Bio: Atenogenes Vargas Marin

Atenogenes Vargas

Atenogenes Vargas (Photo courtesy Carmen Vargas.)

Atenogenes Vargas Marin was born the first son to Candelaria Marin Hernandez and Mariano Vargas Ramos on July 16, 1901, in Ameca, Jalisco, Mexico. The eldest of nine, he was an adventurous soul and family lore says he was named from a Greek calendar that Candelaria and Mariano had.

At 13, he decided he wanted to join the Mexican Revolution, so he ran off to water their horses when Pancho Villa came through town. Candelaria was firm that he was not to join and sent Mariano after Atenogenes to drag him back home.

Three years later, Atenogenes was off again, this time hopping trains and essentially backpacking into the Western United States. Atenogenes stepped off the train in the U.S. for the first time outside the new jail that had just been built in Gilroy, California. He continued on as far as Montana, where he ended up out of money and hungry from not having eaten for three days. It was freezing cold and a (in his own words) “white man” took pity on him.

After a time, he returned to Mexico, where he ended up working as a policeman, and then he eventually immigrated to California with the rest of the family in 1925. There, he worked as a machinist’s assistant, a Merchant Marine, and in a candle factory in the Mission District of San Francisco.

Atenogenes Vargas

Atenogenes Vargas

He married Alma Reyegonda, who was haunted by a tragic past for much of her life. When she was 18, she played Ding Dong Ditch on her mom. They lived in a two-story apartment at the time, and the second time her mother came downstairs to answer the door, she fell down the stairs and suffered a broken neck. After two weeks in the hospital, Alma’s mother passed away.

As was popular during the era, Atenogenes and Alma liked to drink and stay out late. Before long, they had three children: Art Vargas, Rose Vargas, and Carmen Vargas, all who still live in California.

On a trip to Ameca in 1972, Atenogenes sought out his old stomping grounds and found his long-lost aunt, Maria Marin, who was sitting alone in her home, which lead to a heartwarming reunion. Cousin Carmen has kept this photo of them for some years:

Atenogenes and mysterious cousin. (Photo courtesy Cousin Carmen Vargas)

Atenogenes and mysterious cousin. (Photo courtesy Cousin Carmen Vargas)

Atenogenes eventually died of pneumonia in 1980.

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Photo contributed by A.M. "Toon" Blokand.

Bio: Klaas Siersema

I recently got a message from my uncle asking what I might know about Klaas Siersema, my great-grandfather. Well, the truth is I know a lot, I’ve been remiss in writing down all in one place, and I would love to know more. So, here goes. If anyone has additional information about Klaas Siersema, please let me know in the comments!

Thanks for the kick in the pants, Uncle Mike!

Klaas Siersema.

Klaas Siersema.

Klaas Nicholas Siersema was born on September 15, 1895, in Groningen, Netherlands, to Arentje Vermaas and Gerrit Siersema.

Klaas was the youngest of three siblings. He had two older sisters, Helena Elisabeth “Leentje” Siersema and Elisabeth Helena “Bets” Siersema. Leentje eventually died of starvation during World War II and Bets was rumored to be a medium who could speak to the dead much like her grandfather.

Arentje left Gerrit, who was supposed to be a terrible drunk, taking their children with her when they were still young. She later worked in a shop, but it was likely she went to stay with relatives and did not wholly support herself and her children. It’s possible she stayed with Jacoba Antoinetta van Eijsden in Brielle (I like this theory because in 1909 when Jacoba died, she left half her house and courtyard to Arentje). Jacoba also left Klaas 50 gilders, according to the record Cousin Anje found online.

Mystery Photo No. 3. (Courtesy Philip Siersema)

Family Photo. (Courtesy Philip Siersema)

Klaas would go on to become a career military man. He had joined the Royal Netherlands military by the age of 20, and I believe he was a Vaandrig (officer cadet) when photographed with fellow soldiers in Kampen in 1915.

He was promoted to Tweede-Luitenant (second lieutenant) on September 25, 1917, by the Ministry of War–although this was during WWI, the Netherlands was neutral in the war.

After what was in part a long-distance courtship, Klaas married Helena Frederika de Wit at the Netherlands Reformed Church in Hertogenbosch, where her father was a highly respected member of the congregation. According to their calling cards, Klaas and Helena both lived in Hertogenbosch prior to their nuptials. At 27 years old, Klaas was listed on their wedding certificate as a First Lieutenant of the Infantry. They wed on August 28th, 1923, and he was eight years her senior.

Wedding portrait of Klaas Siersema and Helena "Lenie" Frederika de Wit.

Wedding portrait of Klaas Siersema and Helena “Lenie” Frederika de Wit.

Their first son, Johan Nico “Hans” Siersema, was born in Venlo a little more than a year later on October 9, 1924.

Antony Dirk “Tonny” Siersema, their second son, was born on November 15, 1927.

The death of Tonny on August 1, 1929 precipitated Klaas and Helena’s eventual divorce in that it brought the family doctor deeper into their lives. Helena would go on to have a committed relationship with the doctor for about 50 years.

Klaas remarried to Maria Wilhelmina van Erp, whom he remained married to until his death.

Klaas and Wilhelmina van Erp's wedding portrait.

Klaas and Wilhelmina van Erp’s wedding portrait.

Together, they supported Je Maintiendrai, one of the most prominent underground newspapers in the Netherlands during WWII.

By March, 1938, Klaas had achieved the rank of Kapitein (captain) of 2e Compagnie II Bataljon in the 6e Regiment Infanterie, according to a newspaper clipping. He was photographed with fellow military personnel on July 15 with three stars pinned on either side of his collar.

In 1942, Klaas was captured by the Nazis as a prisoner of war. He was held at Oflag XIII-B, a prisoner of war camp for officers that was at the time in Hammelburg, Germany. There or sometime after, I believe he drew this sketch. He also wrote letters to his wife.

Following his release, his son Hans also escaped from a POW camp. According to one family story, when Hans returned home, Klaas saw the car pull up outside and immediately went into his backyard to hide in the bushes. He thought the Nazis had returned for him, but it was only his son returning home.

Klaas is said to have done important work at the Militair Revalidatie Centrum Aardenburg, where as Director of the institute he helped pioneer new methods of treatment for shell-shock soldiers. According to my step-grandmother, those suffering from what we now call PTSD could live on the grounds with their families, which was unheard of at the time. The hospital does cutting edge medical work to this day. Klaas was succeeded in his position at the MRC by Lcol. Th.A.J. van Erp, according to A.M. “Toon” Blokand.

In 1952, Klaas was named an Officer of the Order of Orange-Nassau, which honors selective individuals for their contributions to society through either civilian or military efforts.

KlaasMilDoc-A

Klaas died of a heart attack while reading “Mein Kampf” at the age of 60 in Doorn on October 14, 1955. I’m not sure if that phrase means he was literally reading it, but that’s how I’ve heard it referenced. My mom still has the book with  his bookmark in it.

Click on the photos below to enlarge them.

Click here to see the images Klaas kept in his pocket photo book.

1800s portrait of Wubbina Engellina Haken

Wubbina Swalve [n. Haken]. I'm not sure when this photo was taken, other than it was during her lifetime. The website Cousin Anje and I were referencing to evaluate fashion to narrow down the decade seems to be down. (Courtesy Willem Vliestra)

Wubbina Swalve [n. Haken]. (Courtesy Willem Vliestra)

I was looking through some old emails recently and realized I haven’t yet posted all the photos Willem Vliestra sent me. This portrait is of Wubbina Engellina Haken. I’ve mentioned or written about her on here a couple times before and there’s not a ton of information on a woman who lived so long ago, so I’ll recap what I do know, mostly from the Peters’ research, here:

Wubbina Engellina Haken was born to Geerd Jans Haken and Jantje Hinderks Fols in Boen, the center of the municipality of Bunde, Ostfriesland, Germany — just near the border of the Netherlands — in between May of 1824 and May of 1825.

Wubbina was 26 when she married Engbertus Freerks Swalve on May 4, 1851, and he was 39. She was living in Boen and he was living in Bovenhuisen at the time, but they moved in together Böhmerwold, Germany, after they wed. She was with child before the end of the year, starting a fertile trend that would last 18 years.

Wubbina bore 11 children, including one set of twins, but one of the twin girls died the day of childbirth. Eight of the children lived to adulthood. They were: Geert Engbertus Swalve [1852], Dajes Geziena Swalve [1853], Freerk Bellinga Swalve [1855], Johann Engbertus Swalve [1859], Engbertus Freerks Swalve [1859], Gepkea Wubbina Swalve [1861], Heinrich Engbertus Swalve [1867], and Aaltje Engbertus Swalve [1870].

Wubbina’s husband, Freerks, who was a master baker, died on April 3, 1873. She passed away many years later on September 7, 1889, in Böhmerwold.

Editor’s note: Wubbina was born in the early 1800s. This was written incorrectly –although hopefully obviously so when compared with the photograph –in an earlier version of this post.

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.

Bio: Dirk de Wit (1872)

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Dirk de Wit was born in Buren, Netherlands, the second of November, 1872, according to a record on FamilySearch.org, to Hendrika Goudsblom, a servant, and Dirk de Wit (1833), a municipal constable.

He was their second child by that name, as was tradition if the first child of a given name died very young. He never met siblings Johannes Gerardus de Wit [1867-1868] or Dirk de Wit [1870-1871], but he did have a sister who survived into adulthood, Dirkje de Wit [about 1858-1939]. Dirkje was a product of their father and his first wife, Alijda Zoelen.

Dirk was a passionate man who courted his wife, Wubbina Swalve, for at least four years before they married in her hometown of Beverwijk, North Holland, on Aug. 15, 1902.

Dirk became a father in 1903, when Wubbina, again in Beverwijk, gave birth to a daughter whom they named Helena Frederika.

A Protestant, Dirk was very devoted to his faith. Although he worked as a teacher and was listed as such on most official documentation throughout his life, he also held many prominent and important positions with the Dutch Reformed Church.

As for his profession, Dirk taught at the Nutschool for at least 20 years, according to a Google translation of the newspaper account of his funeral service. I believe this was in s-Hertogenbosch, where he died and where obituary accounts note a strong contingent from the Nutschool in attendance.

In the Dutch Reformed Church, he was a member of the council, secretary treasurer of the Board of Deacons and administer prelate, according to an obituary clipping, which also noted that he was the founding president of the choir, Excelsior, and president of “Our Covenant.”

He also did philanthropic work and was appointed to the Board of Directors for the Armenraad (or Arms Council in English), which was an organization that helped the needy.

He died on the 18th of June, 1926, in s-Hertogenbosch. He was 53 years old.

Aside from obituary and funeral coverage, most information for this bio came from digital records on Genlias.nl.

Bio: Sophia van Ameringen

Sophia van Ameringen was born on the fourth of July, 1871, in den Helder, North Holland, Netherlands, to Judith Cijfer and Ahron van Ameringen.

She may have had a brother named Andrew, or a brother named Abraham, or possibly both (I’m working on figuring that out).

On the 17th of December, 1890, in Amsterdam, when she was just 19 years old, Sophia married Maurits “Mozes” Lopes-Cardozo.

From their union, she bore four daughters: Esther, Henriette, Frederica and Louise. Esther was born in 1891, Henriette was born in 1893, Frederica was born in 1897, and Louise was born in 1903. Family documentation puts most of those births in Amsterdam, so I believe that is where she and Mozes resided. Sophia was also later a grandmother several times over.

She was widowed in 1921, when Mozes died in Hilversum.

Sophia was murdered by the Nazis during the Holocaust on the 26th of March, 1943, in Sobibor, Poland. She and her mentally challenged daughter, Frederica, were two of the approximately 167,000 people killed in the extermination camp there, according to the Holocaust Encyclopedia website and family sources. Sophia was 71.

Bio: Ruth Kool

Ruth Kool

Ruth Kool was born on the seventh of November, 1931, in Eindhoven, Noord-Brabant, Netherlands, to Louise Lopes-Cardozo and Cornelis Kool (1900), according to documentation in my family. She was their third and youngest child.

She had one brother, Maurtis, who is more commonly known as Morris, and one sister, Christina, who was more commonly known as Tineke.

Ruth was married to Len Gaasenbeek in 1952, but they never had any children. Ruth died fairly young after contracting an illness at the hospital where she worked. She passed away on the 24th of March, 1956, in Kingston, Ontario, Canada.

In the Canadian National Association of Trained Nurses’ “The Canadian Nurse Volume 52 (No. 11),” which was published in November of 1956, Ruth was listed along with others with her same occupation who had died in the In Memoriam section:

“Ruth (Kool) Gaasenbeek died recently at Kingston, Ont, After having received part of her training in Holland, Mrs. Gaasenbeek entered the school of nursing of the Greater Niagara Hospital. Niagara Falls, and graduated in 1955.”

Bio: Tonny Siersema

Photo of Tonny Siersema

Tonny Siersema’s Birth Announcement

Tonny Siersema was born Antony Dirk Siersema on the 15th of November, 1927, in Blerick, Limberg, Netherlands, to Klaas Siersema and Helena de Wit. He was their second son, and lived only a short while, passing away from an illness on the 8th of January, 1929 in Venlo, according to a digital record on Genlias.nl. He was 2.

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 FamilySearch.org.

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 Genlias.nl.

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.

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.