AMOR & CO.: Long-distance love in the 1920s

This is one of my favorite things that I found in the box from my grandmother’s house. At first I thought it was just a cute drawing, but then I looked closer and realized the woman and man pictured are my great-grandparents, Klaas Siersema and Helena de Wit.

At the time of this drawing, Lenie lived in s’Hertogenbosch [s’Bosch] and would have been just 18. Klaas was a lieutenant in the military, and from the wording, I am guessing he was stationed in Venlo, which would make sense since that’s where they lived together after they were married the following year.

Anyway, I just thought this was a sweet depiction of long-distance love in the 1920s. Lenie’s parents used letters in their long-distance courtship, and my generation uses Skype and the like. It’s interesting to see the evolution there.

Playbill from Kamp Schoorl re-education camp “Bunter Abend” performance in 1940

This is the playbill from a “Bunter Abend” performance, a comedic dinner party-like show, at a re-education camp in Schoorl, Netherlands, during WWII. My great-grandmother, Helena de Wit, regularly wrote and sent packages to prisoners of war, including Walter Armitage, who was the general manager of this production [see Page 3].

The first letter I have in my possession from Armitage was sent in October of 1940, according to the date he wrote on the letter [the post stamp is dated three years later]. Since this performance was a couple months before that, Aug. 25 to be precise, I would be curious to know if this was how they met — although, I suspect that they knew each other another way, possibly through someone named Ady, whom Walter wrote about often.

I have several letters from Armitage that I would like to share on this blog, but I haven’t had time yet to research international copy right laws and, regardless, I would like permission from his descendants before publishing them. If you are related to Armitage, who was a British civilian prisoner from 1940-1944, or you know someone who is, I hope you will contact me through the comments.

I am also seeking contact with descendants of the following former POWs/internees, and I will make efforts to track down their descendants and obtain permissions before publishing on this blog:

  • Fred Anderson [Signed “Skylark,” sent from Ilag Tost 4, Oflag VIII D
  • George Hamilton [Signed “Scottie,” sent from Ilag Tost 7]
  • S. Churley [Sent from Ilag Tost VIII]
  • C. Hendre [Sent from Ilag Tost 8, Oflag VIII D]

UPDATE: This post was updated May 30, 2013, after cousin Anje helped cleared up some geographical and translation issues. Originally, I thought the camp was located somewhere else, but this post and tags have been updated to reflect that it was located in the Netherlands. As Anje mentions in the comments below, more information on the camp can be found here.

Early 1900s postcards from Freerk Swalve to daughter Wubbina (in Dutch)

UPDATED SEPT. 20, 2012: These are postcards sent from my great-great-great-grandfather Freerk Bellinga Swalve to his only daughter, Wubbina, in the early 1900s. Originally, there was one more in this collection, but it was removed after my cousin, Anje Belmon read over them (she know Dutch) and determined that one was actually from an aunt. As for the rest, Anje says, “Most of what is written is about small illnesses, and wishes that things will be better soon, so they can visit each other.” Which, of course, sounds exactly like something a father would write to his daughter.

Hint: Click on the images to make them bigger.

Bio: Wubbina Engellina Johanna Petronella Swalve

Wubbina Engellina Johanna Petronella Swalve was born about 3 a.m. the 25th of October 1879 to Freerk Belinga Swalve and Helena Catrina Koster in a house at the bakery on Breestraat in Beverwijk, North Holland, according to a birth certificate scan on

Wubbina had one sibling who lived to adulthood, Anthonie Johannes Swalve, who was her older half brother or brother and later an amateur photographer. She also had a sister, Lucretia Anna Swalve, who died very young.

When she was 22, Wubbina married a teacher named Dirk de Wit — at least four years after their courtship began — in her hometown on August 15th in 1902, according to a digital record on

Two years later, she gave birth to a daughter, Helena de Wit.

Wubbina was widowed in 1926 at which point she went into seclusion.

She died in March 1959. She was 79 years old.

ARMY BOOK 64: Johan Siersema’s Solider’s Service and Pay Book

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 Note: Please find links to individual static pages at the bottom of this post.

Along with many other old family documents and photos in the box I got from my grandmother’s house was this find: My grandfather Johan Siersema’s Soldier’s Service and Pay Book from when he served in the Royal Netherlands Army-Section Expeditionary Force in 1945-46.

Interestingly, he signed up in Eindhoven, but the book is written in English (Thank goodness! Something I can actually read.).

It has a lot of tidbits of information, some of which I can make out and some of which I cannot. Since I decided to post in a slide-show format, I’ll run through the parts that were filled out below…

Page 3: Lists that Johan enlisted in Eindhoven on 9-7-45
Page 5: He went through lots of rifle training, as well as some for live-grenade throwing, machine guns, and mortar/smoke, noting an entire section (mostly with rifles) with “won courses”
Page 6: Notes corps training, swimming test, and gas chamber qualifications
Page 10: Lists vacations, including five days for Easter in 1946 and movement
Pages 11-12: Lists several vaccinations/innoculations, including TAB for Typhoid
Page 13: He lists Klaas Siersema as his next-of-kin in Bussum
Pages 15-26: The form area for the solider’s will was left blank
Back page: Most of the writing is too difficult to make out, but I can clearly read a “T. Kool” and see that it is followed by an address (my grandmother was called Tineke and her last name was Kool)

If you want to view static images, please click on the following links: Cover, Pages 1-2, Pages 3-4, Pages 5-6, Pages 7-8, Pages 9-10, Pages 11-12, Pages 13-14, Pages 15-16, Pages 17-18, Pages 19-20, Pages 21-22, Pages 23-24, Pages 25-26.

JE MAINTIENDRAI: With Thanks from All Readers

Je Maintiendrai was one of the top five underground periodicals in Holland during the German occupation, according to a book on that subject by Werner Warmbrunn. The French phrase Je Maintiendrai means “I will maintain,” which is the motto of the House of Nassau (the royal family in the Netherlands). The main lettering just below where it says “Je Maintiendrai” on this sheet, which I discovered in the box I got from my grandmother’s house, translates to “With Thanks from All Readers,” according to Google Translate.

Warmbrunn’s “The Dutch, under German Occupation, 1940-1945” talks more about the paper’s history:

“After May 1943 the editorial board of Je Maintiendrai was largely made up of people who have been active in the Netherlands Union or sympathetic to its political concepts. Some of the collaborators were Catholics, but on the whole Je Maintiendrai included a diverse group of people, Protestants, Catholics, and ‘humanists,’ who worked together in harmony…

“The paper suffered two major blows. A number of distributors were arrested in July 1943, but the most important of these were freed from prison. In August 1944, however, the Germans managed to seize two of the founders and key editors. These men were executed in October.”

Of the many names mentioned, I believe N. Siersema was my Opa, Johan Nico Siersema, who was a Dutch Resistance fighter and soldier in the Army, and M. Siersema-Van Erp would have been his step-mother, Maria Wilhelmina.

The original sheet is not in great shape and I spent about an hour working with Photoshop to try to restore the edges for this digital copy. Some parts, I think you can tell, but I tried my best, because I think it’s pretty cool to see a bit of journalism history and my family history intertwine. I especially like the images of people passing the papers from door to door.

LOVE LETTER FROM 1898: Century-old poem from Dirk de Wit to Wubbina Swalve

I recently procured a box of old documents and photos from my grandmothers house. In it, I found this 114-year-old love letter from my great-great grandfather, Dirk de Wit, to his then future wife, Wubbina Engellina Petronella Swalve.

My distant cousin Anje Belmon, who lives in the Netherlands and knows English as well as Dutch, helped translate (she also notes that, in Dutch, the letter rhymes):


When you friendly eyes
May rest upon these pages,
Think about him,
Who wrote these (pages), and who loves you,
More than the light of eyes.

May everything on this globe perish
His love for you will always exist.
But he also hopes for thy love:
Your love gives him joyful pleasure
In restless working and striving.

And if sometimes adversity threatens
Stand firmly! Hold your head up high!
Be aware that at heaven’s proud bow,
Clouds also pass through!

Thine, thou always loving, Dirk

Bio: Helena de Wit

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Helena “Lenie” de Wit was born Oct. 24, 1903, in Beverwijk, North Holland, to Dirk de Wit and Wubbina Engellina Johanna Petronella Swalve.

When she was 19, Helena was married Col. Klaas Siersema in the Netherlands Reformed Church in Hertogenbosch and later gave birth to two children, Johan Siersema and Tonny Siersema.

She divorced Klaas after the death of Tonny, which happened when he was two, and spent much of the rest of her life in a committed relationship with Dr. G. Broeders, who was also a military man; although, they never married.

Helena earned certificates in both stenography and typing in 1932, and regularly wrote and sent packages to prisoners during WWII. During the war, when Johan, a member of the Dutch Resistence, was captured, she paid off a guard and went to visit him, having to stand on the other side of a fence. She came from a wealthy family and often traveled in Holland.

Later, she was known as Oma Utrecht by her grandchildren, since that was where she lived later in life.

She died in 1984. She was 81.

Personally, I never met Helena, because she died shortly after I was born, so if you did know her and are inclined to leave a comment sharing a story or memory about her, I would be grateful.

MYSTERY PHOTO SERIES: Image taken in Rotterdam in the 1800s by A. Boeseken

Among the many old photos of family members whom my mother and I have been able to identify are a handful of mysterious ones.

Although we can see the photographer of this one is A. Boeseken and that the photo itself was taken in Rotterdam, little more is revealed at first glance. I posted this and some other scans to my Flickr account and a distant cousin, Anje Belmon, looked into it.

Anje discovered that the photograph is likely from between 1867 and 1877 by researching it on a website about photos taken in the Netherlands. It’s especially interesting because, she says, the earliest dated photo from the Netherlands is from 1842.

“On the backsite … it says ‘A. Böeseken. Photografisch atelier. ROTTERDAM. Hoogstraat over de Vlasmarkt’. The underlined bit means ‘Highstreet over the Flaxmarket’ and is the adress of the photostudio,” Anje wrote in an email.

After looking through even more old photos, I am nearly certain this ancestor is one from Helena de Wit‘s line [she is my great-grandmother]. Although none of my ancestors are from Rotterdam, the closest that I know they lived was in ‘s-Hertogenbosch and Buren. Both are about 80 kilometers, or about 50 miles, away.

I’ll keep looking for clues, but if you notice or think of anything interesting relating to this mystery photo, go ahead and leave it in the comments.