Episode 3: Execution and Escape
Hope dashed, final letters and execution
The thirteen members of the group who had been ordered to board a bus on the morning of 5 February, 1943, still held hope that they would receive a reprieve, and would not be executed. When the bus arrived in Utrecht at about 10:30am, however, they were informed that they would face the firing squad at 2pm that day. Each man was given paper and instructed to compose their farewell letters. Jan Zwanenburg began his:
“I’ve just heard that my sentence will be carried out today at 2 o’clock, which means I still have two hours left to live.”
In their farewell letters the men expressed their gratitude to each other for the mutual support they had provided one another throughout the period of their imprisonment. They also maintained that they had done their duty and expressed their firm desire for their family and friends do the same thing - perform their duty to their country.
That afternoon they were packed back into a vehicle, and driven the short distance to Soesterberg airport. There, along with others facing the same fate, the thirteen men were shot dead and buried in a mass grave. They were:
Jan Zwanenburg (14/2/1920 - 5/2/1943)
Rob Douma (30/12/1918 - 5/2/1943)
Jaap Melkman (13/8/1902 - 5/2/1943)
Nico Snijders (26/9/1918 - 5/2/1943)
Wibo Lans (14/3/1884 - 5/2/1943)
Wim Gertenbach (14/3/1904 - 5/2/1943)
Jo van Leeuwen (4/6/1906 - 5/2/1943)
Herman Meinardi (19/6/1914 - 5/2/1943)
Frans Robbe (27/9/1906 - 5/2/1943)
Willem de Tello (30/1/1901 - 5/2/1943)
Lambert Rima (7/3/1907 - 5/2/1943)
Lou Gerrese (14/1/1913 - 5/2/1943)
Jules Varwijk (30/7/1904 - 5/2/1943)
In the days after their executions, their families were sent letters by German officials, informing them in German that the sentences had been carried out, and that they would receive their last letters shortly. The families were given conditions on how they may eulogise their lost, loved ones. They were not allowed to publish a date of death, nor mention that they had died “suddenly”, nor include phrases like “our dear son”, but merely “our son”. Remembering them with honour was forbidden.
Goedhart’s reprieve and escape
Frans Goedhart had avoided execution on 5 February, 1943, because he had acquired help from a doctor, who had diagnosed him with a brain disease, meaning his case would need to be reviewed. For months he, his wife, and others worked to sustain this reprieve, including having him falsely diagnosed with hereditary syphilis, making him ineligible for transport, and buying him time to figure out an escape plan.
By the middle of 1943, things were looking dire. An independent doctor was due to assess him. In the prison in which Goedhart was held, a worker conspired with members of the resistance outside to construct a plan. However, success in these conditions depended on a lot of luck, as well as the benevolence of random people whose involvement could not be foreseen. More than once, the escape plans hatched for Goedhart failed because of small misfortunes, and he all but gave up.
On 2 August, 1943, Goedhart, now out of options for escape, was ordered to join a group of fellow inmates, to be transferred out of the prison in Vught by two local policemen. Walking from the prison towards the police station in Vught itself, certain that he was being marched to his death, Goedhart managed to convince one of the policemen to help him escape. At the station, a tenuous plan they had hatched between them saw Goedhart stand up, walk through a couple of inconspicuously and errantly unlocked doors, and make his way onto the street outside. From there he continued, desperately strolling away, furtively seeking for the sign of any household that might be friendly to him.
He decided upon a doctor’s office, the door of which was opened by the housekeeper, a friendly, young lady named Sientje. The doctor was not at home, but this turned out to be a good thing for Goedhart, whose luck, it seemed, had returned. Sientje and the doctor’s wife, Mevrouw de Jager, harboured Goedhart for some hours, before organising a way for him to flee Vught. The doctor himself, when he returned home, fought with his wife for taking part in something so dangerous, and outright told Goedhart that he wished not to help him. Ignoring the doctor’s protests, these brave women leant Goedhart a bicycle and shepherded him out of Vught. With their help, he managed to undertake the most Dutch-style prison escape possible, pedalling away to safety. He remained in hiding for the rest of the war, rejoining the editorial team of Het Parool, but having to live with the trauma of everything he had been through.
5 February commemoration
A few months after the liberation, which took place in May, 1945, the families of the men executed by sentence of the First Parool Trial were sent letters from the Dutch military authorities asking them to help identify their loved ones. On 19 December, 1945, the bodies of the thirteen who had been shot were re-interred in a specifically built memorial cemetery, the Erebegraafplaats near Bloemendaal, alongside others who had perished because of their resistance to the Nazi occupation.
On 5 February every year, a procession of ceremonies is held to remember the thirteen men who were shot. For many years, the survivors of the First Parool trial, such as Frans Goedhart, would have joined family members and other friends, whose emotions over the grieved for men would have been tied to personal memories and knowledge of the individuals themselves. As time has passed, however, and taken many of these survivors along with it, the memorial service has become more than just a personal reflection of those familiar with the people who sacrificed their lives. The ceremony on 5 February has also become a memorial to the ideals that those men represented.
In their actions and their consequences, we see the extent to which freedom of speech, and freedom of press, are fragile things, and how they must be protected, be maintained and supported and, whenever necessary, fought for. This is especially the case when movements arise which try to take them away, and should never be forgotten.
To that end, there is a permanent reminder at the cemetery in Bloemendaal. Engraved in stone, above the remains of Franciscus Robbe, are the words:
“Always remember what I fell for, and through which system”.