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Firebrand pastor crisscrossed country to coordinate resistance
Mother of five became powerhouse behind movement
Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill World War II History
In just over a month, it will be 50 years ago that well over 350,000 Dutch people resurfaced from hiding places in cellars, crawlspaces, lofts and barns, behind secret walls and cupboards and in dugouts, boats, sheds, haystacks and from 'normal' life with an adopted family. A large part of them had refused to work for or be otherwise made accountable to the enemy who had crushed Dutch armed opposition five years earlier 1). As the real intent of the German occupation revealed itself, more and more Dutchmen became alarmed at their country's precarious situation and the way certain groups were victimized by the bizarre and inhumane Nazi ideology. Many were slow to grasp the extent of the threat to civilization but some people understood what to expect from Hitler. They propelled into action, over time making it possible for hundreds of thousands to vanish from sight, and to remain in hiding till the coast was clear 2). Several prominent Dutchmen who had sharply warned against the rise of the Nazi's in Germany were people who at one time lived or studied in that country or who lived near the border. Among them was Professor Schilder whose publication 'De Reformatie' was soon banned because of its sharp attacks on Nazidom 3). Schilder had received his doctorate de in Germany, and kept a close eye on the German political situation. 'De Reformatie' was banned in August 1940, and Schilder arrested.
The Reverend Frits Slomp of Heemse (a village west of Hardenberg, a town close to the German border) was no less opposed to the Nazi's. On visits to Germany's Reformed Churches, he had seen how Hitler's ideology pulled the churches from their biblical moorings. Slomp warned the churches of the consequences, and began to expose the underlying anti-Christian bias of Nazidom to his congregation as well. The fiery Drenthe-born preacher often was told to tone down his attacks 4). When the Germans overran his country, Slomp continued the attacks.
'Elder Van Zanten' fills pulpits
Slomp - to many post-war compatriots only known by his assumed name 'Frits de Zwerver' - tried to keep people from getting arrested by the Germans. If someone needed to disappear from sight for awhile, Slomp always knew a hiding place, often on an isolated farm somewhere. When Nazi-sympathizers launched a public charity campaign - Winterhulp - Slomp torpedoed support for it in his area. Later, when locals participated in a national drive for copper materials - to be made into German shell casings - Slomp appeared at headquarters to watch out for those who had given in to pressure and were about to hand in such materials. Both campaigns failed miserably, giving the Nazi's enough reason to increase their harassment of the troublesome preacher. By June 1942, Slomp was tipped off that the Gestapo was about to arrest him. By hiding in a church tower, he avoided his would-be captors. He then decided that it was high time to go into hiding.
Soon after, a guest preacher, introduced to congregations as 'Elder Van Zanten,' began making a name for himself with his pointed sermons in which Nazi-ism was exposed as being anti-Christian. Van Zanten's only preached, and spending so much time in hiding, troubled him greatly, to the point that he just wanted to go home.
This feeling of depression evaporated when Van Zanten met Mrs. Helene T. Kuipers (nee Rietberg), the 49-year-old wife of a Winterswijk businessman and a mother of five. She was a board member of the League of Reformed Women's Societies. Called 'a mother in Israel' by the co-author of the book 'Het Grote Gebod' (The Great Commandment), and later widely known as 'Tante Riek,' she saw through the populist Nazi slogans which promised a no-nonsense approach to the issues at hand. In her, Slomp met a comrade-at-arms who encouraged him to use his time to organize a movement which would help those in need of a hiding place.
By then, the Germans in the Netherlands were conscripting for work in Germany anyone who could be spared in the Dutch economy. There, droves of able-bodied men had been called to arms. In some circles, men were counseled not to report for such work but to go live with acquaintances or friends elsewhere. These efforts at hiding a large number of people needed greater coordination, and more guest places had to be found. Most of all, people needed to understand their Christian duty towards those in need of help. Mrs. Kuypers said in no uncertain terms, that Elder Van Zanten was the man to head and draw support for a co-ordinating group which became the National Organization for Assistance to People in Hiding or as the Dutch called it; the 'Landelijke Organisatie voor hulp aan Onderduikers,' L.O. for short. Initially, the people around the pastor-on-the-run were referred to as 'the Van Zanten committee.'
Elder Van Zanten needed little encouragement to get into action. He was given a mission, and literally went from a shelter to the trenches. At first, his speaking engagements took him to Bible study groups of the Reformed churches (GKN) and to informal gatherings of the outlawed Anti-Revolutionary Party, the Calvinistic political party formed by Abraham Kuyper. Usually, such gatherings were held in a local church, using a Bible study meeting as a cover if challenged. At these gatherings, Van Zanten would talk about the thrust of the Gospel and how Nazi ideology contrasted with it. Having witnessed the Nazi's create havoc among German churches and their flocks, he no doubt used that to illustrate his points.
Although Slomp/Van Zanten recruited people at such occasions, even more people didn't want to get involved. To them the ugliness of Nazidom was still abstract and Van Zanten's zeal failed to reach people who were unable to see the broader scope of things. However, others responded splendidly. One such recruit introduced Van Zanten to prospects who were involved in the furniture business and its trade organizations: salesmen, dealers as well as craftsmen. These contacts also took Van Zanten outside his natural, Reformed 'habitat,' involving people in Netherlands Reformed (NHK) and Roman Catholic circles, including ministers and priests.
Through committees, direction was given to various people to search for prospects in towns throughout the Netherlands. Additionally, contacts were made with existing resistance groups who saw the benefit of belonging to a larger organization. The LO-meetings were usually chaired by Van Zanten, and continually struggled with a wide range of issues. Many times the obstacles seemed overwhelming, but the LO proved to be extremely resourceful by involving specialists (counterfeiting forms, rubber stamps, ID's and especially food ration coupons for the growing number of people in hiding) and outwitting both the Germans and their collaborators. Yet, the heavy hand and brutal boot of the authorities, often willingly assisted by non-Nazi fellow countrymen in the civil service and police force, soon extracted a toll. This was partially due to LO's inexperience, naiveté and carelessness. People knew too much, some even kept lists and had circulated them, which would have been disastrous if it had fallen in the hands of the wrong people. Others failed to use covert action on confidentiality, or outright secrecy. Many LO-pioneers fell easy prey to the ruthless Gestapo, and the LO learned its expensive lesson quickly. Among the new LO-recruits were some who could work full-time at finding new contacts and hiding places, and screening both 'guests' and 'hosts' for their motives to get involved. They provided tips for building hideaways, and collected funds to support families of people in hiding and those who had extra mouths to feed. The LO 'took care' of ration coupons and circumvented German counter-efforts to arrest those lacking the latest documentation. To accommodate a fast-growing army of people in hiding - group after group made it to the German target list, foremost the Jews - the LO forever faced shortages of ration coupons and identification cards.
In clutches of the Gestapo
For various reasons, the LO organized small assault groups (knokploeg, KP, and its umbrella, LKP) to raid (ration coupons) distribution offices, and at times even spring people from jail. Van Zanten chaired LO-top meetings until he appeared on the Gestapo's most-wanted list. By then the LO had learned that being on their list would be a liability to co-workers since it could attract undue attention. Others led the LO since then 5), guiding it to become the largest resistance force with some 15,000 members (including 750 in the KP) 6). Not since the Spanish Inquisition had so many Dutchmen hit the road in search of a safe haven and found one without leaving the country.
Eventually, Van Zanten (on May 1, 1944) and Tante Riek (on August 19, 1944) were both caught by the Gestapo as were numerous others. Tante Riek, the powerhouse behind the LO-concept, died in a German concentration camp. Van Zanten, 'Frits de Zwerver', was sprung from jail ten days after his arrest, in one of the most spectacular raids by a KP unit and lived to recount LO history in its commemorative 2-volume book, published in the early fifties. The book provides the details on 1671 LO-LKP members who died at the hands of the Nazis.
The fiftieth anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands is just about upon us. We rightly remember the fallen soldiers. We justly acknowledge our liberators in many special events. This year, like never before, dues are given to those who resisted Nazism in occupied territory and whose only arsenal sometimes was their courage of conviction!
In addition to those refusing to work for Germany, there were about 18,000 Jews in hiding, as well as professional soldiers and officers of the army reserve, students, civil servants and numerous railway men who had gone into hiding when the London-based Dutch government in exile ordered them to strike in September 1944. Every time the Germans issued a decree which involved another group, the LO was faced with one more emergency to find more hiding places. The Dutch situation was unique because the great majority of people in hiding lived with compatriots who functioned more or less 'normal' in abnormal times. Hiding place away from civilization were rare.
Dr. L. de Jong writes in his history book that Schilder was largely responsible for a ruling by the 1936 GKN-synod that membership in the Dutch Nazi party was incompatible with membership in its churches. The Germans banned De Reformatie when it published a controversial article in its August 16, 1940, issue. Schilder regained his freedom eventually but went into hiding when the Germans were looking for him again.
Slomp's brother Jan lived in Ruinerwold, near Meppel. Jan joined his brother in the LO and attended many top-committee meetings. The LO of Meppel, which took in the Slomp's hometown, was a very active group.
The LKP, on orders of the Dutch government in exile in September 1944, merged with other groups to form a new Dutch army, called 'de Binnenlandse Strijdkrachten, BS for short. After the war, LO-LKP was set up as a foundation, which was dissolved in 1952. One of its main goals was to document the history of the movement. In 1951, it published 'Het Grote Gebod,' mainly as a memorial to its own people and their war-time actions. The foundation had its own magazine, aptly called 'De Zwerver,' and in 1951 it commissioned Max de Haas' feature film 'LO-LKP.'
The other, most active national groups were Raad van Verzet (RvV), Vrij Nederland and Trouw. Some groups followed a military style of operation. They sought to frustrate the Germans. However, the LKP chiefly operated with a mandate to support the LO in its efforts to hide people from the Germans.