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Dutch Australian entrepreneur discovers unknown brother in hometown

Siblings placed in foster homes

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

ADELAIDE, Australia – Two brothers, living in different continents, are busy bridging sixty years of separation. Although both attended the same Apeldoorn technical school at the same time decades ago, Fred Bolsenbroek and Bert Willemsen had no inkling that they were related, let alone siblings who were born a year apart. The two men recently met for the first time as brothers, when Willemsen travelled to the Netherlands from Australia where he owns The Dutch Shop in Adelaide.

Their story is remarkable. Born out of wedlock in the central Dutch community of Apeldoorn during the Second World War, Bert Willemsen received his family name from his natural father, Fred Bolsenbroek the name of his adoptive family. The boys’ married mother was unable to care for the babies. Three months after his birth, Bert was placed with his natural father’s daughter who raised him as her own. When he was twelve, Bert was told of family circumstances. More than a decade later, he became aware that he had a brother. By then, Bert had left for Australia.

Freddie, born in 1944, also was placed with a foster family, which eventually adopted him. Like his brother, he was told at age twelve of his birth parents, and his family name Willemsen as well. Nothing was said about his sibling however. Eventually, the teenagers attended the same school, learning to become tool-and-die makers, Bert one class ahead of Freddie.

From his new homeland of Australia, Bert often traveled back to Apeldoorn to visit his adoptive mother, his half-sister. Aware that he had a brother, Bert did not attempt to search for him, fearing that such a reconciliation could be disappointing for either or both of them.

In October 2005, Bert was invited to the Netherlands for a family reunion. Only a day before he was to return to his home in Australia, Bert learned the name of his brother. Emboldened, he immediately began his search when he got back to Adelaide. A short internet search provided him with the phone number of Fred Bolsenbroek and soon after, Bert called his astounded brother.

In February, the two men met at Schiphol Airport. Although apprehensive about their emotions, they discovered that they have much more in common than just parentage. After exchanging condensed life stories and such, they made plans to bridge the lost decades. Bert would stay for a number of weeks in the Netherlands and Fred hopes to visit his brother soon in Adelaide.