Autumn

Where is Jan?

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

So recapitulating, what do we now know of Jan’s story?

In Beautiful nature. Ugly history and From Holland to Bavaria: The quest for Jan van Boeckel we learn how my quest starts. Autumn leavesIn The book of names at Flossenbürg and Confronting tough truths we find out that in February 1945 he was in Flossenbürg and on the 15th of February 1945 he was transported to a sub-camp of Flossenbürg, Ring-Me. In Reweaving the tapestry of a lost life we learn that at the beginning of 1943 he did his compulsory duty at the Netherlands Labour Service (the NAD). Somewhere in 1943 he joined the resistance in Holland and went into hiding. At the end of that year he wrote a goodbye letter to his family. At the beginning of 1944 he went across the border.

LeavesNot only is Jan’s story fragmented, the search for him is fragmented too. Fragmented and difficult because he was a Nacht und Nebel (NN) prisoner, a night and fog prisoner who would be condemned to death, but not immediately. First he would be used up until he was of no use anymore and could be discarded.

Seventy years on, the endless search for Jan that my grandmother undertook is heart breaking to witness, through letters and notes.  My grandmother was a fervent Roman Catholic who had 13 children. In 1944/1945 while Jan was away, her oldest son was missing in action in Indonesia, many of her boys were in hiding from the Nazis in Holland, some of her boys and the girls were involved in clandestine activities and a daughter was sent away to live on a farm as they all suffered from undernourishment. My grandfather nearly starved and my mother was hospitalised with peritonitis. And with all that to deal with my grandmother’s war ended in 1945, but her troubles were far from over.

After the war Jan’s family waited for him to return. The war ended on the fifth of May 1945 in Holland. Meeting the trains bursting with survivors from the ruins of war, the family searched for Jan with hope, and left in disappointment. All they had was a printed message from the SS which arrived by post in 1944 mentioning that Jan was being held at the Saint Leonard Prison in Liege and that they were not allowed to contact him.

1945 3 augustus Marcel Vanhove (2)
…it would please me to know what you did after your departure from Liege. Did you go to a camp? To which one? Did you suffer a lot? You know Jean it would please me to know all these things. Because to me you were one of my best comrades …

And so when Jan does not show up in Haarlem, my grandpa writes to the Saint Leonard prison in Liege in June 1945, inquiring after his son. The Belgian authorities reply that the records have been destroyed and that they are unable to answer him. On the third of August 1945 a letter arrives on my grandmother’s doorstep.   A letter addressed to Jan. She opens  it, as this is the only sign from Jan since March 1944. It is from a friend, M. Vanhove from Liege, Belgium. He asks, in French, if Jan is ok, and which camp he went to and that he would love to hear from him because he was such a good friend.  He had been imprisoned together with Jan at the Citadelle de Liége. The difference being that he stayed in the Citadelle up to the end of the war in Belgium. Jan was however sent on transport to Germany.

1945 3 augustus Marcel Vanhove (3)
… for my part I stayed at Saint Leonard till the arrival of the Americans. You can imagine the joy of all the friends when they saw freedom…..

Luckily my grandmother grew up bilingual in Brussels,  and her French was perfect. And so she started her search for her lost son Jan in Belgium. More about what she, and others discovered will be revealed in a next post. And Marcel Vanhove must have been part of Jan’s resistance group. I will get back on that soon as I have since contacted one of the members of Jan’s old resistance group(!) and will be meeting with him in November.

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

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