Mass execution

On 2 March 1945, 46 men from across the Netherlands were executed at the Rademakersbroek near Varsseveld in the Achterhoek. Their death was a reprisal for the killing of four German soldiers by resistance group De Bark, which had its headquarters in a farm in the neighborhood of De Heurne near Dinxperlo. In the night from Sunday 25 to Monday 26 February, four German Fallschirmjäger (elite troops of the Wehrmacht) were found in a half-blown, partially burnt-out car at a bomb crater on the Aaltenseweg. Their bodies showed traces of strangulation.

The Rademakersbroek victims were all ‘Todeskandidaten’ (condemned to be shot), held in the Kruisberg prison in Doetinchem. The youngest was 18, the oldest 65 years old. Among them were leaders of the resistance from the provinces of Gelderland and Overijssel. They were only arrested in the last months of the war, but would not live to see the liberation, just 4 weeks after their death. To the untold sorrow of the families they left behind (pregnant) women, children, parents, brothers and sisters. Subsequent generations would keep suffering from this trauma.

This is their story:

In the early morning of March 2, around 4 or 5 AM, the men were awakened and taken out of their cells. The prisoners had heard activity in the corridor for a while already and assumed that something was going on. They had experienced this several times before. They had to leave their cells and their hands were tied on their back. All men received a piece of paper in their coat or trouser pocket, which, as it turned out, showed their name and date of birth. The group was driven out of the building and forced into a large closed truck, which was closed by guards. A military column from SD, SS and Fallschirmjäger left the site. The last group were soldiers from the same division as the four murdered German soldiers. They formed the execution platoon.

The end of the road for these 46 men would turn out to be a field at Rademakersbroek, at 8 AM. The field was next to De Tol farm of the Kraaijenbrink family on the Aaltenseweg, near Varsseveld. After the war, farmer Evert Jan would write a precise account of the events to a sister of victim Luther Kortlang (24 years old) from Ermelo.

With a gentle spring breeze, it was the early morning of a beautiful spring day. The truck stopped on a dirt road next to De Tol, where the Kraaijenbrink family – with 8 children and a couple of people in hiding – was about to have breakfast after work done. The family was ordered to stay inside and hid in the basement because there were English hunters in the air. The place was full of German and also a number of Dutch SS men. There were several military cars and motorbikes and two trucks with the execution platoon. The prisoners were forced to jump out of the cargo hold at the rear of the truck. An older man – Dionisius Dirk Bakker or Oswald Assmann – did not dare to jump, got a blow with a rifle butt and fell to his knees.

Because of the risk of air shelling, the German soldiers were standing next to the farmhouse. Traffic in the area was stopped. Farmer Bernard Houwer, who lived close to the railway, had to ensure that no one crossed the railway. He was about 100 meters away and was convinced that only exercises were taking place. The prisoners were driven up into the wheat field and arranged in a semicircle, in three rows, diagonally behind each other, their face turned away from the farm. The death sentence sounded in German, then translated by a Dutchman. Some men begged if they could still write a farewell letter. In vain. Then the carbines of the execution platoon sounded. With the first salvo, the eastern part of the group fell. With the second the western part. When all men were lying on the ground, a German and Dutch SS from each side stepped over the corpses and gave a mercy shot where necessary.

Like father and mother Kraaijenbrink, Janny Winkelman from Schiedam – 14 years old at the time – witnessed parts of the execution. She was staying with the family to recuperate. Her school was closed during the Hunger Winter. There was no longer any coal to heat the building and everyone was feeling miserable because of the lack of food. That is how Janny arrived early on Monday 26 February at De Tol, on the back of a bicycle with a person in hiding from Rotterdam. On the Aaltenseweg, about 150 meters from the farm, she saw the partially burned-out car and the four murdered German soldiers under a blanket.

Every night of that week, German soldiers performed house searches to find the perpetrators of the attack. On 2 March, Janny and 15-year-old Riek Kraaijenbrink saw from the attic window how the 46 condemned men were chased out of the truck onto the dirt road. When everyone is in the basement, she went upstairs a couple of times with an excuse, to look through the stable window onto the wheat field. The faces of a young man with blond hair combed back and an old man with a beard stayed with her. When everything had gone quiet, she saw how the men were lying on the ground and being shot.

After the shooting, some of the SS people – about 30 people – had breakfast at De Tol. Daughter Aaltje had to make porridge. A number made cruel jokes about what happened just before. Around half past ten, four farmers from the area were ordered to lay the bodies on their wagons and the final journey of the 46 men followed, to a mass grave at the Rentinkkamp Cemetery in Varsseveld.

Ben Heusinkveld, a 5-year old boy who was living next to the cemetery, saw a flat cart with corpses. An NSB person lead the way. In the empty wheat field, men who were arrested on the spot were ordered to collect the scarves, glasses and hats that were left behind. They were buried together with the remains of the victims. Later, farmer Kraaijenbrink would dig up personal items again at the request of family members.

Aftermath

Exactly 4 weeks later, on Good Friday, 30 March 1945, Aalten and the surrounding area were liberated. In April, the men’s bodies were identified if possible and put in separate coffins. Most were eventually reburied in their hometown, but for some it would take months, because their families only heard they had died in the summer. A few found their last resting place at Ereveld Loenen war cemetery.

Janny Winkelman went back home on June 29, to return a month later for the harvest. At the place where the men fell, she noticed the grain was higher than the rest and a dark shade of green. Farmer Kraaijenbrink harvested these culms separately, because “no human or animal will eat from them”. Daughter Riek bound the sheaves. Part of these grains ended up in the monument that was unveiled on 4 May 1949 at the Rademakersbroek site. A month later, a large part of the Kraaijenbrink family emigrated to Canada. Father would die there in November. Janny stayed in touch with the family for the rest of her life. March 2 never disappeared from their minds.

As farmer Kraaijenbrink wrote in his letter: “Every day I still see the rows of dead on our field. The wind played with their hair and I wished that all our Dutch people had seen them so that it would never be forgotten the sacrifice that was made here for country and people.”

In his 2014 book ‘Mosquito Down’, pilot Frank Dell, who was hiding next to De Bark in the Somsenhuus farm, together with other pilots, extensively described the fatal events that took place in his hiding area and De Bark.

More information (in Dutch) is available at de46vanhetrademakersbroek.nl

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