Reweaving the tapestry of a lost life

This is an episode in “the quest for Jan van Boeckel: From Holland to Bavaria” .

I wrote this episode of the quest for Jan van Boeckel when I was still at the very beginning of my quest for my uncle, who left Haarlem at the beginning of 1944 for a journey into the unknown. Ever since I wrote this episode I have been following  Jan’s footsteps from Haarlem, across The Netherlands into Belgium and later on into Germany and have gained a huge amount of insight into his movements, the decisions he made and general historical context. As I return to my older blogs I realise that not all the information is correct. In the book The Quest for Jan van Boeckel I am compiling his story with painstaking precision.

Written in 2015:

I feel like I’m pasting bits of paper which, when put together, form the letter recounting Jan van Boeckel’s life. A letter torn and muddied and trampled on, discarded over three countries. Forgive me if I sometimes get it wrong as there is still material trickling in, and many facets need as yet to be researched. If I do get it wrong I will correct things retrospectively as we go along.

Where should I begin this tale of adventure, idealism, survival, death and suffering? Maybe there is no beginning or end. There are snippets of information contained in registers, photographs, oral history, correspondence, maps, scientific research, testimonials, newspaper articles and interviews.  Snippets waiting to be worked into a tapestry. A tapestry of a short life. I will attempt to weave the snippets into larger fragments of this tapestry. Fragments that can be linked together and give us an inkling of what life was like for him.

Jan van Boeckel at N.A.D. Geeuwenbrug, 1943
Summer 1943, lunch break at Geeuwenbrug. Jan van Boeckel with the blue cross.

Jan  left home in Haarlem to join the resistance in Belgium just after Christmas 1943. Earlier, in that same year, he worked for the N.A.D. – the Dutch Labour Service at Geeuwenbrug, Diever in the east of Holland. An invention of the Nazis, the N.A.D. was promoted as “work to restore the country”.  These work camps provided work for defeated Dutch military men and probably also kept them out of trouble in the eyes of the enemy. In 1942 boys between 18 and 23 years of age were also called up for compulsory duty. The idea was to train these young men for six months in Holland so that they could be sent to Germany or farther eastward to dig trenches and tank traps on the Eastern Front. They had uniforms and had to march with spades. Jan worked on farms preparing the soil, haying and harvesting.

In his letters home he writes that he is working alongside farmers, woodworkers, students and office workers. At the beginning of 1943 he writes to his mother:

Jan van Boeckel to his mother, early 1943 writing from Geeuwenbrug.
…It is now Sunday afternoon, but we are not allowed out because we are the duty team. And Seyss-Inquart is expected but he probably will not come. He seems to be conferencing in Leeuwaarden with Mussert and the Commander of the N.A.D., so much good will not derive from it….. ( Seyss-Inquart was the Nazi Reichskommissar in the Netherlands, Mussert was the Dutch Nazi leader)
N.A.D. Geeuwenbrug
Jan van Boeckel looking less than happy in his N.A.D. uniform (the one with the blue cross)

Jan did his six months and then, according to his N.A.D. booklet got an extension so that he would not have to leave Holland. At the end of September the Hitler Salute was required of the men of the N.A.D. There was a mass refusal and many N.A.D. men, including the camp commander deserted  and went into hiding. Some clues suggest that Jan first went into hiding at the farm of Albert and Aagje van Gijssel-Hagewoud, on Groningerweg 3, Diever, which was close to Camp Geeuwenbrug. His good friend from the N.A.D. Gerard .J. Nel also went into hiding at the farm. It is unclear to me whether Jan’s family knew that he had gone underground at this point.

At what time Jan started working for a resistance group is as uncertain, perhaps during his N.A.D. time. I don’t think his family knew much about this aspect of his life, although other family members were also doing clandestine work. He did spend quite some time with his friend Th. van H. who, it seems, was closely affiliated to the resistance.












This is an episode in “the quest for Jan van Boeckel: From Holland to Bavaria” .

16 thoughts on “Reweaving the tapestry of a lost life

    1. That passion drives me to write the book about Jan, Paula. In doing so, I attempt to come as close as I can to Jan, to my grandmother and to the historical context, attempting to wade my way through the subjective colouring and interpretations of more than seventy years. I always pose myself the question: what would I have done? But we will never know that answer, being from another time and place, knowing what we know…although I do believe intrinsic human nature stays the same, sometimes sadly so, sometimes happily so, throughout history.


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