Tante Riek and Gradus Kobus

It is clear from all stories about going into hiding that the network for helping people in hiding was important. They trusted each other and managed to find each other. But there is more: much can be said about the role of the veterinarian and mayor Bos of Winterswijk. It is precisely because of that situation that it is remarkable that in this town great resistance leaders stood up against the regime. It was ordinary people who resisted persecution and oppression.

A conversation between Helena Theodora Kuipers-Rietberg (aka Tante Riek) and pastor Fredrik Slomp (aka Frits the Wanderer) after his sermon in Winterswijk in October 1942, which is generally considered as the moment when the National Organization for Help to People in Hiding (LO) was established. Helena and her husband Piet Kuipers acted against the Nazis immediately after the occupation. Tirelessly, they helped Jews, labor refusers, English pilots and many others who were in trouble. Both had to go into hiding themselves, but were betrayed and taken to the dome prison in Arnhem. Piet survived the war. Heleen went via camp Vught to the extermination women’s camp Ravensbrück, where she died at the end of December 1944. A fellow prisoner said about her: “She always knew how to make something out of the limited possibilities and spread love and warmth around her.”

Much earlier – in 1933 – Winterswijker Gradus Kobus (1879) saw the danger of Nazism from across the border. He opted for communism because he expected this party to do the most for the least fortunate. He and his wife lived soberly so that they could give something to others. His house and neighborhood shop were in Meddo, close to the border. This place would later become a center of illegal activities. As early as 1933, he actively helped fled communists and socialists, who had to lead an illegal existence in the Netherlands. This brought him into conflict with the Dutch but also with the German authorities. He was arrested on June 25, 1941, together with hundreds of other communists. Via camp Schoorl and camp Amersfoort he arrived in Neuengamme. He died there on 22 February 1942 (how or from what is unknown). A few days earlier, he wrote his wife – compulsory in German – “Ich bin gesund und munter” (I am healthy and cheerful).

Tante Riek
Tante Riek

Another story about the border with Winterswijk is about the Jewish family Humberg. Wilhelm Humberg and his wife Rosetta Menko moved to Winterswijk in 1933. When their flight to England failed, they returned. They were exempted from leaving by National Socialist mayor Bos until after April 1943, but went into hiding at the Gossink farm in the neighborhood of Henxel. There they were discovered by the Nazis and transported via Westerbork to Auschwitz. The Heimatverein Dingden reconstructed the stories of all members of the Humberg family during WW II. The history is told in the Humberghaus in Dingden, a monument where people can learn and think about the past, present and future.

For some people, it ended better, although even then the war had a major impact on the rest of those people’s lives. Such as with Wim Harmelink, a Reich German who was summoned but deserted and went into hiding. The events after the war speak for themselves. His family was deported to Germany in 1946 via a camp for Reich Germans. They fought for years to get their farm in Ratum back. In 1950 Wim married in Winterswijk, and in 1955 he finally acquired Dutch nationality. The nasty experiences, however, have left indelible traces on the family and relatives up to the present time.

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Roy Kay