Saturday, January 16, 2016

Tales From the Dutch Resistance, Part V

Tales from the Dutch resistance
Dutch girls writing messages on a US tank in hopes that their families in other villages that the tank passes through will see them - all other communications were out.

Tales From the Dutch Resistance

Our story so far has followed one "Hans," a young Dutch miner who was forced through fate to become a fugitive for a time. Now he is back at work, but his life just keeps getting more complicated.

Is the story true, or just a tale - I will let you decide. We continue with our Tales of the Dutch Resistance.

Tales From the Dutch Resistance Part V: Rubber

Life resumed some form of normalcy for Hans and brother Franz. They continued working at the mine as they had before, where the Germans saw Hans as a great young worker who had become a team leader.

And almost every night, at the end of his shift, Hans would sneak out a stick of dynamite that Franz had hidden in his lunch pail. The SS guards at the mine entrance always changed, and if by some chance they recognized the same guards, the brothers simply took a break from their activity and left the dynamite for another night.

The ease with which they were fooling the SS men gave Hans some ideas. The mine was full of other materials that were in very short supply in war-time Europe. In particular, he had his eye on the conveyor belt that the miners used every day. It wasn't the belt itself that caught his interest, but the fact that there were layers of rubber covering parts of it.

Rubber was extremely precious during the war. It was impossible to obtain any from normal sources, even the black market. The Germans tightly controlled all distribution of scarce rubber supplies for use in their factories and manufacturing processes.

Hans simply wanted some rubber for his bicycle. It was a long walk to the mine, and it was much easier when he could ride his bicycle. With Holland occupied for several years now, though, his bike needed rubber for its tires. He was tired of stealing for the Resistance; it was time to get something out of it himself.

Hatching a plan, Hans volunteered one night to stay late and arrange the equipment for the next shift. He watched his own crew leave, and then went to work on the belt. There was plenty of rubber, but it was underneath another coating and very difficult to remove.

Struggling, and with little time before the next crew was scheduled to arrive, Hans tugged and pulled at the rubber. He was able to tear some out, but in doing so he accidentally ripped loose some of the bearings on the belt. Hearing the next shift approaching, Hans quickly put everything back into the best order that he could. He managed to avoid having the men see him, and ran to the guard station, where he signed out as if nothing had happened.

The next day, there was a note on his time card telling Hans to go up to Mr. Pieter's office. Figuring it was something to do with their dynamite scheme, Hans casually walked upstairs and into the management building. He saw that the door to Mr. Pieter's office was open, so he strode in.

Mr. Pieter wasn't there. In his place, behind the desk, were two SS men in their distinctive greenish uniforms. Their pistols lay on the desk in front of them. Hans froze and involuntarily sucked in his breath.

Taking his time, one finally looked up at Hans.

"Hans, we want to know what you have been up to."

Hans cringed inside. He had hoped this day would never come. He tried to put on a brave face.

"What do you mean?" he answered weakly.

The man looked down at a paper in front of him. Hans saw that it was the mine's time sheet from the previous day.

"You were late leaving yesterday. We found out that you stayed after the others left. What were you doing?"

Still unsure what was going on, Hans tried to keep any emotion from splaying across his face. However, his spirits instantly elevated - it did not appear to be about the dynamite.

"I took care of the set-up for the next shift. It was my turn."

He tried to say it as nonchalantly as possible. To himself, though, his voice sounded like the squeaking of a mouse.

The two SS men looked at each other. The second one spoke this time.

"What did you do to the equipment." It was not phrased as a question.

Hans had hoped that he had gotten the equipment back into order, but apparently not.

"I just did what I was supposed to do. I re-set the machine and adjusted the belt. We do that every day."

The first SS man broke in sharply. "What did you do? I will not ask again." He put his hand on the desk, next to the pistol.

Hans thought fast. Something must have gone wrong, or else they wouldn't be asking these questions. He made a decision on the spot.

"I did nothing wrong. I arranged the machine and left."

The two men looked at each other. The spoke briefly in German. The second one then turned to him.

"The belt was broken. When the crew went to turn it on, it would not move and the engine overheated. That entire section of the mine is now closed until we get the parts from Frankfurt."

Hans thought frantically. He must not have gotten the belt back into order when he left the previous night. He remembered seeing the bearings pop out.

"It must have been the next crew's fault. When I left, the equipment was operating normally. I have been doing this since I began at the mine three years ago. Nothing was wrong."

The two SS men looked at each other again, and one pointed at one of the papers on the desk. The second one spoke to the first, who nodded and looked over at Hans.

"We see that you have a good record. We know that you are considered a team leader on your shift. You must be right, it must have been the next crew's fault. You may go."

With that, the two SS men looked down and began shuffling their papers. The pistols remained untouched on the desk.

Hans backed out of the room slowly. As soon as he was out of the building, he leaned weakly against the wall, breathing heavily. His legs could barely support him, and he felt as if he had been thrown out of a plane to his doom. Rather than return to the mine, he staggered back down the path to go home again. Halfway there, he threw up his breakfast.

That had been a close call.

Tales from the Dutch resistance


1 comment:

  1. Beesel, the Dutch town in this tale is approximately 2 1/2 miles west of the German border and 1/2 mile east of the Maas river. It never had a coal mine and the closest one was 20 miles to the South.
    After the invasion of Normandy in 1944 the occupying German forces in this part of the Netherlands started construction of a defensive line along the border known as the "Maas-Rur stellung" which consisted of small machine gunner bunkers (pillboxes) known in German as "Ringstand 58c", spaced approx. 300 yards apart connected with a system of trenches and anti-tank trenches. This 25 mile long defensive system ran from Venlo 10 miles to the North to South-East of Roermond were it angled into Germany and connected to the "Siegfried line". As the Northern most part of the Siegfried line ended in Bruggen, the 2 defensive lines ran parallel to each other for a few miles. Many of these structures are still there to this day along the border and the trenches can easily be spotted in the woods on the German side of the border. Between the town of Beesel and the maas river, the Germans constructed also an anti-tank trench and the run of that trench can still be observed when the fields are plowed in spring as the soil is a different color. All these structures were constructed by forced laborers from Holland, Poland and Russia. Refusal to do the work was punished by execution as happened to 13 people from Roermond. A memorial monument stands on the site where this happened and a march is held every year in their memory.
    The Western side of the Maas was liberated and in hands of the allied forces since late 1944, but Beesel and the Eastern side remained occupied by the Germans until early 1945. As the Germans expected this area to become the site of heavy fighting a forced evacuation of all civilians between Roermond and Venlo was ordered in December of 1944. Late January and early February the people were forced to walk across the border into Germany, only allowed to carry a few items. Trains were used to transport the people through Germany to the Northen Dutch provinces of Drente and Friesland, where they were housed with host families. Families were split up and the trip was a nightmare, as the conditions were horendous and nobody was sure were the train was going to take them. The holding areas were littered with human waste. The trains used were cattle transports with the straw and manure from the animals covering the floors. People were packed in these with only a bucket to relieve themselves. Several of these trains were targets of allied fighter gunfire and many people perished. The people that survived the trip reached their final destination filthy, hungry and hopeless. The host families (forced to accept their guests) could only gasp in utter shock at the sight of them. The people did whatever they could however to help in this tragic situation and many frienships were formed and many are as strong today as they were back then. Upon returning to their homes early summer 1945 many people of Beesel found their homes damaged or destroyed by artilley shells and many of their posessions looted. Family members were re-united not knowing what had become of them. A tragic and dark time for the people of Beesel, unknown to many that were not part of it and the reason I use this opportunity to bring it to your attention.

    The tale of Hans is just that, a tale, but the above is a true story about that small town and its people in the Netherlands.