Many Dutch people went out with a white carnation in the buttonhole on June 29th, 1940, prince Bernhard’s birthday. Because this was the coat of arms flower of the prince. It was the first public resistance act against the Nazi power.
Probably the Dutch people never understood better the words in the national anthem
„de tyrannie verdrijven
die mij mijn hert doorwondt“
(banish the tyranny, that wounds my heart)
than just thin these bitter occupation years. The number of resistance fighters grew gradually as a result of the obstinacy with which the Nazi ideology was imposed, the increasing lack of rights, the persecution of the Jews, the shootings of hostages, the numerous deportations to the concentration camps, the forced labor service in the German armament industry, the statement of loyalty, that every student had to sign, as well as the captivity of the Dutch army.
These and many other things nursed the resistance will. The hate for German and Dutch Nazis increased. Public resistance to the merciless oppression and the violation of fundamental human rights happened still more frequently.
The necessity to help the many people who went underground, Jews, crashed allied pilots, and former Dutch soldiers escaped from camps for prisoners of war, stimulated the need for more unity. Smaller opposition groups went to work in a larger context, namely in the L.O. (The national organization for help to people who went underground). They divided Limburg into 10 districts. Apart from this organization the „knokploeg“ (task force, thug troop), called K.P. briefly, was set up. They got hold of ID papers and food ration cards, frequently under use of force. As of the end of 1944 the complete K.P. in Limburg was under the management of Jacques Crasborn from Heerlen.
After some time in Valkenburg a K.P. was created, too. It initially consisted of two men, the teachers Jo Lambriks and Jeng Meijs, whose first was a pupil in the class of Jacques Crasborn some years before. Later George Corbey became the third member of the KP Valkenburg. The name evokes a violent thug gang, but most of the KP people were not combative, though of course sometimes they did not shrink from a forceful action, if necessary. The task of the KP was no other than to ensure the livelihood of people in hiding. (The L.O. provided the distribution). They gathered materials, illegal reading, ration cards and sometimes even German uniforms for use on the occasion of robberies. Most activities took place during the night.
Leader of the L.O. in Valkenburg was Pierre Schunck. Among others, Harry van Ogtrop and Gerrit van der Gronden were members. Of course there were more people, up to municipality officials, who cooperated now and then under a complete discretion. Thus it was the municipal Hein Cremers and especially Guus Laeven, who ensured at the end of the war that the entire register of the registry office of Valkenburg „somehow“ got lost, when the Germans had the idea to force all male inhabitants between 16 and 60 years old to work in digging trenches.
The organized resistance in Limburg started in the city of Venlo in February 1943. A primary teacher there, Jan Hendricx (alias Ambrosius), became the leader of the L.O. in Limburg, supported by father Bleijs (alias Lodewijk) and chaplain Naus. The soul of the Limburg resistance was L. Moonen (alias Uncle Leo), the secretary of the diocese. By his help they established the necessary connections all over the diocese in short time so that Limburg had a well established resistance organization by the end of the year 1943.
In a publication about the resistance in Limburg during the second World War one can read, that in and around Valkenburg, nothing significant happened in this regard. The small private archives of Pierre Schunck (alias Paul Simons), one of the resistance fighters in Valkenburg surviving the war, prove the opposite. Not only his personal report with notes and pictures shows this, but also a number of genuine and forged ID cards, ration coupons, notes of underground people with secret messages („from Z18 to R8“), illegally printed and stenciled matters, lists of official aid to war victims during the occupation, a file on Jewish victims.
Here are the testimonys on organized hiding aid in the region of Valkenburg during the years of German occupation, on the assistance to crashed allied pilots, the attack on the registry office, which made the deployment of men from this area in the German production process largely impossible; on the large scale manipulations of distribution records, which made it finally necessary to raid and plunder the distribution office in Valkenburg, so that falsifications not should come to light; on emptying a warehouse of radio equipment in Klimmen; on the hiding of precious liturgical vessels and chasubles from the Jesuit monastery in Valkenburg; on incidental stunts as the pillaging of a railway carriage full of eggs (decorated with a banner: „A gift of the Dutch people to the German army!“) and of a ton of butter from the dairy in Reymerstok (which worked for the Wehrmacht. With actions like this the German uniforms and the army vehicle mentioned below were very useful. A. Schunck).
During a long time, in every period of four weeks, some officials of Valkenburg’s distribution office had been able, via various crooked tours, to obtain clandestinely between 500 and 1000 complete sheets with ration coupons for the people who went underground. However, it could not fail to appear, that this would be discovered one day to come soon (the old director, Th. van Hinsberg, had to go underground and was replaced by two young, very attentive Nazis. A.S.). First, they tried to have printed new counterfeit cards in Amsterdam, but a German raid in that print shop prevented this solution.
So they launched a daring plan. It was usual that every evening, the keys of the safe of the distribution office and such things were given to the police for storage in an envelope with five wax seals and the signature of the director. For a while, they fished the wax seals from the wastebasket every day, after much trying the signature was counterfeit on a equal envelope and gradually similar keys were bought. They prepared the envelope with its contents, the signature, and the already used wax seals and ten they just needed to wait until the right moment now, that they could hand over this envelope to the police. The moment came and the chance was used.
Some time before the K.P. stole a German army vehicle from a garage in Sittard, along with some cans of gasoline. The car was transferred to Valkenburg, fully recovered in a garage and then hided in a cave behind the monastery at the Cauberg. That night they committed the robbery using the genuine keys, while the false envelope was under the care of the police. The complete distribution records and other documents disappeared in a car towards Oud-Valkenburg and via Ransdaal to a farm in Kunrade. Later they were brought back to Valkenburg, in a car hidden under straw, because the Germans investigated all the farms in the area.
The people in hiding, to whom these documents were intended, were housed and supplied by a well-organized service. Sometimes dozens of them arrived simultaneously in Valkenburg by train, for example, when a raid had taken place somewhere. They were spread out over the various diving addresses - once even via the confessional in the church where sexton Van Ogtrop played confessor.
Young men, who had to go to Germany for an Arbeitseinsatz (forced deployment of labor), were supposed to hand in her ration coupons. In return they received a certificate with which they would get their ration coupons in Germany. When they would go into hiding they would starve, the Germans assumed. It was the LO, who often cared for and provided a new registration card.
A completely other story is, how they made disappear 1942 precious objects from the Jesuit College, which was claimed by the Germans, and kept them hidden during the whole war. Pierre Schunck and his people have taken away among others 38 goblets and pyxes, as well as historical objects and chasubles, hidden in baskets under laundry. One top sat, quite harmlessly, some of his children. Precious books disappeared under the habit of a priest living with private persons in Valkenburg. And when an English plane crashed burning between Meerssen and Berg, the wounded pilot was transported by ambulance to the hospital in Heerlen on the pretext, he would be an injured fireman. In this hospital an entire floor was „hidden“ for the occupiers, to take care for hiding and pilots! By the way, the shelter near the cave of the lime mine in Geulhem has done good services for a long time.
The excellently disguised hiding-place in the limestone wall west of the water-mill in Geulhem served as a shelter for resistance people who had to disappear for a shorter or a longer time. This wasn’t always feasible in private residences. The „residents“ of the shelter in the cave were cared for by the members of the KP in Valkenburg.
There is much to report on what happened in Valkenburg and its surroundings in the years of war. On individual help, organized help, organized resistance. Granting of food to Valkenburg’s children during the last years of war and many others, occurrences already almost forgotten again after such short time.
After the Allied Forces landed on 6 June 1944 in Normandy and they started to liberate Europe, an anxious tension reigned in Southern-Limburg. People understood that an inevitable consequence of this enormous offensive of the Allied Forces would be that our province would go to encouter a hard time of war operations. The Germans attempted to give the impression, that they felt unthreatened and started now of all times to equip a lot of Limburg mines as bombproof workshops for their industry of war. They continued working on this until the first grenades of the advancing Americans disturbed them in their work.
1944-9-14: the first American infantrymen march from the south down the Daelhemerweg street into Valkenburg. There they find a rather deserted town: the greater part of the population have put themselves in safety in the lime caves. Due to the several days lasting shelling and also as a result of the blowing of the bridge over the Geul by the retiring German troops, the center of Valkenburg is badly damaged.
Picture: Frans Hoffman
The day after D-Day, the 7th of June 1944, the first men of the 19th Corps of the US army landed on european soil. Three months and seven days later, the 14th of September, a little unit of that corps would arrive in Valkenburg.
The 120th Rgt. of the 30th Infantry Division (Old Hickory) of the 19th Corps of the First US Army was employed 1944-6-14, when they took over the central sector of the American front on the peninsula of Cherbourg. In addition to its own artillery, tanks, engineers, scouts and the like, in those days the 19th Corps still consisted of the 29th and 30th infantry division. During exactly 101 days, this corps would participate continuously in the struggle, until the 15th of October, when they contacted another division near Aachen, the first German city they reached. In these 101 days they advanced against Germany, sometimes suffering very serious losses , from their disembarkation point in Vierville-sur-Mer on the french west coast. On this way they also mopped up Valkenburg from Germans at the 14th of September.
As mentioned above, the time from the beginning of June until the middle of September 1944 was of many suspense. In the beginning, when the English and Americans granted themselves the time to settle a good bridgehead on the European continent, many feared, this situation could be going to last for a long time. In the opinion of the population, the allied offensive of course went too slow, but in fact, once it was in full swing, it went with an insane speed:
At the 6th of June more than 132.000 soldiers disembark on French soil, the battle of Brittany is long and it costs thousands of lives. Paris falls the 26th of August, at the same day the 19th Corps near Lille almost reaches the Belgian border, Brussels is liberated at the 3th of September, Antwerpen one day later. At the 2nd of September, the right wing of the allied forces, that advance against Germany, including the already mentioned 19th US Corps, already reached the Belgian town of Tournai, but was forced to wait there for a couple of days, until the lines of supply would be recovered. The 8th of September a cavalry reconnoitring unit, after crossing Southern Belgium, reached the Albert canal, near the Belgian-Dutch border. At the 10th of September the renowned fort Eben-Emael fell into the hands of the Americans without a blow. The bridges over the Maas and the Albert canal however all were blown up. The allies builded an own bridge over the Maas near Liège to avoid slowing down the advance. Also in the section of the 19th US Corps a bridge over the Maas was built. The infantry immediately put it into use. The 12th of September the Americans put the first foot on Dutch soil and dislodged the Germans from Noorbeek and Mheer. The 13th of September parts of the 30th Infantry Division, the so called Old Hickory Division, penetrate into Eysden, Gronsveld and Wijk, a suburb of Maastricht. The 14th of September Maastricht-West follows. This is the day, a historical one in the history of the little town upon the Geul, that Valkenburg welcomes the first Americans.
In the morning of the 14th of September 1944 Valkenburg is very quiet. The approaching troops make the few, that haven’t sought safety in the caves, remain indoors.
Since several days all sorts of rumours go the round. The greater part of the German troops have been retired. Only a handful of Germans remain in Hotel Oda, to watch over the only bridge that’s not yet blown, near Den Halder Castle. Early in the morning two men in civilian clothes go up the Daelhemerweg street (→picture above). The day before they searched contact with the Americans, who invaded until De Planck at the Belgian-Dutch frontier. One of them informed the Americans on the the state of affairs in Valkenburg. Today a US patrol will come to Valkenburg. At the bench, a little bit further up than the coal-mine imitation, they will meet. The agreed password is „Steeplechase“.
On their way up they spy along the road. There is an American sitting on the bench indeed. „You want a cigarette?“, he asks.
„I like steeplechase“, Pierre Schunck (38) from Valkenburg answers. In the resistance he is only known as „Paul Simons“.
„I’m captain Sixberry“, the man on the bench says. He clearly wants to know, how many Germans remain in the little town and where they are. He has got an ordnance map upon his knees. Schunck indicates: „At this side of the Geul no one is left. This bridge is the only one, that is still intact, but it is undermined and guarded from Hotel Oda, over there. Possibly there are still some Germans left in the Casino dance-hall too, at this place. Moreover there’s still German traffic from Meerssen via Houthem to Valkenburg and then via Heerlen to Germany.“
The American is accompanied by some soldiers. They are hidden in the vegetation on the banks. Most likely their number is bigger, than the man from Valkenburg guesses now. They have the disposal of a walkie-talkie, the first one, that Pierre Schunck sees in his life. The soldiers pass on the gathered information. There-upon from the other side the briefing follows: try to gain that bridge over the Geul without damage. This should happen by surprise by means of a pincer movement.
Schunck beckons his companion l’Istelle (23), a young man from The Hague, who is in hiding at his’, to come nearer. They deliberate for a moment. The Americans retire and come back in a queue of open jeeps, with fixed machineguns. The engines are switched off, they make use of the incline of the Daelhemerweg Street to approach in total silence.
In the first one there is only a driver. The captain and his men take place, but they put Pierre Schunck in front, on the hood. Because they still don’t trust him? Later you wonder things like this. At the moment they slowly roll down towards Valkenburg, every nerve strained to the limit...
They intend to form two groups: one with Schunck, the other with l’Istelle as a guide. On the Grendel Square Pierre Schunck sends some of the people who are there past the houses with the the urgent request to remain absolutely silent and above all things not to start jubilating. Everybody abides by that.
The two platoons go ahead. Schunck and „his“ soldiers enter the medieval part of the town through the Grendel Gate. In the Munt Street they enter Hotel Smeets-Huynen (today „Edelweiss“) and leave it laconical through the back door, leaving a perplexed family Smeets. Some soldiers ascend the church-tower, in order to cover the bridge with their machineguns from there. Pierre Schunck accompanies the officer, who is equiped with a periscope. From the brewery Theunissen (later demolished) however, they don’t have enough view, due to the rather high wall of Den Halder Castle (later demolished too). Along this wall they sneak to the low wall on the bank of the Geul. With his periscope the American sees a German soldier on the bridge walking up and down. Pierre Schunck is allowed to watch for a moment too...
In the meantime a couple of jeeps, with heavy machineguns fixed and the engines switched off, are pushed forward and stand between the hotels Neerlandia and Bleesers. From there a small group of soldiers goes with l’Istelle along the back sides of the houses to the protestant church, through the gardens of Hotel Cremers (l’Ambassadeur) and the house Eulenberg (later „Texas Bar“), to Hotel Prince Hendrik. Another group tries to reach the banks of the Geul via the yard of the school at the Plenkert Street.
As soon as these two groups will reach their destination, snipers will try to surprise the Germans, in order to prevent them from initializing the blowing of the bridge.
The plan is not successful. The Germans perceive their enemies in Hotel Prince Hendrik. Perhaps they have been warned from the Pavillon dance-hall, because there are German guards as well. The last bridge over the Geul explodes with a terrible uproar. The scraps fly around Schunck and the American officer behind the little wall. The plan failed in the last moment. Now the Geul temporarily becomes front line.
The staff of the battalion, that captured Valkenburg south of the Geul, arrives in the course of the day. They settle their command post, led by Colonel Beelar, in the cellar of the shop Bours on the corner of Wilhelmina Alley and Plenkert Street. Their mission was, to advance from De Planck and Noorbeek and to cross the national highway Maastricht-Aachen towards Margraten, Sibbe and Valkenburg. There they had to cut off the way to the German traffic and after that to wait for the falling of Maastricht into allied hands.
Two days later (1944-9-16) the Americans in Valkenburg receive a wireless message, that Maastricht is free. They don’t have any immediate contacts via Berg or Meerssen. Now the Americans in Valkenburg cross the Geul and fighting they force an access into the provincial highway to Meerssen. Then Valkenburg is completely liberated. It is the 17th of September 1944.
During these Liberation Days, days of tough combats in Valkenburg, the greater part of the population sought safety in the caves at the Cauberg and the Plenkert. In his booklet „Limburg in den Wereldbrand“ (Limburg in the World Conflagration) M. Kemp dedicates the following lines to the difficult and anxious days, that the population of Valkenburg had to pass through:
„Although at the 14th of September the Americans advanced untill Valkenburg, the inhabitants of this part of the Geul valley still had to go through a couple of precarious days. The misery started with the blowing of some bridges over the Geul, with so excessive charges of dynamite, that several houses and hotels were destroyed of it. Many inhabitants of the little town found a shelter in the nearby lime caves, but soon the food runned out, they had no light and an unbearable hygienical situation developed. In those days in the caves, whilst the artillery duel in the surrounding woods thundered with full power and numerous shells striked the abandoned houses, three children were born and an old man died a (natural) death. Here the hour of the liberation came not one moment too early!“
Limburgs Dagblad, tuesday 9 february 1993, Page 13
Last saturday Pierre Schunck was buried on the cemetry on the Cauberg in Valkenburg. He spent his last years in Schaesberg and died, almost 87 years old, in the hospital of Kerkrade. But his heart always remained in Valkenburg. There he was not only one of the founders, late chairman and member of the board of honour of the local public library, late chairman and chairman of honour of the wood-wind and brass band „Kurkapel Falcobergia“, but also for many years supervisory director of „Valkenburg Omhoog“. Above all things however, his name will stay well-known as a member of the Resistance Movement during World War II. In his laundry, that was situated a little bit outside the town (Plenkert street), lots of illegal „transactions“ were concluded and many persons in hiding were provided with a save shelter.
One of the american soldiers, who liberated Valkenburg and was in the jeep with Pierre Schunck (see above) specially came from Chicago to attend the funeral. Bob Hilleque, who is 66 years old now (february 9th, 1993) is the only man of the A platoon of the 119th regiment who survived the war. (In the meantime Bob died too.)