Peter van Essen
Peter Van Essen was born on 15 January 1922 in Apeldoorn, the Netherlands. In the final years of the war, the Nazis were in need of more workers in factories in Germany and recruited young men from the countries they invaded. Peter’s brother, a barber, was taken off the street and forced to work in a steel factory. “He couldn’t handle that,” said Van Essen. His brother found a German barber shop which needed staff and luckily was able to work there.
In January of 1943, Van Essen got his first letter telling him to report to an office for a work assignment in Germany. He ignored it but by the fourth letter, the Nazis were threatening to put him into a concentration camp if he didn’t report to a local office. A man of faith, Van Essen prayed on what to do. He didn’t want to go.
Later, a member of the underground approached him and asked if he needed a place to hide. He said yes and that began his two years in hiding at a farm named ‘De Koekoek’ in Dale near Aalten, at times over a pigsty in a barn. He started a diary at that time.
At the age of 21, in 1943, Van Essen rang the doorbell of a man known as Ome Jan, a leader of the resistance movement in the town of Aalten. The leader’s 16-year-old daughter, Henny, answered the door. She was mopping the hallway at the time, Van Essen recalled. “She looks cute but her hair is a mess.” The two would marry in 1947 and immigrate to Canada in 1953. They had five children. Ms. Van Essen died in 2013. Peter passed away on 1 November 2018 in Cobourg, Canada.
In 2015, Van Essen published his diary entitled ‘Above the Pigsty’. It provides a glimpse into the daily life of one ‘onderduiker’ (person in hiding) during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands from 1940 to 1945 and for the first year after liberation by the Allied troops.
‘Above the Pigsty’ is available at FriesenPress Editions (in English).
An interview with the author in the Northumberland News is published here.