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Resistance groups left trail of raids and sabotage

Profile of Twenthe's KP assault teams

Tags: World War II


Resisting Nazi decrees by the German occupation forces, concerned Dutchmen organized a national movement (simply called L.O.) to aid various groups of contemporaries who for one reason or another needed to go into hiding 1). As the Germans took harsh counter measures to curb the growing non-compliance of those decrees, the LO was forced into situations which called for (armed) action. Forming assault teams ('knokploegen' or KP's) was one way to help with this kind of resistance. Members of these KP units were highly motivated and, to the dismay of the Germans, very successful. The KP teams in the Twenthe region of Overijssel, home to wide-spread resistance, particularly were a burr in the side of the Germans. Other groups were active as well.

Within the German leadership of the Netherlands, Reichskommissar Seyss-Inquart, the highest civil authority, followed a decidedly more cautious approach than his counterparts in the German military and the German-led police. In typical military fashion, Wehrmacht general Christiansen ordered former Dutch prisoners of war to report for renewed captivity, on April 29, 1943. Even though the actual decree excluded most army conscripts, the proclamation itself, which was hun everywhere, failed to communicate this fact; perhaps Christiansen's greatest political blunder. What Seyss-Inquart had feared, did happen beyond his wildest imagination: a large number of Dutchmen spontaneously went on strike against the order. In turn, Christiansen hammered the Dutch into submission through a short, violent and ruthless crackdown. Dozens of strikers were executed on the spot 2).


During the strike, the Twenthe region also became the scene of a significant first act of sabotage which had been planned for months. In the confusion caused by the strike, a small group of young men from Wierden, a town near one of the area's three largest industrial centres, Almelo, caused the derailment of a freight train. It took two days to clear the wreckage. The saboteurs - all members of a local Reformed Bible study society - soon were involved in other actions. The group was Twenthe's first KP unit and became known as 'KP Henk Visser,' after the adopted identity of its leader Jan Hendrik Heerdink. While most assaults and raids required at least eight men, the group's core consisted of only four: Marinus Heerdink ('Hans'), Henk's older brother, Dirk van Harten ('Klaas'), Henk's future brother-in-law, and Henk Michel ('Koos'), Dirk's step-brother and friend 3). Klaas and two others were picked up in random arrests after the derailment. The German security police (SD) took them to Arnhem where they were questioned but let go again for lack of evidence!

The group became known to insiders for its relentless drive for raids on 'distribution offices' (DK's) where much-needed food ration coupons and related documents were kept. Acting on an inside tip, the first of many such a raids in Twenthe took place in the village of Notter, near Wierden. Elsewhere in the country, a marked increase of the number of these heists indicated that the resistance suffered a shortage of these forms. They usually had been supplied by counterfeiters, and by sympathizing DK-clerks who doctored their records. That way the L.O. could supply its wards. Since most goods and food had been rationed, coupons and registration cards urgently were needed by host families to feed and care for their guests-in-hiding.

Confrontation with SS

As always, secrecy was a major concern. For a while, the core members of KP Henk Visser operated in Utrecht where they were involved in the raid on Amerongen's DK on behalf of a local L.O. group. This action drew the attention of the L.O.'s regional representative, Scheepstra, who met with them at the home of well-known cigarmaker Van Schuppen in Veenendaal in order to bring this KP group on board as operatives for the national umbrella, the LKP. The leadership of KP Henk Visser passed to Freerk Postmus, a Frisian, who went by the name of 'De Groot.'

The following months, the group pulled one heist after the other in an area from the central Dutch town of Wijk bij Duurstede to Hardenberg in the northeast, near the German border. They raided targets in Ommen, Goor, Gorinchem, Den Ham, Borne, De Bilt, Langbroek, Wijk bij Duurstede, Wierden and Almelo. The men as well lifted supplies of forms and registrations from municipal employment offices ('arbeidskantoren'), postal cars, a mayor's residence, several population registries, and a penitentiary where they liberated captured comrades. By then, the group consisted of twelve men but only three of them - Henk, Klaas and Koos - took part in each operation. Of the others, Wicher Dam ('Wim') and Siem Bakker ('Arie') represented nearby Den Ham in the group.

Even before raids on jails became a regular act in KP work, De Groot and Klaas, in a daring move, tried to bribe a sentry at the heavily guarded, infamous prison camp Amersfoort - literally a lion's den - to release their comrade Hans who had been caught at a random checkpoint. The guard did not honour his promise and instead alerted the SS who at once captured Henk. Klaas managed to pull his revolver and shot two of the SS men. Shots were exchanged with a third German and the pair escaped in the confusion. Soon after this attempt at his rescue, Hans died.

London's decrees

After D-Day, the situation for the KP-units began to change, largely prompted by decisions made in London, England. Although hardly aware of the make-up or extent of the resistance, of for that matter of the LO-LKP formation, the Dutch government-in-exile in London decided to drop weapons and explosives behind enemy lines. The weapons were very much welcomed by every resistance group. Less welcome was the London-decree to merge all resistance groups into an underground force (the Binnenlandse Strijdkrachten, B.S. for short, which was to assist approaching Allied forces as well) even if Prince Bernhard, Queen Wilhelmina's son in law and married to heiress Juliana, was to be its commander-in-chief. It was acknowledged later that the order was ignoranct of actual conditions in occupied territory since so many of the resistance groups had humanitarian goals, not military ones 6). Judging KP Twenthe by its sabotage activities 7), it accepted its new role but a merger with other groups never really took effect.

The LO-LKP's in Twenthe were not alone in the general resistance movement. Most of the men did not know their organization's structure beyond the local group. In a couple of instances when they did discover 'their affiliation,' they moved over to the LKP. Several resistance groups in Twenthe lost members in roundups by the Germans. In one case, a group was decimated during the final days of the occupation, when a German intelligence officer used an infiltrator to get a number of men together for a meeting. They walked into a trap and all who showed up were killed. Only those who had been distrustful of the arrangement, survived.

The structure of Twenthe's resistance movement - especially that of the L.O. - was able to provide ample place for more guests. However, the care for those in hiding would have been far more difficult without those willing to commit themselves to the high risk-work of the KP. s030sz0808)es030 .

The origin of the 'Landelijke organisatie voor hulp aan onderduikers' (L.O.) was detailed in the issue of February 23, 1995, in the article 'Firebrand pastor criss-crossed country to coordinate resistance'. The article also mentioned the various groups targeted by the Germans for compulsory work in Germany.

The strike was the third, and largest, faced by the Germans so far. The action involved many people, ranging from factory and railway workers to farmers who dumped their milk. The strike was strongest in the eastern provinces. The first two job actions were by students in Delft and Leiden in November 1940, and by Amsterdam's longshoremen in February 1941. In both instances, the protests were aimed at decrees against Dutch Jews.

In 1989, Coen Hilbrink, whose father and grandfather were both killed in a German-SD raid on the Lidwina estate, published his thesis, 'De illegalen, Illegaliteit in Twente & het aangrenzende Salland, 1940 - 1945.' The book revealed the identities of these people. Another book is titled, 'In de schaduw van de Adelaar.' 'Klaas' emigrated to Canada, and lives in Surrey, B.C.

Hilbrink observes in 'De Illegalen,' 'that none of the men sought to advance their own position; they all were concerned that their goals would succeed.'

One of men, dressed as a policeman, was let in when he presented an important message about Arnhem's jail raid! Once inside, he disarmed the warden and let his comrades in. It was the fourth and final successful jailbreak by the group. Four other attempts failed. In all, they set 60 prisoners free.

For example, Twenthe also was home to the Overduin-group which specialized in caring for Jews. Hilbrink in his book 'De Illegalen,' writes that 30% of Twenthe's Jewry survived the occupation. This percentage is nearly double that of the national one. Another group took care of downed pilots and wandering escapees from German camps.

During the first nine days of September 1944, sabotage by the KP blocked traffic - rail, water and road - to Germany in 23 locations. This burst of activity took place while the Allies where fighting their way to Arnhem. London had ordered the railway workers to strike. In this period, Henk Heerdink - Klaas' brother-in-law - was killed while cleaning his gun.

Unlike Brabant and Limburg where the LO-LKP largely drew from Roman Catholic workers, Twenthe's groups were Protestant and depended on support from Protestant communities. Twenthe's RC's were not organized in official resistance groups but improvized a lot in order to take care of their own. 'De Illegalen' states they had contact with the Overduin group.