Léo Major was given his first medal, the Distinguished Conduct Medal of the British Army, the only Canadian and one of only three soldiers in the British Commonwealth to ever receive the Distinguished Conduct Medal twice in separate wars. Major went on to pull some more great moves in the Korean War. His friend Wilfrid Arseneault was given a Bronze Lion posthumously in 1970 by Dutch Queen Juliana.
A woman from Rotterdam won the first prize in an 80-year old competition that she had forgotten to enter as a girl.
In 1940 a then 11-year old Tjits Drenth solved a rebus of the Jamin candy chain store, but then the war broke out and she either forgot or ignored the competition.
Earlier this year, when cleaning her place, she discovered the old rebus and decided to send it to Jamin as a historical memento. The company saw a marketing opportunity (or so I assume) and decided to award a prize.
Jamin wasn’t able to find out if the prizes for the competition had ever been awarded, its archive having a big 1938-1950-shaped hole in it, so they decided to give the now Mrs. Den Tuinder-Drenth the main prize. An original Erres tube radio KY 188 was found on Marktplaats, an Ebay owned classified advertising site, and fixed up—although it also gained bluetooth in the process somehow.
The competition asked entrants “What does baron Benjamin say?” The first prize was a radio, the second a sewing machine, the third a vacuum cleaner and the fourth a bicycle—all from Erres, a company from The Hague later bought by Philips.
Mrs. Den Tuinder – Drenth was glad she won first prize, which she received on 3 March from Jamin CEO Maarten Steinkamp. She told AD.nl: “I do not know how to sew, so the sewing machine would have been of no use to me. I am very happy with the radio, however, because I listen to the radio a lot.” Her favourite channels are NPO1 and NPO5.
At lunch, before stepping into a plane back to the Netherlands from Canada, I was told about the story of Léo Major, a French Canadian soldier of the Royal 22nd Regiment of the Canadian Armed Forces who single-handedly freed the Dutch city of Zwolle, and other places, with some unbelievable tactics.
Léo Major of Longueuil, Québec was a corporal who refused to move up in rank despite his brilliant moves. He pulled off stuff without consulting his superiors and made bluffs work that nobody else would have come up with. He pretty much freelanced and the army just let him because he was brave and smart.
During WWII, Zwolle, Overijssel was surrounded by German troops and the 22nd Regiment that was trying to recapture it were failing miserably, losing dozens of soldiers every day. Léo Major and his best friend Wilfrid Arseneault volunteered to go and find out where the Germans were positioned to try and improve their situation.
At nightfall the pair went to the farm of the Van Gerner family who tried to explain in Dutch that the forest was full of Germans. Shortly after, Arseneault was shot, his stomach full of bullet holes, as explained by Major himself in the video below. Major, determined to complete the mission left his best friend behind and pressed on.
Major entered Zwolle and attacked German patrols and ran through the streets throwing grenades to convince the enemy that Canadian troops were marching in, and it worked. He captured entire troops of 8-10 Germans who let themselves be delivered to the 22nd Regiment outside the city, believing the city was under attack. Major kept going back to Zwolle to pull the same tactic over and over. He even set fire to Gestapo headquarters.
At dawn, he realised that the last German troops had left the city and that Zwolle was free. After making sure the city knew they were liberated, Major went to pick up the corpse of his friend that he brought to the Van Gerner farm for safe keeping until the burial. Later that morning, Canadian troops marched into the city and the residents of Zwolle finally saw that they were liberated.
Léo Major was given his first medal, the Distinguished Conduct Medal of the British Army, the only Canadian and one of only three soldiers in the British Commonwealth to ever receive the Distinguished Conduct Medal twice in separate wars. Major went on to pull some more great moves in the Korean War. His friend Wilfrid Arseneault was given a Bronze Lion posthumously in 1970 by Queen Juliana.
This YouTube video features Léo Major himself in English on Zwolle television, with parts translated into Dutch.
“During one of the first days of this year” Atie Ridder-Visser sent a letter to the mayor of Leiden admitting that she had shot dead Felix Guljé on March 1, 1946, mayor of Leiden Henri Lenferink reported last Wednesday.
In the final years of the occupation (1944,1945) Ridder-Visser had been part of an underground team that located and assassinated traitors. Guljé, owner of a construction company, collaborated with the Nazis in the open but was a resistance member in secret. As he had several high-ranking members of the Dutch Nazi party NSB on the payroll, he could not openly defy the Germans.
So many threads coming together in this one—also echoes of both Steinbeck’s The Moon is Down and Couperus’ Old People and the Things that Pass here—it would take me a day to make something coherent in English of it. If you read Dutch, follow the link above. The mayor took trouble to tell the story in detail.
As the statute of limitations which was in force at the time of the execution has passed, Ridder-Visser will not be prosecuted. The statute of limitations was dropped for serious crimes in the Netherlands in 2006, but not retro-actively.
I grew up in Blerick, a town with a town hall but without the political body to inhabit it. See, in 1940 the town was added to the neighbouring city of Venlo by the Nazi occupier, which made the possession of a town hall moot.
Interestingly the previous municipality that Blerick belonged to, Maasbree, once had three different town halls, and the council would rotate among them until in 1904 the Blerick town hall was made the permanent one.
The Frisian islands of Vlieland and Terschelling (formerly of Noord Holland)
Rent control and renter protection (including the right to live in a house forever)
Job protection (including the right to keep a job forever)
In a number of these cases the occupier made into law what was already on the books. In other cases the law was kept because it made sense. For instance, with housing shortages being rather prominent after the war, it made eminent sense to protect renters from price gouging. In such cases the Germans had unwittingly produced both the diseases and the cures.
The Schutzstaffel did in fact once have an office in the middle of Amsterdam, on the Dam square to be precise, and historian Jo Teeuwisse has created a great set of photo mash-ups that bring home how the world fitted back then.
Her ‘photoshops’ consist of modern photos overlayed with war-time pictures she found at a flea market. This works particularly well because from an architectural point of view the city of Amsterdam doesn’t seem to have changed much in the past 50 years, if Teeuwisse’s photos are anything to go by. And so you see tourists wandering around areas where once the cobblestones were red with blood, oblivious of that fact:
The final two pictures are of Dam square on Monday, 7 May 1945, two days after the German surrender. Thousands of Dutch people were waiting for the liberators to arrive in the square. They had lived through five years of war and months of fear and hunger. In the “Big” Club, members of the Kriegsmarine watched as the crowd below their balcony grew and grew, people danced and cheered.
Then, for some reason, the Germans placed a machine gun on the balcony and started shooting into the crowds. It has always remained uncertain why it happened but the tragic outcome was that, at the brink of peace, 120 people were badly injured and 22 people died.
The Anne Frank House is called Het Achterhuis in Dutch, the apartment in the back, simply because that is what it was. The andereachterhuizen.nl website has collected 30 stories of other hiding places of Jewish refugees in World War II.
For instance, the story of Johan Sanders, who was separated from his parents and sisters. When he once met his sisters on the street, naturally he smiled. The other kids, not knowing the real deal, yelled that “ha ha, Johan van den Berk is in love with Lenie Vissermans.”
“That had a real impact on me.”
The people in these stories were hiding at one of 42 addresses. They received warmth or beatings. They were in the city or the countryside, alone or with others. They were in hiding or were not. They had to pay a lot, or nothing at all. They were treated like equals or as slaves. They were betrayed or not.
Selma Wijnberg (87) was the only Dutch survivor of the Nazi concentration camp Sobibor, but the Dutch government once almost made sure that even she would not have had that distinction.
Wijnberg managed to escape the death camp in Poland in 1943 and to hide in the countryside. After the war she returned to the Netherlands where she married a fellow escapee, Polish Jew Chaim Engel. Her marriage was reason for the Dutch government to threaten to revoke her Dutch nationality.
Although the government never acted upon its threat, Wijnberg was incensed about her treatment, and emigrated to the US, where she has lived ever since.
Wijnberg’s children managed to convince her to return to the Netherlands to attend the commemoration ceremony at Westerbork, a camp in the Netherlands from which Jews were transported to the death camps. At Westerbork Dutch minister Ab Klink will offer Wijnberg apologies on behalf of the Dutch government, according to De Volkskrant.
Many Jews were treated badly by their fellow Dutch countrymen after the war. During the war, 100,000 of the 140,000 Dutch Jews were killed in concentration camps, a percentage only trumped by Poland. The government’s policy of storing much information about its citizens enabled the Nazis to efficiently murder as many Jews as possible.
The municipality of Haren in Groningen is considering outlawing the use of metal detectors, Groninger Internet Courant reports (Dutch). The town council wants to prevent people from digging up corpses and ammunition in the Appelbergen forest, where the Nazis buried 34 people they shot in retribution. Fifteen of those victims were never found.
A spokesperson of the municipality told GIC.nl that “The police regularly discover treasure hunters who think its exciting to search the forest. Though the chance is small, we don’t want them to start digging and find human remains. There’s a much bigger possibility they will find ammunition, also because the forest is a practice area for the army. That could lead to dangerous situations.”