HILVARENBEEK AND THE PILOT ROUTE1
by Karst Smit
(Translation by Harry Hogedijk, September 2002)
Letter from Karst G. Smit who, during the war, was stationed as marechaussee2 at Hilvarenbeek, to the “Rijksinstituut” of war documentation in Amsterdam, with reference to “Courage Her Passport” by Marie Krauss. In this book Mrs. Krauss describes the line between Twente and Brussels along which Allied fliers and other vluchtelingen3 were routed. In the letter below, dated 8 September 1963, Mr. Smit explains how the matters described in Krauss’ book actually occurred.
In January 1942 I was transferred from Kaatsheuvel to Marechaussee Brigade at Hilvarenbeek. In the patrol sector of this brigade belonged, among others, the village of Esbeek with forests to the Belgian border and forests owned by the life insurance company “De Utrecht” which also stretched to the border. In April 1942 I was on patrol in these forests with the marechaussee J. van Mastrigt. Twice we encountered men who appeared to be French POWs who had escaped from Germany. We brought these Frenchmen across the Dutch-Belgian border in the direction of the Belgian village of Weelde but there had to leave them on their own. At the end of that month van Mastright was transferred.
From the stories of the Frenchmen I had understood that they came across the German-Dutch border at Twente and that they had had to travel on foot through Holland. This did not sit well with me and I discussed this affair with my friend Bertram H. Brasz who then (and still in 1963) lived in Tilburg, Plataanstraat 32. He was born in Enschede. Mr. Brasz told me that he had a cousin, Cornelis Brasz, who lived in Enschede at Haaksbergerstraat 37, next to the police headquarters, and that he was sure that his cousin Cornelis was in the underground. Bertram would set up a meeting for me.
Still in April I traveled on a day off to Enschede and had a very satisfying discussion with Cornelis Brasz. The agreement that we made then was as follows: Cornelis and his friends would patrol the Dutch-German border whenever they had time available in order to pick up the escaped Frenchmen. They would supply them as needed with other clothing and accompany them to the station at Tilburg. I would be informed covertly ahead of time so I could pick up the Frenchmen who had been brought across. They could stay overnight with Bertram Brasz in Tilburg.
However, I needed an overnight address in Hilvarenbeek. In this village there lived in a small villa on the Diessenseweg Mr. Cornelis van der Heijden, wholesaler in tobacco and cigars. (So he was at least a farmer, not less, as Marie Krauss alleges.) He was the father of the presently well-known film director Jef van der Heijden. The oldest son of Mr. van der Heijden, named Marcel, was a teacher by profession and also taught the local marechaussee in general education. I went to talk to Marcel and his father, and the result was that they opened their house to every vluchtelingen I would bring to them. The van der Heijdens, from April 1942 to November 1943, had a great many people, foreigners and Jewish Netherlanders, in their house and provided them with food at considerable expense to themselves, and all this without asking for one cent. Father Cornelis and the sons Marcel and Gustaaf were later arrested and died in German concentration camps.
I was aware that if the Frenchmen wanted to be more or less safe they at least would have to be brought to Brussels. At the end of April and early May 1942 I did not, however, have any contact address in Brussels. In the first days of May Bertram Brasz telephoned me if I could come by. His cousin Cornelis from Enschede had asked him if I would be willing to bring a Dutch Jew from Enschede, who himself had an address in Brussels, across the Belgian border. I agreed, and several days later Mr. Andries Hoek, proprietor of a dress shop on the Noorderhagen in Enschede arrived at the home of Bertram Brasz in Tilburg. He told me that he had employed a fashion designer named Marie Krauss who lived in Brussels-Molenbeek St. Jan, Vanderstichelenstraat 157. He wanted to go to her to explore an escape route to reach Switzerland from Brussels. Then I told Mr. Hoek my problem, i.e., the obtaining of a contact address in Brussels. He promised to discuss this with Marie Krauss and her brother Jean and to announce that I would visit the Krauss family a week later in Brussels. On May 10, 1942, I brought Mr. Hoek via “de Weelsedijk” across the Belgian border. In advance I had visited Weelde several times and had informed myself of departure locations and schedules of trams and buses to Turnhout. I had done the same thing in Turnhout for the tram to Antwerp. The “crossers” did not have to walk ins Blaue hinein [This is a Dutchman talking tongue-in-cheek in the way a German would say, “walking into the blue unknown.”—Translator’s note.]
The contact address in Weelde was the café of Marie Segers-Ooms, located at Groote Baan no. D. 56. We could enter from the back side via the inner courtyard. During these two years she had and fed free of charge all the people we brought through. In addition, many times she slipped us Belgian francs when we were short of money.
In the meantime the following marechaussees from the Hilvarenbeek brigade had agreed to participate. I report these in the order of their degree of participation in illegal work: David Jonkers from Dordrecht, as of 1963 personnel manager for Delanafabrieken in Dedemsvaart and living there at Wilhelminastraat 33; Hubertus Meeuwissen, who lived at Hoeve (North Brabant); Albert Wisman, from Borne, who is now believed to be living in Meppel; Cornelis Keurhorst, from Nijmegen, assumed to have been executed by a firing squad at the concentration camp at Vught; Frederik de Pagter, from Zeeland Province, who died during a bombardment in Hertogenbosch in 1944.
In mid-May 1942 the above David Jonkers and I went to Brussels and visited the Krauss family at the Vanderstichelenstraat 157 address. The discussion was mainly with Jean. He made more of an impression than his sister Marie. I state here with emphasis that I met Marie the very first time in Brussels and not in Tilburg. Jean told us that he had connections with members of the Belgian Rijkswacht [equivalent to the Dutch marechaussee] and that transport of the people we brought could be provided from Brussels to the Belgian-French border. For the transport in France, the Belgian Gendarmes would have an understanding with their French colleagues.
Furthermore, we agreed that we would bring the weaker escapees among the French all the way to Brussels, and the more independent and intelligent ones we would give the address of the Krauss family (never in writing!). If the escapees spoke English, they would be brought any time [i.e., given the address, which they could find themselves]. I would bring the vluchtelingen myself as often as possible since I knew Brussels and since I had mastered the French language to some extent. It was emphatically agreed that the marechaussees of Hilvarenbeek would ensure that the people being brought would have travel money and a Belgian identity card. After this extensive agreement Mr. Jonkers and I returned the following day to Hilvarenbeek. We had been received in a friendly manner by the old Mrs. Krauss and dined there as in peacetime.
Shortly after that, the Frenchmen started to arrive regularly from Twente in Tilburg. The van der Heijden family did not have to complain about [not having enough] foreign guests. Fortunately, Mr. Cornelis van der Heijden, who had traveled often in Belgium and who was married to a Belgian woman, also agreed to bring people to Brussels. Also, his son Eugene van der Heijden, who still was studying at that time and who now is a high school teacher in Boxtel and lives there at Leenhoflaan 13a, joined us. I hereby state that the cover name “Fox”, that Marie Krauss mentions in her book, was not used by van der Heijden senior, but by his son Eugène.
In the beginning, obtaining Belgian identity papers was difficult. We marechaussees stole them from Belgian smugglers we had caught. A friend of Eugène named Jan Naaijkens, presently known by his open air and caravan plays during the “Kempische Cultuurdagen” [approximately, “street fair”], drew with great care the stamps over the glued photos. He did that well, but it was not sufficient. Through a relation, Eugène obtained an unused Belgian identity card. Through a contact in Amsterdam he succeeded in having a photographic master produced. An office supply store in Tilburg seemed to have a type of cardboard paper in the exact green color. Finally, cards were printed by the Naaijkens’ print shop in Hilvarenbeek that could not be distinguished from the original. The city stamp was produced by Jan Naaijkens. The often-mentioned Jef van der Heijden learned in that time the profession of photographer. He took care of the passport pictures for the people who would be crossing the border.
It was necessary for us to regularly send letters to Brussels without them being controlled by the Germans. Mailing them in The Netherlands, therefore, was out of the question. At the Goirle-Poppel border crossing there lived—and still lives—the shipping agent Constant Heeren; he also has a café at the border. Heeren is married to a Belgian woman from Poppel. Her sister Octavie, or Vieteke as we named her, legally crossed the border each day to help her sister in the Dutch household. She always took our letters in her panties or under her undershirt back across the border and mailed them in Poppel. At an unfortunate moment we acquainted Marie Krauss with her. We have been very sorry about that because M.K. started using this place to cross the border, which was unnecessary and dangerous, not only for her but also for the Heeren family.
Financing this illegal work was a problem. We needed money to finance the travel of ourselves and the people being brought. The latter we supplied with some pocket money in Belgian denominations. There were the high expenses of feeding them in Belgium. To do this only from our salaries seemed an impossibility. In order to get money I smuggled chewing tobacco from Belgium, took it to The Hague, and sold the desired article in a government building there.
Normally, escapees were met at the Tilburg station and put up by the van der Heijden family. As far as I can remember, Marie Krauss did this one time. This was no success since her agility on the bicycle was not great. We therefore explicitly asked her to stay in Belgium since her field of operation was in Brussels. Nevertheless, she went to Hilvarenbeek by herself several times. Now Hilvarenbeek during the war was a place where only the locals and some Germans (Deutscher Grenzschutz) walked around. The appearance of Marie Krauss with quite a bit of make-up and dressed stylishly in Belgian fashion caused more attention than we liked.
If I remember correctly, it was in August 1942* when Eugène van der Heijden and I brought several people to the Krauss family. In a discussion at her apartment Marie Krauss said approximately the following: “In the future you will have to bring an amount of money with you for the people that you bring us. There are enough rich manufacturers in the Netherlands. Just look them up and ask for money. Without money we will stop.” It was 300 guilders or 500 guilders per person. Eugène and I were very indignant about this proposal. The agreement had been that we would finance the activities in The Netherlands and the Belgians in and after Brussels. After this we broke all contact with the Krauss family. Marie did come to bother us in Hilvarenbeek, but was unceremoniously escorted back across the border.
In August 1942 I made the acquaintance, via reformed [i.e., Dutch Reformed Church] reverend J. Maaskant, of Mrs. Elisa Chabot, then living in Brussels, Rue Jules Lejeune, no. 4, and now living in Geneva. Her daughter, Charlotte Ambach, was at that time engaged to Ernest Vanmoorlechem [Van Moorleghem], at that time chief of police in Ixelles, assumed executed by firing squad in a camp in Bayreuth beginning of 1945.
After we became acquainted, all Allied pilots and all Dutchmen that were summoned by the government in London were brought to the address of Mrs. Chabot. Ernest Vanmoorlechem was connected to “Service Eva”, which belonged to the illegal organization “Portemine” in Brussels. Shortly after I made his acquaintance I informed Mr. Vanmoorlechem extensively about the activities of the Krauss family.
At that time the adjutant H. de Wilde was district commander of the Marechaussee in Tilburg. In the beginning of 1943 he told me that he had received a request from higher ups to be at my disposal in all respects. Thereupon I asked him if he would transfer several marechaussees. After that the organization for the border crossing mechanism was as follows: In Hilvarenbeek the marechuassees Wisman, de Pagter, and Keurhorst were active; in Goirle: Jonkers and Meeuwissen plus the present adjutant of the Rijkspolitie, A.J. van Broekhoven; in Baarle Nassau: the marechaussees Van Gestel and Gerritsen, both executed by firing squad in September 1944, and the present superintendent of Rijkspolitie H. Niessen and the undersigned. In Baarle Nassau we had full cooperation from the superintendent Chr. De Gier. With all that, Marie Krauss had nothing to do any longer.
Our organization ran until 16 November 1943 on which date one of our civilian cooperators, Mr. Willem Schmidt of Zeist was arrested by the G.F.P. in Turnhout. As a consequence the Chabots and Vanmoorlechem were arrested in Brussels, the brothers Marcel and Gustaaf van der Heijden in Hilvarenbeek. The marechaussees managed through cold-blooded action of their commandant to go underground.
In total, more than 80 French POWs more than 40 Allied fliers, more than 150 Jewish Dutchmen, and approximately 20 Dutchmen who had London as their destination, were brought across the border. Among the last ones were Mr. H.P. Linthorst Homan, presently Commissioner of the Queen in Friesland, and the cavalry officers Pahud de Mortanges and Greter.
After the end of the war Marie Krauss did not make any attempt to contact Eugène van der Heijden or me. The relevant English and American services, on their own initiative, carefully searched for and found our organization. The result was that, among others, Eugène van der Heijden received the “Medal of Freedom” and the English “Kings Medal for Courage”. The undersigned received, among others, the “Medal of Freedom” with Silver Palm, and a “Member of the British Empire”. I thought it strange that Marie Krauss, if she helped so many Allied fliers, did not receive such recognition.
1 Smit, Karst, “Hilvarenbeek en de Pilotenlijn,” Die tijrannij verdrijven, Nieuwsbrief Nummer 38, Jaargang 13, 27 Oktober 1994, Hilvarenbeek, The Netherlands, p. 58. The article is almost a complete copy of a letter from Karst G. Smit, Galvanistraat 81, Den Haag, dated 8 September 1963, to het Rijksinstituut voor Oorlogsdocumentatie, t.a.v. de Heer Groeneveld, Herengracht 474, Amsterdam.
2 Initially called Royal Marechaussee. To the best of my recollection, these started out as a police presence mostly on bicycles in rural areas to handle poachers, smugglers, and border patrol. Organized as military units living in barracks. Functioning presently as military police as well as border police. You will see them in railway stations, when troops go home on furlough, to keep order. You will also see them at border crossings, airports checking passports, and manning passenger and baggage checking process. [Translator’s note.]
3 Literally “flying person.” These could be escapees from camps, slave labor, Jews, downed fliers, etc. [Translator’s note.]
*Reader Alex Morrison of Nova Scotia thinks this was 1943 rather than 1942.