Video: What Groningen was like in 1944

Clearly, I’ve been spending some time on YouTube recently. This is another historic video of what Groningen used to be like, only this one is from wartime — 1944 to be exact. You’ll notice the heavy military presence, guys spitting on Hitler’s image, and then the devastation from the bombing during WWII. Again, I will point out that this is not a video I or anyone in my family created, but it does provide a glimpse into what my ancestors saw and experienced, so I wanted to post it here. It was added to YouTube by Kee Wijnands last year.

Advertisements

POW letters from Klaas Siersema at Oflag XIII-B to wife Maria Wilhelmina Siersema-van Erp

A POW notice was sent from the Nazis to Maria Wilhelmina Siersema-van Erp on May 15, 1942, saying what she should send to her husband and why he had been taken into custody. Klaas Siersema was imprisoned at Oflag XIII-B, a prisoner of war camp for officers that was at the time in Hammelburg, Germany. I am not sure of his  exact rank at the time, but I’ll add it to this post if I am able to narrow it down. Later, he or someone he knew drew this sketch of the camp. Although I can’t read them, I did want to share them in case anyone else can. Here are photos/scans of the letters he sent back, in order of postmark:

June, 1, 1942

Front of the postcard from Klaas "Niek" Siersema at the Oflag XIII-B prisoner of war camp in 1942.

Front of the postcard from Klaas “Niek” Siersema at the Oflag XIII-B prisoner of war camp in 1942.

Back of the postcard from Klaas "Niek" Siersema at the Oflag XIII-B prisoner of war camp in 1942.

Back of the postcard from Klaas “Niek” Siersema at the Oflag XIII-B prisoner of war camp in 1942.

June 26, 2014

Front of a letter from Klaas "Niek" Siersema at the Oflag XIII-B prisoner of war camp in 1942.

Front of a letter from Klaas “Niek” Siersema at the Oflag XIII-B prisoner of war camp in 1942.

Letter from Klaas "Niek" Siersema at the Oflag XIII-B prisoner of war camp in 1942.

Letter from Klaas “Niek” Siersema at the Oflag XIII-B prisoner of war camp in 1942.

July 8, 1942

Letter front from Klaas Siersema at Oflag XIII-B in 1942.

Letter front from Klaas Siersema at Oflag XIII-B in 1942.

Notice on POW stationary saying it's only for prisoner of war use and they must write on the line. The words are in German and Polish.

Notice on POW stationary saying it’s only for prisoner of war use and they must write on the line. The words are in German and Polish.

A letter written in pencil from Klaas Siersema to his wife while he was a prisoner at Oflag XIII-B in 1942.

A letter written in pencil from Klaas Siersema to his wife while he was a prisoner at Oflag XIII-B in 1942.

FullSizeRenderFront

POW LETTERS: To Gertrude van Lier, from Joseph Terraubella at Stalag VB 19

Front of a letter from Joseph Ferraubella at Stalag VB 19 to Gertrude van Hier in 1942.

Front of a letter from Joseph Ferraubella at Stalag VB 19 to Gertrude van Hier in 1942.

Back of a letter from Joseph Ferraubella at Stalag VB 19 to Gertrude van Hier in 1942.

Back of a letter from Joseph Ferraubella at Stalag VB 19 to Gertrude van Hier in 1942.

This letter was in a box of my great-grandmother’s things and it stood out to me for obvious reasons. Turns out, one beautiful thing did make it out of the war -this painted rose by Joseph Terraubella. I don’t even know how painting materials make it into a prisoner of war camp.

Anyhow, I would really like to know more about Joseph and Gertrude, who I am guessing was a friend or relative of my great-grandmother’s. I’ve scoured the Internet with no luck. My great-grandmother, Helena de Wit, also lived in Utrecht, a fact which lends itself to my theory that they were friends or relatives.

UPDATE: After reading through Anje’s comments below (thank goodness she can read cursive better than I can), I remembered this newspaper clipping I also found in a box that originally belonged to my great-grandmother:

Newspaper clipping about Gertrude "Truus" van Lier.

Newspaper clipping about Gertrude “Truus” van Lier.

As Anje notes, van Lier, a CS-6 Dutch Resistance fighter, was executed Oct. 27, 1943, at a POW camp. She was 22 years old. Please see Anje’s comments below for links to webpages about her.

Bio: Johan Siersema (1924), the early years

Johan Siersema is seen at bottom right in this family photo.

A young Johan Siersema at the foot of Maria Wilhelmina van Erp and Klaas Siersema in this undated photo.

The early years

In his own words, Johan Nico Siersema had a hard life.

Hans, as he was called by family and friends, was born on the 9th of October, 1924, in Venlo, Limberg, Netherlands, and was the first son of Helena “Lenie” de Wit and Klaas “Niek” Siersema.

Hans later had one brother, named Tonny, but Tonny died at the age of 2. After Hans’ parents divorced when he was 5, he was essentially raised by his step-mother, Maria Wilhelmina van Erp, and never really had a good relationship with his birth mother thereafter.

Johan "Hans" Siersema and cousins.

Johan “Hans” Siersema and cousins. Date unknown.

Hans was 13 when he started smoking and drinking, and those became lifelong habits. Later in life, he sometimes smoked from a pipe, but preferred unfiltered cigarettes — Pall Mall — and Scotch.

He attended Gooisch Higher Citizens School in Bussum from 1937 to 1943, when he graduated, according to a Dutch newspaper (De Gooi- en Eemlander : nieuws- en advertentieblad June 5 1943).

During that time, he was a strong competitive breaststroke swimmer, coming in second in a local race in 1941 that was reported by a newspaper. In one tale of family lore, he missed a chance at being in the Olympics because it was cancelled for the war.

He met his future wife and my grandmother, Christina “Tineke” Kool, in wartime during the end of his high school years (he was 17 and she was 14), but I don’t know the story of it.

Hans was very smart — with an 139 I.Q. — but he was waylaid from attending university by the war.

Wartime

During the German occupation, he was a member of the Dutch Resistance and was involved in clandestine operations. Some of these included exerting pressure on Dutch police to set an example as to why it was a bad idea for local police to help the Nazis.

Hans went by at least two aliases: Ferdinand de Wit and Johan de Wit. The way he put it, the Nazis couldn’t really confirm his identity one way or the other. They didn’t have the technology that we do.

At some point during the war, Hans found himself as the only remaining living member of three resistance cells, according to a story Hans told my Uncle Nick. According to the story, each cell had about 20 members and then a person from one cell would have contact with the next so they could coordinate. As the only living member, he was made to go identify the dead bodies of resistance fighters lined up on sand dunes. He managed to identify a couple, but then said he couldn’t do it anymore.

Johan "Hans" Siersema in the POW camp where he was forced to dig up the un-detonated bombs dropped from air forces. In one story, he reached a bomb and it started ticking. He scrambled out of the hole and started running and when the Nazi guard started shouting at him to get back down there, Hans shouted back that the guard ought to run too.

Here, Johan “Hans” Siersema is shown in the POW camp where he was forced to dig up un-detonated bombs dropped from airplanes. Helena de Wit reportedly bribed a guard in order to visit her son and this photo is a product of that visit. In one story, he reached a bomb and it started ticking. He scrambled out of the hole and started running and when a Nazi guard started shouting at him to get back down there, Hans shouted back that the guard ought to run, too.

In 1944, Hans was a prisoner of war and was held in Kamp Amersfort, about 20 miles from Arnhem, Holland. His job as a prisoner was to dig 10-foot deep holes around the perimeter of the camp in search for buried land mines. Consequently, he watched his friends who worked with him be blown up and die, according to what my mom remembers from a conversation with him.

He attempted to escape several times before he was eventually successful in September of 1944. According to an interview he did in the 1980s with my mom, English planes were landing at Arnhem, 20 miles away…

“When that happened, the Germans … let the Red Cross in and the Red Cross insisted that anybody that was sick would be released immediately, so that there would only be healthy people there.”

“…I had a friend who was a medical student who worked for the doctor and he took a blood sample and switched mine with one that had T.B. So I had to leave and they gave me my walking papers and I got out.”

Hans returned to his family then. When the car pulled up to Klaas Siersema’s house to deliver him to his family, Klaas was worried it was the Nazis coming to take him, so he went and hid in a tobacco patch he had grown in the back yard.

When my mom asked Hans what he did between the time of his escape in ’44 and when the war ended in ’45, his response was, “I was hungry.” They were on rations then of two pounds of potatoes and four pounds of sugar beets per week. In the same interview, he talked about his aunt Leentje Siersema and his uncle Leendert Vlaasbloem, who died of starvation just three days apart.

According to a story Hans told emotional and late into the night to Cousin Michael, “Later in the war he said he was in France with his best friend. They were waiting on a British sub to come carry them to the British Isles. They went to a bar and got into a fight. That landed them in a french jail. They we then given to the Nazis by the French and he spent the rest of the war in a prison camp.”

“When the British we coming to liberate the camp, he told me the Nazis decide to kill the prisoners and he stood beside his best friend and fellow freedom fighter as a Nazi shot his friend in the head.”

I am not sure at what point, but on the run from the Nazis either before his capture or after his escape, Hans went to his mother looking for a place to hide. She turned him away for fear of being found out, so the story goes, and their relationship was further damaged.

Johan Siersema

Johan Siersema

Hans enlisted in the Royal Netherlands Army in Eindhoven on the 9th of July, 1945. At that time, the German Occupation had ended, but the war with Japan was still going. He was sent to England, where he was a small arms instructor for the new Dutch Army until 1946, when the military wanted to send him to Indonesia. Hans resigned his commission then, wanting to get away from the fighting, which he’d just done for five years.

In a story Hans later told my Uncle Nick, Hans once found himself guarding Nazi prisoners. One of them spoke up, saying Hans looked familiar. It turned out the Nazi prisoner had guarded Hans before and their roles were reversed.

Later, he was commended to be of good character by the mayor of Doorn, but I am not sure why.

Following wartime, a 23-years-old Hans enrolled in university. Because he felt like he’d lost so much time already, he rarely went to classes. Instead, he studied books and showed up to take exams. He graduated with a degree in economics after two years instead of the typical four.

“You know, I’d lost a number of years,” he explained his motivation.

Between July and September of 1949, he and Tineke eloped in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, England.

Christina Kool and Johan Siersema in 1945.

Christina Kool and Johan Siersema in 1945.

“What happened is, we started sleeping together, and in those days, Sweetheart, that wasn’t done — that was not done. But we wanted to keep on sleeping together, so we secretly got married,” he said in the interview with my mom.

They were officially married with family present the following year.

Note: I will continue my grandfather’s story in a second bio post. Here, I tried to be as factual as possible, but if I’ve learned anything looking into my family history, it’s that everyone can have a different story about the same events. I welcome anyone who wants to share their story of Opa John in the comments and I will continually update this post as more information become clear to me. I would love to do a separate post with everyone’s memories. For instance, until recently, I’d forgotten how he made a sort of whistling noise through his teeth when he spoke.

Image

WWII Photo: Crowd celebrates as armored car drives down street in Netherlands

An armored car rolls down the street a s a crowd celebrates in the Netherlands during WWII. (Philip Siersema/Contributed)

An armored car rolls down the street as a crowd celebrates in the Netherlands during WWII. (Philip Siersema/Contributed)

This photo was in a box that belonged to my grandfather Johan Nico Siersema, so I could infer that it was taken in the Netherlands during WWII — likely by one of his relatives. But, since I didn’t know much else about it, I posted on the military history sub-Reddit to see if anyone might know more.

Alex Clumpkens identified the car as being of the Canadian Corps’ 49th (West Riding) Infantry Division, aka “the Polar Bears,” and suggesting Utretch as a location:

“It is probably a candadian Humber Armoured car. As far as I can make out it belonged to the British 49th(West Riding) Infantry division, nick named the Polar bear division. It was attached to the Canadian 1 Corps during the later stages of World war 2

This Unit was heavily involved in the liberation of Utrecht! Hm saw that city mentioned in your blog. For pictures see http://www.mapleleafup.ca/ve2.html

Redditor hydrogenjoule also responded, but with an alternative location:

“Because your grandfather was Dutch, and there seems to be a Dutch flag in the photo, I’m going to say that this was at Arnhem in April 1945, during I Canadian Corps liberation of the city. This was, as far as I know, the only major action in the Netherlands that the 49th took part in, and would certainly have merited a celebration.

After the failed Operation Market-Garden in ’44, Arnhem was the front line of the German resistance in the Netherlands until I Canadian Corps secured it during Operation Anger.”

So! We know who is in the photo now, just not the when and where. If anyone has any ideas, let me know!

Helena ‘Lenie’ de Wit’s identification papers circa 1944

The cover of Helena de Wit's identification.

The cover of Helena de Wit’s identification.

The inside of Helena de Wit's identification.

The inside of Helena de Wit’s identification.

The back page of Helena de Wit's identification.

The back page of Helena de Wit’s identification.

These are — as near as I can tell — my great-grandmother Helena de Wit’s identification papers from 1944, complete with photo, fingerprint, and address.

Johan Siersema’s University of Amsterdam student ID from 1947

Student identification for Johan Siersema for a university in Amsterdam, dated 1947-1949.

Student identification for Johan Siersema for a university in Amsterdam, dated 1947-1948.

Student identification for Johan Siersema for a university in Amsterdam, dated 1947-1949.

Student identification for Johan Siersema for a university in Amsterdam, dated 1947-1948.

These are scans of the student ID my grandfather Johan Siersema was issued while attending the University of Amsterdam following WWII. By that time, he had fought in the Dutch resistance, been a POW twice over, and lived through a difficult period of starvation during which he lost some family members. The new Dutch army wanted him to stay on, but he decided to go to school instead.

Now, by “go to school,” I don’t mean that he went to classes. He was incredibly intelligent, with a 139 IQ, so he simply read the books, showed up to take the tests and then graduated with a degree in a economics — in two years instead of the usual four.

I’ll write more about him in his bio, but I’m still collecting information on that!

WWII: Photo of Klaas Siersema and fellow Royal Netherlands officers in 1940

Klaas Siersema and fellow Royal Netherlands military members on the 15th of July, 1940.

This is a slightly retouched photo of Klaas Siersema, second from the bottom right, and his fellow Royal Netherlands military officers on July 15, 1940. At this time, judging by the stars on Klaas’ collar, he had achieved the rank of captain.

On the back, it says that these are the officers of the battalion that Niek commanded, according to a translation my cousin Anje Belmon graciously did. Unfortunately, I have no way of knowing who Niek was. Update: About a week following this post, I listened to a 1980s audio interview my mother, Joy Siersema, did with my grandfather and Klaas’ son, Johan Siersema. From the interview, I learned that Klaas went by Niek, so these would have been the soldiers under his command.

As for who the other officers are, the writing on the back of the photo has some clues. The wording, as best as I can make out, reads: “n.d. Sluis – Roos – Tiele – ‘t Mannetje – van der Beek – unreadable – unreadable – van Dok – Boekholt – Schul – van Boal – unreadable – van den Tut.”

The writing on the back also notes that four men are missing from the photo. Their last names were — again as best as I can make out — Ter Hal, Nahuiser, Schiere and Meyer.

Trust me, though, the names are not easy to read! So if you see something different from what I’ve written here, please leave a note in the comments and I can update the tags so if any descendants of these gentlemen are searching for them, they may have a better chance of finding this post. [Hint: If you click on the thumbnail, it will take you to a larger image.]

Mayor of Doorn commends Johan Nico Siersema

Bewijs van goed zedelijk gedrag Gemeente van afgifte: Doorn Datum van afgifte: 20 Juli 1949 De burgemeester van voormelde gemeente verklaart, dat de hieronder genoemde persoon, voor zoveel hem bekend, van goed zedelijk gedrag is. Geboren te: Maasbree L Geboren op: 9 October 1924 Beroep: Zonder Alhier wonende (van - tot): 1 November 1948 tot heden  De burgemeester voornoemd, [signature]. Evidence of good character Municipality of issue: Doorn Date of issue: 20 July 1949 The mayor of that municipality declares that the person mentioned below, so far as known to him, of good repute. Born in: Maasbree L Birth: 9 October 1924 Occupation: Without Local resident (from - to): 1 November 1948 to present The mayor said, [signature]

In this document from the 20th of July, 1949, the mayor of Doorn commends my grandfather, Johan Nico Siersema, as a person of good repute and good character. I’m not sure exactly what for, but possibly for service in the war. Still, it’s pretty cool to see.

WWII: Photo of internees at Ilag VIII

 

Dear readers,

Due to the popularity of this post, I feel it is pertinent to add that this is the sole photo I have of prisoners of war, aside from one of my own grandfather. I have only a handful of POW letters (from the men I have listed in the post below), but not much else in terms of documents or knowledge about the camps or people in them. However, please feel free to use the commenting area as a forum. Perhaps someone else who is looking for what you’re looking for — or who has what you’re looking for — will also find this post. Thank you for visiting.

May your search prove fruitful!

-Christina Gullickson

This is a photo of POWs/internees from WWII at the Ilag VIII internment camp, according to the stamp with the phrase “Gepruft 2” on the back. I found it in a box from my grandmother’s house which also contained documents and photos from my great-grandmother, Helena de Wit.

Helena, or Lenie as she was often called, frequently wrote to prisoners during the war, including a number at Ilag camps. I don’t know that the men she wrote to are the same as the ones in this photo (although, it’s my guess that at least one of them was, for why else would she have kept it), but I mention them because I am seeking their descendants before publishing the letters they wrote to Lenie on this blog. They are:

  • 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]

If you or someone you know is a descendant of one of these men, please post the details in the comments.