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.

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

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.