‘Ome Jan’ (Uncle Jan) Wikkerink was an important resistance leader in Aalten during World War II. In his house in the Patrimoniumstraat in Aalten in 1942, together with a.o. ‘Tante Riek‘ from Winterswijk, the LO was founded: the National Organisation for Aid to People in Hiding.
Throughout the war, Ome Jan was involved with the resistance. He helped escaped prisoners of war and shot-down pilots escape to England. He also arranged hiding places for Jews and Dutch men who refused to work for the Germans.
With the help and courage of mostly farmers, the people who had to go into hiding were given shelter. The LO arranged safehouses and food stamps. Well known is the story of Jewish baby ‘Willem Herfstink’. The newborn child was the son of the rabbi Jedwab from Aalten. The parents had gone into hiding in the nearby hamlet Lintelo. But the baby boy could not stay at the safehouse. As agreed with Ome Jan, the baby was put as a foundling on his doorstep. Because of the staged discovery, the baby – already named Willem – got shelter at the Wikkerink family.
Ome Jan narrowly survived the war. On October 15, 1944 he was arrested in his own house by the Germans, together with two people in hiding. That same afternoon he was liberated by fellows of the resistance and he went into hiding at a farm. Two days later the occupiers cooled their anger at the residence of the ‘terrorist’ by throwing grenades inside the house, causing a fire. However, the fire department managed to limit the damage.
Because of his respectful behaviour and his deep conviction of values he was indisputably a leading figure, even after the war. After the liberation Queen Wilhelmina visited him in Aalten. In the Netherlands, he was knighted. He also received medals of honour from the French president De Gaulle and US president Eisenhower. In 1978, Yad Vashem recognized Hendrik Jan Wikkerink and his wife, Dela Gesina, as Righteous Among the Nations. Not for nothing, his bust is displayed in the hall of the Nationaal Onderduikmuseum.