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Former resistancemen held reunion at prison site

Daring raid in 1944 freed 51

Tags: World War II

LEEUWARDEN, the Netherlands - A gathering of 160 people commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of a daring prison raid by Dutch resistancemen on December 8th, 1944, recently. Ten of the 24 raiders who are still alive attended the ceremony at the Leeuwarden penitentiary. Henk Rypkema, who emigrated to Canada after the war ended, received a second look inside he building. The raid which was prompted by the arrest and brutal interrogation of one of the resistance leaders, occurred without firing a shot, freeing 51 resistance workers who were taken to hiding places throughout Friesland. The story of the raid has since been documented in a movie, called 'De Overval' and was viewed by the reunion crowd after unveiling a plaque - with the names of the 24 engraved - in the jail's hallway.

During the German occupation period, various resistance groups attempted to spring imprisoned members from captivity, often after having been leaked a cry for help. Resistancemen were sworn to silence if caught but the Nazis regularly used interrogation methods which defy description. While some brutalized prisoners were able to get inside help to smuggle out a message and warn their groups, others fell victim and confessed all or part of their illegal activities. Any such confession opened the way to infiltration and more arrests, often leading to the demise of entire groups.

Jannie Oberman whose husband Piet led the Leeuwarden raid, recalled him commenting how fearful the prisoners were when the doors were opened. 'Many fully expected they were being hauled away to be executed,' she said. Her 37-year old son Carel who also attended the ceremony, was never told of his father's heroics until a teacher probed him about the matter.

The raid restricted itself to a list of 51 people who were associated with their resistance movement. Raider Hans Beinum said that there were many more prisoners in jail who were unknown to them. 'We did not have more hiding places either,' he said. The German occupation forces responded to the raid by a massive manhunt but were unable to recapture anyone. They refrained from murdering hostages as punishment for the raid.