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.

Advertisements

PHOTO: The daily life of Klaas Siersema and Maria Wilhelmina van Erp

Klaas Siersema and Maria Wilhelmina van Erp warm themselves near the stove.

Klaas Siersema and Maria Wilhelmina van Erp warm themselves near the stove.

This photo is a little scarred, but I like how it shows a glimpse into the daily life of Klaas Siersema and Maria Wilhelmina van Erp, or Oma Doorn as I’ve always known her to be called. My mom’s side of the family has always liked dogs (we treat them like kings), and this image fits with that trend. It must have been a cold day, since Klaas and Wilhelmina are situated around a stove. Also, notice the kettle heading on the stove and Maria reading a book — a simpler time!

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

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.

Klaas and Helena Siersema’s calling cards from the 1920s

Callings cards for Klaas Siersema and Helena de Wit. (Courtesy Philip Siersema)

Callings cards for Klaas Siersema and Helena de Wit. (Courtesy Philip Siersema)

These are another couple finds from the box my uncle Philip Siersema lent me to scan — actual calling cards from the 1920s! They belonged to Klaas Siersema and Helena de Wit. Apparently, they were stored in a little envelope, so they’re still in pretty good condition. Kind of a cool little piece of history.

Klaas Siersema’s pocket photo book

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I recently borrowed a box of old photographs and documents from my uncle Philip Siersema, and in it I found this little gem. It’s a pocket photo book with images of Klaas Siersema’s second wife Maria Wilhelmina van Erp and his son, Johan. Klaas (born 1895), as I’ve noted before, was a career military man, so it would make sense that he was away from home a lot and wanted something with him to remember his loved ones by. I also like that it shows a softer side of him, especially since his reputation wasn’t exactly super warm and fuzzy.

Trend Setters: Klaas Siersema, Helena ‘Lenie’ de Wit call it quits

Helena de Wit and Klaas Siersema in Oostvoorne, South Holland, Netherlands, in 1922, about a year before they were married.

While Klaas Siersema and Helena “Lenie” de Wit were very much in love when they wed, all things, as they say, must come to an end. A little less than six years after they were married, Klaas filed for divorce in Ginneken en Bavel, North Brabant, where they lived at the time. Helena did not protest.

The request was filed on the 30th of January, 1930 — about a year and a couple weeks following the anniversary of the death of their second son, Tonny. That’s according to a FamilySearch.org scan that a friend, Jan Brul, who I met on the Ancestry.com message boards, kindly located.

Leading up to their divorce, Klaas was away a bit as a career military man, and Helena was at home, building a relationship with the family doctor, Gerard Broeders, according to family lore. Rumor was, they became close through Tonny’s illness and death.

I believe that, at the time, divorce was rare (although it was even rarer when Klaas’ mother Arentje Vermaas divorced his father), which may have been why the divorce was registered on a marriage form. Interestingly, none of Klaas’ and Helena’s descendants in the following two generations had lasting first marriages.

In the aftermath, Helena left Klaas and their son, Johan, to be with Gerard, whom she remained in a relationship with indefinitely. She never married again.

Klaas eventually remarried to a woman named Maria Wilhelmina van Erp, who raised Johan, but I don’t know exactly when that was.

Klaas Siersema and Helena ‘Lenie’ de Wit get hitched

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

Original scan of Klaas Siersema and Helena de Wit’s wedding portrait

Klaas Siersema and Helena “Lenie” Frederika de Wit, my great-grandparents, were married on Aug. 28, 1923.

The photo above is a medium to heavily retouched scan of the wedding portrait for Klaas Siersema and Helena “Lenie” Frederika de Wit in 1923. Sadly, it seems as though when a marriage ends people tend to take less care of the proof it ever happened (See the thumbnail version of the original photo to the right  to see what I’m talking about — although, I guess it is also fair to note the photo has survived nearly 90 years and moving from the Netherlands to Canada to the United States).

A friend and genealogy enthusiast I met through the Ancestry.com message boards was able to track down their wedding certificate on FamilySearch.org, but that organization claims the copyright to all its scans so I cannot post it here. Luckily, my friend, Jan Brul, knows both Dutch and English and graciously translated the text (Note: He admits his English is not the best, so please be aware this is a rough translation, even though I’ve cleaned it up where I could.):

“On the twenty-eighth August, nineteen-hundred twenty-three, are for me

Civil servant of the registration of the county ‘s-Hertogenbosch appeared

Klaas Siersema, first Lieutenant of the Infantry, age twenty-seven years, born at Groningen, living at Venlo, major, son of Gerrit Siersema, deceased, and Arentje Vermaas, shopkeeper, age fifty-seven years, living in Brielle

And Helena Frederika de Wit, without profession, age nineteen years, born in Beverwijk, living here, minor, daughter of Dirk de Wit, schoolteacher, age fifty years, and Wubbina Engellina Johanna Petronella Swalve, without profession, age forty-three years, both living here

For the purpose of getting married. The banns were without protest here registered on Saturday the fourth of August last and in Venlo on Saturday the eleventh of August next. The mother of the groom and the parents of the bride, here present, have declared that they agree with this marriage.

The future spouses have for me and in the presence of witnesses declared that they each other will accept as spouses and will do all duties required by marriage. So in the name of the law, I have declared that they are united in matrimony. This marriage is declared in the presence of the witness Leendert Vlasbloem, office worker, age thirty-nine years, living in Rotterdam, Nicholaas Gerardus Petrus van Reenen, office worker, age fifty-two years, living in Utrecht, relatives by marriage in the second and third degree of the first spouse. This record is read for the appeared parties and witnesses. The civil servant of the civil registration.”

The actual ceremony took place in the Netherlands Reformed Church in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, where Lenie’s father Dirk was an active and high-standing member.

I find the witnesses particularly interesting. Leendert was married to Klaas’ sister, Leentje, and they had a daughter named Ada who was close with my grandfather (Klaas and Lenie’s son) growing up, but I have no idea what happened to her. It makes sense that he would be a witness. But as for Nicholaas, I have never heard or seen his name, so I am even more curious to know how he comes into the picture.

Here is what their wedding invitations looked like (the paper is thick and watermarked):

Klaas Siersema and Helena de Wit’s wedding invitation

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.]

WWI: Photo of Klaas Siersema and fellow soldiers in Kampen in 1915

This is a retouched photo of my great-grandfather, Klaas Siersema (at far left), and some of his fellow soldiers in the Royal Netherlands military in Kampen, Overijssel, during WWI. This was very early in his career, and he would have been about 20 years old. I believe that, at this time, he was a Vaandrig (officer cadet), judging by his promotion to Tweede-Luitenant (second lieutenant) a couple years later.