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!

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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.

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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 Siersema’s pocket photo book

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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.

1985: Maria Wilhelmina van Erp passes away on the 10th of December

Maria Wilhelmina van Erp raised my grandfather, Johan Siersema, and was considered by most to be his mother, since he was borderline estranged from his biological mother — Helena de Wit — for most of his life, according to my mom. “Means,” or “Oma Doorn” as she was called, passed away a little more than a year after I was born, and this is the notice that ran in the newspaper (a rough translation will be posted below):

Rough translation:

Any and general notification
On Wednesday, December 10, 1985 our lively and caring mother and grandmother has gone to sleep

Maria Wilhelmina van Erp
Born August 8, 1901

Widow of Klaas Siersema,
Colonel of infantry B.D.,
Former commander of the Military
Hertellingsgoord “Aardenburg” Doorn.

Soquel Highland / California:
Hans and Nancy Siersema

Los Gatos / California:
Phillippa and Philip Siersema

Campbell / California:
Mike and Marlene Siersema
Michael and Timmy

San Jose / California:
Nick and Priscilla Siersema
Andrew

Boulder Creek / California:
Joy and Steve Gullicksen
Christina

Doorn, “Oranjestein”

Address for correspondence:
J. lith
clover 1
3941 TJ Doorn

The cremation has taken place.

GALLERY: Envelopes sent by Maria Wilhelmina van Erp (Part 4)

Maria Wilhelmina van Erp, my step-great-grandmother who was married to Klaas Siersema, had a reputation for liking stamps. Oma Doorn, as the grandchildren would call her, would regularly send envelopes to my mom and uncles. The envelopes were empty about half the time, with the occasional note on the back saying “There is nothing inside dear, only a big hug!” or a short letter inside.

The way my mom puts it, Oma Doorn didn’t have a lot of money, so what she did have as discretionary income, she put toward these stamps and envelopes so she could send something special to her grandchildren. As a result, these had enough sentimental value for a couple people in my family to keep them through the years, and I have scanned them since.

This gallery is the third in a series of four. Links to the other galleries are at the bottom of this post.

(Hint: Click on the thumbnails to make them bigger)

To see the first gallery, go here.

To see the second gallery, go here.

To see the third gallery, go here.

GALLERY: Envelopes sent by Wilhelmina van Erp (Part 3)

Maria Wilhelmina van Erp, my step-great-grandmother who was married to Klaas Siersema, had a reputation for liking stamps. Oma Doorn, as the grandchildren would call her, would regularly send envelopes to my mom and uncles. The envelopes were empty about half the time, with the occasional note on the back saying “There is nothing inside dear, only a big hug!” or a short letter inside.

The way my mom puts it, Oma Doorn didn’t have a lot of money, so what she did have as discretionary income, she put toward these stamps and envelopes so she could send something special to her grandchildren. As a result, these had enough sentimental value for a couple people in my family to keep them through the years, and I have scanned them since.

This gallery is the third in a series of four. Find links to the others at the bottom of the post.

Hint: Click on the thumbnails to make them bigger.

To see the first gallery, go here.

To see the second gallery, go here.

To see the fourth gallery, go here.

GALLERY: Envelopes sent by Wilhelmina van Erp (Part 2)

Maria Wilhelmina van Erp, my step-great-grandmother who was married to Klaas Siersema, had a reputation for liking stamps. Oma Doorn, as the grandchildren would call her, would regularly send envelopes to my mom and uncles. The envelopes were empty about half the time, with the occasional note on the back saying “There is nothing inside dear, only a big hug!” or a short letter inside.

The way my mom puts it, Oma Doorn didn’t have a lot of money, so what she did have as discretionary income, she put toward these stamps and envelopes so she could send something special to her grandchildren. As a result, these had enough sentimental value for a couple people in my family to keep them through the years, and I have scanned them since.

This gallery is the second in a series of four. Find links to the other galleries at the bottom of this post.

Hint: Click on the thumbnails to make them bigger.

To see the first gallery, go here.

To see the third gallery, go here.

To see the fourth gallery, go here.

GALLERY: Envelopes sent by Maria Wilhelmina van Erp (Part 1)

Maria Wilhelmina van Erp, my step-great-grandmother who was married to Klaas Siersema, had a reputation for liking stamps. Oma Doorn, as the grandchildren would call her, would regularly send envelopes to my mom and uncles. The envelopes were empty about half the time, with the occasional note on the back saying “There is nothing inside dear, only a big hug!” or a short letter inside.

The way my mom puts it, Oma Doorn didn’t have a lot of money, so what she did have as discretionary income, she put toward these stamps and envelopes so she could send something special to her grandchildren. As a result, these had enough sentimental value for a couple people in my family to keep them through the years, and I have scanned them since.

This gallery is the first in a series of four (Hint: Click on the thumbnails to make them bigger):

To see the first gallery, go here.

To see the second gallery, go here.

To see the third gallery, go here.

To see the fourth gallery, go here.