Oisterwijk: the southern marshes

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

Jan left a note with his family after New Year 1943 announcing he would cross the border. But he did not cross a border until five weeks later.

He left war-diaries up to the end of 1943 at home in Haarlem. A ripped-out page spanning  6 to 12 January 1944 was later placed into the 1943 diary. Although no one knows anymore where this torn out page comes from, the most probable explanation is that he sent it to his oldest sister, Aunt M., along with a letter in January 1944.

The first week of 1945 Jan works on the land in the North, reads and visits friends, probably saying his goodbyes. On the 10th of January he writes :

“This morning left at 6 o’clock , 15.30 at destination. Nearly missed meeting Theo! Brought to fine little villa. Danced there in the evening. Slept in the garage”.

This was the first step into his big adventure.

Theo describes that first evening exactly the same way  Jan does, if with a little more detail.

But let us first go back in time a bit.

DSC_5200Why was Theo running off? He was 18 years old and had to leave school because he had very left-wing leanings, dangerous in that day and age.  Recruited by his cousin who was part of the very effective CS6-underground student movement operating from Amsterdam, he was enlisted as messenger-boy. The Gestapo rolled up the group starting in the summer of 1943. Theo’s cousin was arrested on 25 September 1943 at the Haarlem railway station.  On the 1st of October he was executed. Many of the CS6-group shared the same fate. It was getting hot under Theo’s feet, his contacts in the underground warned him that the Gestapo were still searching for anyone associated with CS6. In addition he wanted to leave home and he was craving for adventure. Jan wanted to leave for England to join the RAF instead of waiting passively in Holland. And so Jan and Theo joined forces.

As I do not have Jan’s own story to rely on, I do not know what contacts and underground activities he had been involved in. His sister Aunt J. had also been a messenger for an underground movement and he had been in hiding with people who were part of the underground escape lines and resistance. Aunt C. seems to have had both a Jewish couple and an ex-mayor as hideaways in her home but I doubt that he was savvy to that fact at the time. Through Theo’s network they knew where to go on this first step of the journey. Reading Jan’s diary entry above I would say he went by bicycle, or by foot as it took so long, to the meeting place they had agreed upon. Then they were taken by car/foot/bicycle to the first waystation on their escape route, the “fine little villa”. He used this same description when he wrote a letter to Gerard Nel on the 11th of January, adding “next to a little marsh”.

1943 letter Jan to Gerard Nel (4) - Copy
Dear Gerard, am at a sweet little villa near a fine little marsh and spend the day cutting wood, raking, walking yesterday evening dancing and playing the piano etc. Probably we will keep adventuring on like this and I will write you again when I get a fixed place to live in…or so.


The family has always wondered where this could have been. We now know that this was Klompven in Oisterwijk which is situated near marshlands. The ‘little villa’ was the house of the family Janssen. Harrie Janssen was very active in the resistance and housed Jewish, underground and Arbeiteinsatz (forced labour) hideaways, and even at a certain point a Russian prisoner of war…..

Interested in the rest of the story? I am writing a historical novel, which tells the whole story.

IMG_0568As we follow Jan’s story we will see that there were always people willing to help, many of them complete strangers. Although of a totally different dimension, I encountered this same willingness to help from people in this day and age. It is not easy to piece together the road taken by Jan in those five weeks spent in the provinces of Brabant and Limburg near the Belgian border in The Netherlands. Together with cousin M.,  who has been on the phone with octogenarians and  nonagenarians, historians and monasteries, I have been able to paint a somewhat incomplete picture, but it is more than we hoped for. Of course there is the always willing to help encyclopaedia of family history within reach, which is Aunt I.  An immense amount of information was gathered from Theo, the friend with whom Jan made his escape to what he thought would be England. I was lucky enough to be able to spend some time with him and ask him all my questions. Leendert Smit, who is very knowledgeable about the local history of Oisterwijk and surroundings has been an invaluable source. Through the daughter of Harrie Janssen, W. van de Sanden-Janssen, we were able to corroborate information provided by Jan and Theo. Lots of thanks to Bruce at wwii-netherlands-escape-lines.com and Edouard at evasioncomete.org for their endless tips. As always there is so much to write about and so much research still to be done. Additional information will be added along the way.

…….will be continued…….

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

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