Gershon Willinger’s story

I came across Gershon Willinger’s name on the Joods Monument website. It is his 80 birthday today, When I saw his name and his birthday, I also saw that the date and the place of his death were not known. I figured this was going to be an awful tragic and depressing story.

I decided just to a bit of research, but with the thought I wasn’t gong to do a piece about him. I reckoned it was going to break my heart, and I just wasn’t able for that today. However, although his story his sad in many ways, there was another story emerging too, the story of Gershon. The reason why the place and date of death were unknown is because he is still alive.

This is his story in his words.

“My name is Gershon Israel Willinger. Born Gert Israel Willinger, Israel was given by the Nazi regime who was in Holland at the time so that became automatically my middle name or somebody’s last name, but it was my middle name, which is still carried today. I was born in September, 1942 in Amsterdam Holland, where I grew up.

So I I’m the man of many names, Gert Israel. I was born until the age of 18 I was called Fritz. My last name was called Klufter because this was the name of my foster parents/ adoptive parents a year before I left. I didn’t want to be adopted, but it got me quicker out of Holland as well, because I got a Dutch passport. Born Gert Israel Willinger became Klufter. And then, then I had my bar mitzvah Gert Gershon, Gershon is a stranger in foreign lands, he was also the son of Moses. So very apt names for me. I still was called Fritz and the day on my 18th birthday, when I left Holland, I became Gershon.

I grew up in Holland and I left Holland at 18 to immigrate to Israel. I went to the kibbutz. Then I went into the army in 1961. I served two and a half years as a paratrooper in the Israeli defense forces.

Uh, then I studied social work. I became a social worker working with only youth juvenile delinquents and street corner groups. I was in the reserve for about 10 years, uh, fought during the war of attrition in 69, 70 at the Suez canal. I was with the entering to Jerusalem in 1967. I was not in the 73 war because I was studying for a bachelor’s degree and a graduate degree in the United States, uh, with my family. I came back during the 1973 Yom Kippur war, but, the trouble was that I couldn’t find my regiment. So I came with my whole family in the middle of my studies. We had to blackout our apartment, stayed for a number of weeks. And then when I couldn’t find them and things were, things were chaos. I stepped back on the plane and continued my education for the year in the United States with a wife and two small children in tow. And, um, we left Israel in 1984, uh, simply because of economic reasons for social workers is very hard also to not rely on family, but on yourself.

We have been here since in Canada, which is a, quite a good country since December of 1977 and have lived here since raised our children here, our three children who are now 50, 48 and 45 and, seven lovely grandchildren between the ages of 17 and 11. I speak for the Holocaust Center of Toronto and for the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

I have a responsibility to my parents and I have responsibility to my children and, uh, the Holocaust, I have a responsibility and it is, and, um, it’s not all altruism. There’s also an element of self-therapy, which is very good as well. Um, I’m one of the youngest. So from that point of view, I had to research my life most of my life, where you come from, who are you? Because the lack of identity of who you are as a person and many children who were born in between 1935 and 1944, although there’s a vast difference because if you’re a child who grows up with a parent and a child who has got a history of family before the war, I’m still can relate to that. But then the other children who really after second world war, which they don’t realize like myself, and only some chaos, I suppose, in the background of your mind, but without any knowledge, you start starting after the war, which meant, uh, who are you? Where are you? Where are you going to be placed? What are you going to do? And what is your legacy, whether you, who were your parents and how did they die and what happened and then so on.

My father was a, in hospitality industry before the war. And he was Bad Wildungen and I felt first that he was born there, but he wasn’t born there. He worked there, he worked, it was a spa city with natural spas, with special water. He worked there in a Jewish hotel. He was a chef. He lived on the premises, it’s very picturesque between little hills. It’s like the gingerbread houses and beautiful, absolutely gorgeous. I’ve just, there’s nobody of us anymore in Holland, because we were born there. We my sister was there until 11 and left and I at 18, I left and my parents came from Germany. Both of them there. My mother came in 29. She came actually, she had relatives in Holland. I think that she went to my aunt, who I stayed within 29. And she stayed in Holland, but she never naturalized.

My father, I found out was married to a non-Jewish Jewish woman in 1935. He divorced in 35. There became a law also that Aryans were not allowed to be married to Jews that became a law. But I think the marriage couldn’t have been that great either, but they divorced. And a, he came to Holland in 1937, 37 or 38 married my mother 37 I think it was. But he, he still went back and forth to Bad Wildungen because there was a train from Amsterdam to there between 1935 and 1937. He traveled up and down and still stayed at, at the hotel and worked there. And finally, when people thought that he was spy and I found it in the archives, because why do you go back and forth to Holland, the Nazi regime was already there? He stayed away and stayed in Holland, also not naturalized. So they got together, got married and then had my sister in May, 1940.

Now what possessed a couple, unless they had didn’t have birth control to want another child in 1942. So they had me, you know, they must’ve thought that children could stay with parents or whatever happened. When they saw that things were bad, they allowed me at a very early age to be taken by the underground who knew about this baby. And my sister was already shoved underground somewhere else. And I came to this family, the righteous among the nations. The stories that my mother, my birth mother, Edith came to where I stayed and worked as a short-term as a maid at the farm across the brook so that she could have contact, not with me, but find out about me. But she went back to Amsterdam and they went for one day to Westerbork the transit camp. And I think it was the 29th of June that they came to Westerbork and then they were sent straight through to Sobibor where in July and the data I have is the 2nd of July, they were together murdered upon arrival in Sobibor, in Poland.

I was eight years old when I came to permanent foster parents. So what I do know is the time of 1945, 1950, when you are in as many children, displaced children also today in all kinds of countries, uh, you were going from pillar to post. So institutions are fringes, foster homes and not knowing even if you’re a Jewish. So because the concept being Jewish sounds very abstract. When you’re a small child, you don’t realize that at all. So, consequently, I, I was very, very, uh, curious to find out who I really was. And so from an early age, my new foster parents, after those five years have a bookcase full of authentic photographs from the Nazi time, also that they obtained with the bodies in this concentration camps and how the Americans found the camps afterwards.

So I used to leaf through them, and that is a psychologically, a very normal thing because the child looks for his parent. And so things that, the image of the parent. So, so that interests start already at that age. And, um, of course you have a disassociation with people because you have moved around so much. So I, um, very quickly wanting to develop in the beginning of superficial sense of belong to the foster parents that you live with in order to belong and to be somewhere, however, it never succeeded that much. Like many other kids, um, who were privileged, uh, like I was privileged to psychiatric treatment and psychoanalysis after the war for about five years when I came to them from eight to 13, then again from 15 to 17.

So I didn’t know what parents really meant. So, um, they told me that I did have parents, which I didn’t bemoan my fate because it’s very, normally if you don’t even remember parents that you had them, and I remember very hard to call them mom and dad, because, uh, you know, you get there at eight years of age, a very difficult child with lots of problems. And, um, but with a hunger for reading. So to save me because I was read, like a fiend. So, um, and I could read, well, uh, like many other children, my friends also that I have, who are my age, little bit older, little bit younger who, uh, belong to my group. I don’t know if you’ve heard that group of, um, I belong to a group of 50 children who in 1944 were sent from Westerbork in Holland to Bergen Belsen. And we were there a couple of months and then from Bergen Belsen we were transported to Theresienstadt in Czech Republic. We were known as a Gruppe “unbekannte Kinder”, unknown children.

And what I tell usually schools is in order so that they can grasp especially grade seven and eights really like to talk to me because I ask them who tucks you in at night, who’s responsible for your food, who’s responsible for your clothing who’s responsible to take care of you and who loves you unconditionally, well it’s your parents. So now then put yourself in the picture of this and that happening.

I had their name, but never officially. My first name was also different because children went under, we had many names we had to deal with and cope with a lot of chaos and names. So my name was Fritz. Fritz was given to me by the people, the Schonewilles, who I lived with in Northern Holland, in the province called Trenta, who were righteous among the nations. And they took me in and they took care of me. But when my name was given away at the beginning of 1943, the very beginning of 1943, I was taken away by the Dutch police. Plenty many, many, many, many collaborators with the regime. The regime in Holland. Holland has got this wonderful connotation, wooden shoes, gabled rooftops, and it’s all very nice and pretty, but about 80% are either bad or are good people who did nothing. And about 15 to 20% put themselves out. And were treated abominably after the war, didn’t get any recognition, only years, years, and years later. So that those are the kind of people that I was placed with. I was taken away from them and they put themselves really in danger because my foster father went to jail. I was taken away by the Dutch place and placed in Westerbork the transit camp.

We knew it about each other. We never spoke about it. We were getting ready to go to Israel, we were Zionists and even not going to stay in Europe. And I stuck to that. I never went back. I never stayed in Europe. And I left Israel. I said, leave Israel, but not back to Holland or to Germany because actually I’m, uh, I’m Dutch because I was born there and I was raised there. My sister was there until she was 11 years old. My sister’s name is Rita. She was born in May of 1940.

Gershon and Rita in 1947

You are with no nationality and again, no identity. So the memory of that is not that great. I lived with my foster parents and we went to Belgium or France or Italy because they were quite well to do Dutch Jews. Um, I had to also have special dispensation from the courts and I had a different, I remember a passport was pink instead of blue or a solid color … I was on refugee status, although I was born in the country. And there was no adoption. So finally, when I was 17, my foster parents adopted me to give me a name and give me a citizenship.

I am Jewish by religion, by birth first by birth, by religion and by tradition. And by way of life, I would actually put religion and the, and the traditional out of, out of context here and talk about I’m a Jew by birth and way of life. It’s culture, it’s everything. It encompasses everything for me. It’s just, that’s how I live. It is to me, it’s, it’s a way of life and the way of life is in the mind as well. It’s a way of life. It’s very hard to interpret it a little bit is religion, a little bit of this, a little bit as that in your general behavior, uh, your reactions. If you’re not exposed to Judaism at all, there may be a spark somewhere that still has to be developed. It isn’t developed yet, but I do believe there is some, um, you can be a Jew by choice and be really Jewish if you do buy. But if it’s from birth on and of, or even even a little bit later, it’s a way of life and a tradition that you accept with all its positives and negatives.

I think I have a duty as a Jew to tell my story to the world because every story of every Holocaust survivor is unique because they’re different people and different within themselves. Perception. You need to listen to as many stories. And I, a Jew is a normal person like any other person, the soul, two legs, wants to make it in life. We have certain attributes. We live our religion a bit differently, like everybody else does as well. A fight against bigotry, hatred of Jews is the oldest hatred that exists. And that’s why I find it very important, because we need to always have hope. It’s not my little story that I’m going to tell you here is not going to change people, their attitudes, but I want to have an understanding that they can choose what they think. That’s very important for me that people understand what the Holocaust is about. And other reason that I do it, I owe it to my dead parents so that they’re not just ash. So that they, and they don’t have a proper grave. So they don’t just becoming a number. So during my lifetime that I at least bringing them to life through photos, through pictures. There, there is a story attached to me in my background, people who were murdered because they were good people and didn’t do anything. And it’s also very good. And it’s good for my own psyche to talk about it because it gives me a sense of belonging. It gives me a sense of self and validation that I exist.

What happened is somebody in Germany he contacted the Holocaust Center of Toronto, a number of years ago. And says we have this name, we have got this, this, I don’t know how he knew I was in Toronto that I was here. He found out and he contacted the Holocaust Center, said there in Bad Wildungen, where my father worked, there was a Stolpersteine, five Stolpersteine up, uh, at, at a little Stiebel which was once a synagogue. But below there, because didn’t know exactly know where those people lived. And my father lived in the hotel. So what Jane and I did, we made a special trip to Germany for the first time, because I never had a gravestone of my parents. And it was only the gravestone of my father you know, the Stolperstein you know, how they look and what they are.

And I remember we saw it and, uh, we went to see that, and these men took us there. The Bürgermeister the, the mayor of the town came, he brought a little thing and we polished the stone and it was of five other people. And I didn’t cry. It was not even emotional because I, I think I’d cried enough all my life. And had been through all the emotions of first labeled, not a survivor, and being asked by other Holocaust survivors, you call yourself. So, you know, the survivor, you don’t know anything. You don’t remember anything, another slap in the face, you don’t belong anywhere. So anyway, that gives you somewhere to belong. And I cleaned it up very nicely. We stayed a week. We went to the place where my father worked, which doesn’t exist anymore, but it became a spa for people who are sick with asthma breathing. What is unique about it is that it is for me personally unique, it’s the only gravestone I have of my parents. It’s really ridiculous even to think about it, that only, the only gravestone is in Germany, but it’s there. And, uh, that I felt so at home, in Germany with the Stolperstein maybe it’s my culture where I come from. And I say, Hey, I don’t like nasty people, but these people are good people. And, um, I felt this is something that I can touch, it tangible it’s something of my parents. And it was very important to me. And it was a gravestone to me. It was a great, but, and also that the place that you walk, that you did, you walk over, it doesn’t bother me at all, because if it would be on the wall, I would have to turn my head.

What I also felt that if it is on the ground, so they have to put themselves out for half a second, too. I’m certainly not insulted, some people have got this mishagas you walk on. I have no problem. If you walk over it, it means many people go pass it because, uh, it will be more polished. The second time when I went, I said, you know, something that he said, the stone of your father is going to be taken away from here and placed now where he worked and lived on the main street. I said, that’s wonderful. I said, now I have a request. My parents were murdered on the same day in the same concentration camp. My mother is originally from Germany. Although she is not from this town because Stolpersteine are more of a, you worked or where you lived. I pay for it. Please put my parents, they were married, put them together as a Stolpersteine. They say, not only will we do it, it’s not your business to pay for it, we should. So I went again, said Kaddish again with all my Christian Germans around me and for my, and that’s what the Stolperstein does for me. It gives me historically a feeling that I belong and that people still care. Whether it’s out of guilt or not, I don’t care. It’s still it’s there. And my parents were Germans. They were transplants to Holland out of necessity, but they have still were entrenched in the German culture, German society when they lived there, especially the ones that live in small towns.

Reclaiming in a sense that that’s, it’s part of me, it’s part of my history. It’s part of who I represent and it is fine. And I don’t need to make excuses if people don’t like me because of it what can I do. People understand, people do understand, uh, especially Holocaust survivors who I speak with, they understand, uh, especially now that I have a Stolperstein there it’s a Stolpersteine is the, it’s the plural. Yeah. There’s an attachment. It had an impact on me as I … it’s very hard, but you try to visualize that he actually walked there and he lived there in that. And it’s the town. Yes it had spread out, it is modernized a little bit, but it’s still the core. The old city is, it’s all still the same. And, and, and so you like to, you like to transport you back in the past yourself, back in the past and your hunger actually to know and experience, but you can’t experience because you’re in a different day and time, but what he experienced through would have liked to experience.

Yes. And that is the feeling that I had. So yes, it had an impact, but not in a sentimental way. Uh, just, uh, Hey, this is me, this is again, part of the puzzle that needs another little piece of the puzzle that goes in that I. And there’s still pieces of puzzles that I, I, uh, I I’m looking for in my mind, uh, uh, about family, about the security that the history really is the history as it is about myself, because many children who live today who are wartorn deal with search. The search and the always need to develop themselves and be proud of themselves because their identity is so weak because of the displacement and because of where they have had to go to and how their life went. So I’m very, always very interested today in the downtrodden really.

You always were in search of who am I? What am I? So there’s the big difference that the horrors of the concentration camp, you don’t remember, you don’t know anything about, but you also don’t have the memory of who are you as a family. It could equate that to kids from Syria and from wartorn areas from the Rohingyas and Yazidi’s and people get murdered left right and center today. And so it’s really a very similar stories only that this was a very planned because you have to really define what is genocide and what is Holocaust. There are very different things the Holocaust is a planned annihilation of a people over a long period of time. Not necessarily in one geographical area, which happens. Genocide is usually a spontaneous annihilation people, bad.

Everything is bad ,often in one geographical area and a shorter period of time, not planned necessarily spontaneous, more spontaneous annihilation. So that’s that’s really the difference with the Holocaust. The difference is also, of course, that we spoke different languages. We adhered to different laws. We were members of different societies in different countries, who we were involved with in government and in arts and army in whatever way we were involved with. So, so it’s, it’s unique. Yeah, it’s unique because what do we have to do in 2021 almost, with the Holocaust of all those years ago. You have to make it also that it can be understood by children. And as long as we have are alive still, we it’s our duty to to speak. Well, life is very different, but, but what parallel can I draw? Children are children. They’re spontaneous, they ask questions and there are no inhibitions.

And they ask and if some misconceptions, and they know what parents’ tell the right thing or not the right thing, but they are inquisitive. They want to know, but it’s how you transcribe your knowledge, how you, how you get, how you put it in front of the children. Um, children are children. They are the hope of the whole, the future. So the more, if child is indoctrinated to hate somebody at a very early age it’s very hard to get it out of the child’s system. If a child gets indoctrinated at a very early age with goodness and equality, it’s very hard to get out of their system. So that’s what we have to do. So that’s where I see the parallel. It’s all up to the adults to, to guide the children. And then I see a parallel that children can be. Uh, I see also little children, teenagers in Nazi Germany can be also because of society be, um, although there are many Germans who knew the difference between right and wrong. But if you are allowed to go to a sports school and you go to the mountains to have a nice vacation and you belong to the Hitler youth, you’re damn sure you’re going to belong to the Hitler youth otherwise, you’ll get ostracized and you have no good. You haven’t got a good time. So you do that.

So it’s really up to the children to learn, and I, and I think nothing has changed. The child should know the difference between right and wrong and what it means to, to be a bully, what it means to be all-inclusive, but the child has to have it in them as well. But it has to also, uh, it has to be nurtured by parents, by educators and if you got the stuff nurtured the proper way. And then, then, uh, it’s usually the fright with children also of not knowing of what is strange like with adults., oh no we get to know each other suddenly, and yeah, it’s actually quite nice to find out that you have a different, different traditions, different way of life than I have.”

I met my wife, Jane (née Levy), in England, and we were married in Israel in January 1970. We have three children and, to date, seven grandchildren. In December 1977, we immigrated to Canada. For the first number of years I was employed as a youth and camp director for the Hamilton Jewish community. In 1984, I joined the Children’s Aid Society as a social worker, specializing in working with abused and neglected children. I retired in 2003.
I am active in the Jewish community and spend much time lecturing about my past experiences. In June 2006, we moved to Thornhill to be closer to our children and grandchildren.”

Dear Mr. Willinger I wish you a happy 80th birthday and I hope your story will be an inspiration for many.




The farmers from America saving allied pilots,French pow’s and Jewish citizens.

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.




The Organ attic-A secret hiding place

A good Church has an organ, it is not just a musical instrument but sometimes also a statement of grandeur.

During WWII one of these organs also became a hiding place for 3 Jewish families, well more the attic above the organ.

During the Second World War, the Breeplein Church in Rotterdam harboured a secret: three Jewish families were in hiding in the two attics high on both sides of the organ. What began, as was envisaged , as a temporary shelter for six weeks became a refuge for three years. The story of the Breeplein Church is one of courage, hope and trust, a story full of wonders and even the birth of a perfectly healthy baby.

On May 29, 1942, Maurice Kool and Rebecca Andriessen knocked on the door of the sexton of the Breepleinkerk in South Rotterdam. After they both had received a letter from the Nazi authorities telling them to report for ’employment in Germany’, they decided to go into hiding.

The seventeen-year-old Rebecca Andriesse and her 25-year-old fiancé Maurice Kool thought that they could stay together if they were married, so they did so as soon as possible. Rebecca’s grandfather arranged for them to go into hiding in the Breeplein Church. The sexton, Jacobus de Mars, created a hiding place in the attic behind the organ, which could be accessed by a ladder and an “invisible” trapdoor.

Three weeks later, Maurice’s parents called to the church . They too had received a letter and wanted to go into hiding. Shortly afterwards, the pharmacist De Zoete and his wife were hidden in the second attic behind the organ. It became their hiding for 34 months.

The organ will have been quite loud, when it was played. Which probably gave the hiding families some chance to make some noise of their own. However this would only be the case on Sunday mornings, the other days they would have to remain very quiet.

Meijer and Ida Kool, Maurice’s parents, owned a textile shop on the in Rotterdam. Because they were Jewish ,they were not allowed to run a business anymore. Because they had received a letter from the Nazi authorities they also decided to go into hiding. After an unsuccessful attempt elsewhere, they also ended up in the organ attic.

During the day the refugees sometimes left the attic an would go downstairs, but for most of the time they were in their hiding place , where it was very cold in the winter and unbearably hot in the summer.

Six months after the arrival of Meijer and Ida, two more people sought refuge in the attic . The sexton built one one on the other side of the organ, for the pharmacist Chaim and his wife Fifi de Zoete. Their three daughters were placed in other safe houses. Hadassah, one of the girls, was placed with the Van der Leer family, who attended the Breeplein Church services every Sunday. The Brillenburg Wurth family ,Reverend and his wife, made sure that Fifi and Chaim could see their daughter after the service, without Hadassah knowing that this was happening. I think because they may have been afraid that she would say something to others in her enthusiasm.

Thanks to the Resistance in Rotterdam, there was enough to eat for all the refugees as also for all the people helping and protecting them.

Rebecca became pregnant in spring 1943. This may sound like a strange thought but they must have been anxious having sex, to make sure they didn’t make too much sounds .Early January 1944 Rebecca had a baby boy . The Surinamese ophthalmologist Dr. Leo Lashley, the reverend’s wife Gerda Brillenburg Wurth and nurse Riet Dekkers assisted Rebecca during the childbirth. This too must have been nerve wrecking because this also had to be done in silence or at least as silent as possible.

The baby son was named after his grandfather and the sexton but was generally called Emile. The stays with the sexton and his wife.

Their adult daughter came to live with them with her newborn baby. To ensure that the crying baby would not attract attention.

April 14,1945 just three weeks before liberation , Nazi troops raided the church. Someone had told them that there were weapons in the church. The soldiers searched, but found nothing. At that time one of the refugees was playing a game with the sexton and quickly hid under the sexton’s bed. However, the soldiers were so fixated on weapons that they overlooked the rest. The people in hiding were therefore not found.

However the sexton was arrested “Even if they beat him to death, my husband would never betray you” said the sexton’s wife determinedly; and indeed, he did not.

Each person involved in this would definitely been sentenced to death, if they had been caught, luckily they weren’t and they all survived the war

I just want to mention Dr. Leo Lashley the ophthalmologist, who quickly had to become gynecologist, by reading a book on the subject.

He was born on March 24, 1903 in Nieuw-Nickerie, Surinam. He moved to the Netherlands, studied medicine in Utrecht, and obtained his doctorate in 1930 as an ophthalmologist. A little later he married and settled with his family in Rotterdam as an ophthalmologist.

During the war, he joined the resistance and helped a number of people go into hiding in Rotterdam; he also collected food for people in hiding. He successfully delivered baby Emile , the son of Rebecca and Maurice Kool . He went into obstetrics because no other doctor wanted to help Rebecca. Dr. Lashley had eventually go into hiding himself

After the War, he briefly remained active in Rotterdam and in Surinamese associations, but disappointed by racism and discrimination, he moved to Curaçao in 1948. He passed away in 1980.

A report of the Dutch Homeland security stated.

“Immediately after the liberation he fulfilled a very prominent function in the construction of the municipal council here. Being colored, he would have been forced out of this position to a certain extent, which has deeply hurt him,”

A book titled “Invisible Years” was written about this forgotten event. Currently a documentary for the Dutch public broadcaster is also made.


The story of the Organ Attics





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Law abiding citizen


I don’t know what it is but the last few days I have discovered several accounts of victims of the Holocaust which are very near to me. Not so much that I was related to these people or that I knew them, but I knew the locality and the addresses where they lived. In fact I passed these places by on a daily basis and in the case of Louis van Dam , sometimes even more then 10 times a day.

At the back of my secondary school there was a square . It was really a small park with a few benches and some trees, surrounded by houses. The square was known(and still is) as the Jubileum plein (Jubilee square)

We would often use this square for physical education lessons. One of the tests we had for PE was a run around the small park, We had a certain time (I believe it was 10 minutes) to run around the park as often as we could. 10 times or more would be a pass, anything below 10 was a fail.


You probably are thinking “where is he going with this” ? Well the name I mentioned earlier was Louis van Dam, Louis and his family lived in one of the houses on the square, Jubileumplein 12,Geleen from 1930 to 1939. In 1939 they moved to a village a few miles south, Doenrade. The reason why they moved was because of health reasons. Louis’s wife  Sophie Silbernberg-van Dam, had asthma and the pollution caused by the nearby coal mine was bad for her health. However Louis also wanted to live in a remote spot near the German border so he could help Jewish refugees. who crossed the border.

In that same year Louis became a bit of a ‘celebrity’ but not in a beneficial way, He had overheard a smuggling scheme in a local pub. Some smugglers had been smuggling Dutch army uniforms to Germany(the uniforms were to be used by the German army for the invasion of the Netherlands). As a law abiding citizen Louis reported this to the Police. Two men were arrested as a result.A newspaper article was published about the incident.


Despite the fact that Louis van Dam’s name only appeared in an abbreviated from in the newspaper, it was still known that he had reported the smugglers. Louis and his family received death threats afterwards because of this they moved again, this time to Amsterdam.

A few months after they moved, the German army invaded the Netherlands. Louis’s son Guus got involved in a students resistance group and was arrested at the end of 1941 or start of 1942.


Although the intended target for the arrest was Louis himself, some neighbours had betrayed him for listening to an English radio station, which was forbidden by the Nazi authorities. But Louis was ill and Guus was arrested instead.

Guus was sent to Auschwitz on November 10th,1942 via Scheveningen, Amersfoort and  Westerbork. It is not known where he died , his formal death certificate states date of death March 31,1944 in middle Europe, aged 22.

Louis, his wife and 2 daughters, Roos en Mimi, went into hiding.

van dam

Louis van Dam had gone into hiding using the alias Christiaan Willem Zijlstra. He died while in hiding and was buried under his alias at the Algemeene Begraafplaats Crooswijk in Rotterdam on 23 April 1945.

After the war  his remains were exhumed and  reburied at the Jewish cemetery Toepad in Rotterdam. Louis van Dam’s wife and daughter survived the war.

It just goes to show you can be passing by a house every day without being aware of the historical significance of it.




I am passionate about my site and I know you all like reading my blogs. I have been doing this at no cost and will continue to do so. All I ask is for a voluntary donation of $2, however if you are not in a position to do so I can fully understand, maybe next time then. Thank you. To donate click on the credit/debit card icon of the card you will use. If you want to donate more then $2 just add a higher number in the box left from the PayPal link. Many thanks.




Stichting Stolpersteine Sittard-Geleen

Joods Monument

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