In the text that follows below, you will find several times the expressions "hiding people" or "divers". The latter one is the translation of the Dutch word "onderduikers". During the war it was used for all persons, who were wanted by the Germans and for whom it was better to hide, to dive into the underground. It is for them that the organization L.O. was founded. For Jews, allied pilots who had crashed on Holland, young men who did not want to to go to work in Germany in order to replace the German soldiers. If you know a more correct word to indicate them, please let me know.
This article was published in the memorial edition (35 years Auschwitz free) of the Nederlands Auschwitz Comité, 24th year #1, 1980 and is based on an interview with Pierre Schunck (Here you can find the original text: Je koos niet voor het verzet, go to page 27). During the second World War he was in the subdistrict of Valkenburg rayonleider (subdistrict leader) in and around Valkenburg of the Dutch resistance movement L. O.
In order to protect themselves and others, they used aliases which had the same initials as their own name. Because, at that time, it was still far common that the initials were written or embroidered into the laundry. A celebrated example: the organisor of the Frenc resistance Jean Moulin had a.o. the pseudonyms Joseph Mercier and Jacques Martel. The resistance people only knew each other’s pseudonym. The right names became known only after the war, however, they usually still called each other on resistance reunions and other celebrations with this pseudonym. Pierre Schunck’s resistance name was Paul Simons.
From the notes of „Paul“, who was Director of a laundry in Valkenburg and lives there, we were allowed to learn several facts on the resistance in South Limburg.
How did one get into such a dangerous resistance adventure? One didn’t decide to join the resistance. Events, sometimes small incidents, made one to step in; the result was that you did something to help others, something that was forbidden by the occupying forces. So you got from one step to the next.
May 10th, 1940, on Friday before Pentecost. Warm weather, blue sky. German airplanes in low flight over our house. In Valkenburg, the hostile tanks climb the Cauberg on their way to Maastricht. We are occupied.
Dutch soldiers, who operated an old cannon on the Cauberg before, tipped over the monster in the middle of the street to hinder the Germans in their advance and then disappeared themselves. They are sitting along the slope of the wood in front of our house, the „Polverbos“, and don’t know where to go. I see them. I couldn’t leave the boys in the hands of the enemy, could I?
We invited them in our house and my wife, Gerda, immediately was busy to serve a nutritious breakfast to them. Twelve soldiers then had to be changed into civilians. With some improvisation we made it. The staff had started the daily work in the meantime. Consultation with the men of the staff yielded a couple of garments and the soldiers were modified to a bit bedraggled civilian boys. So we had at once the first people to hide (we called them divers) because transportation back home was only possible for a couple of boys from South Limburg (that is the direct surroundings).
In the week after Pentecost the journey back home was organized for the vacationists run aground in Valkenburg and our boys traveled with them. Some of them sent back the lent civvies properly.
But now to the weapons and uniforms they left. Johan de W., our engineer, knew a solution. He burned the uniforms in the steam-boiler in a nice fire. But, Johan said, we could possibly need the guns urgently to chase the Jerries away. He knew what he did. He removed one part. The weapons themselves were greased thickly, wrapped up with rags and buried in the garden one by one. The parts which he had held separately were greased too, packed and hidden separately into a little box. He proceeded this way so that if the NSB-people or the Germans would find the guns, they would not be able do anything with them.
For one year nothing happened. The Germans softened on nice, our soldiers, who were prisoners of war, were allowed to go home again and we wondered: „Why did we expose ourselves so much to danger by helping these boys? They are officially and properly at home now.“ Untill the rumor startled Valkenburg that the SS had expelled the Jesuits back to Germany and confiscated their cloister. The rumor was largely true but all fathers hadn’t departed to her native country. The head and a couple of further fathers went underground with rector Eck, an uncle of my wife and pastor of the Franciscan cloister St. Pieter in Valkenburg. (In the Valkenburg area, there had been some foundations of German cloisters under Bismarck in the time of the so called Kulturkampf (cultural war). Arnold Schunck). This uncle called me with the urgent request to come to him.
In the rector’s room sat the German fathers. They had a great worry. To be more precise, that the hallow vessels and precious mass gowns which they attached a sacred value, should fall into the hands of the heathen SS people. Families from Valkenburg had already secured paintings and other attainable things. The cloister had been abandoned during some days. But now a construction firm was there with workers, preparing the forthcoming foundation of the „Reichsschule“ (empire school). The fathers asked me whether I knew somebody who would dare to bring their precious goblets and monstrances and relics in safety. Pure chance collaborated again. A site supervisor called, whether we could collect, clean and bring back the dirty laundry which the Jesuits had left. This was the great chance to clear the „goblet job“ on the broad daylight.
The horse and the waggon were at home. I went there myself with a neighbour, equiped with some laundry baskets. We placed the monstrances, goblets and mass gowns in the laundry baskets under the dirty laundry, the workers helped us to heave the heavy baskets on the waggon. We came home for certain and uncle Eck could calm the fathers. We were, however, left with a great value of „enemy fortune“. But it wasn’t left at that.
Paul and his people also manage to smuggle Lithuanian books under the laundry out of the cloister library and to withdraw them from the greed of the Nazi ideologue Rosenberg, who was born in Lithuania. With the ladies of the „Catholic Action“ and farmers from the surroundingsas they fitted out a kitchen for children as an alternative to the (Nazi-) Winter Help. They got hold of the kitchen utensils in the „Empire school“ and hided them on the attic of Paul’s laundry.
One morning in spring of 1942, suddenly the whole building was surrounded by a unity of the Dutch rural police under the command of sergeant R. (a fanatical NSB and swot). When he came in unannouncedly to me, he said: „You are under detention because of the suspicion of forbidden possession of firearms.“ I had to show where the weapons were. When I pretended to have no idea of what he meant, he drew out a piece of paper on which I believed to recognize the handwriting of a new employee. With a sketch and the instructions: „Weapons buried in the garden, revolver buried in the court, ammunition in barrels with soap.“ Meanwhile a gendarme digs in the court, on the search for the revolver. Chaplain Horsmans comes by the entrance and R. goes to meet him. The gendarme nods to me with his head: he has the revolver uncovered in the hole. He shovels it on the heap of dug out earth and throws a shovel of earth immediately upon it. He digs on eagerly. My wife had to stay inside. All telephones in the company had been shut down and the girls stood as nailed on their places. Some cried and sobbed at the top of their voices. The men had gone outside and walked all over in front of the searching policemen whenever it was possible.
Fortunately the gardener, Leo Dahmen, digged in the weapons deeper in another place before and built a potato heap upon them, like they were usual for the winter storage. Another potato heap was at the place which was indicated on the outline. When the policemen began to pull this heap to pieces, loud protest came from the male employees; all of them stood around it there. They said things like: These are our potatoes, hands off, this heap belongs to us, not to the boss, he has nothing to do with it etc. The potato heap was destroyed nevertheless and they found nothing.
As of this time I was allowed to go inside to my wife. Meanwhile my parents who had come from Heerlen by a cab and chaplain Horsmans sat there, too. R. also came in and informed us: „We found copper and about this you will have to answer to the German authorities. So you will be sent to Vught.“ (During the war a German concentration camp was located there. Arnold Schunck.) My wife got order, to prepare pyjamas and toiletries for me. She revolted intensely, she declared that she was pregnant and would go to Vught together with me. I wanted to speak with the chaplain and said: „I would like to confess before I go. “ R. permitted this. I asked the chaplain, to contact the engineer Johan because of the weapons, as well as the Jesuits in Maastricht because of her property, so that my wife Gerda wouldn’t further run any risk during my captivity. He promised to regulate everything.
Shortly after this confession R. ordered a gendarme to lead me away. I was fastened to his wrist with handcuffs and we had to go by Valkenburg this way. Then my father came into action. He planted himself in front of R. and said: „My son is no criminal! Even if he would have hidden weapons, I then would be proud of him. I do not want him to walk tied up onto the street. There stands a cab outside and I insist that you, Mr Offizier, give order to take him away with the cab. If not, then I will inform my son-in-law, who is his brother-in-law, how you humiliate his close relative. And this son-in-law is the local group leader of the NSDAP (German nazi party) in Heerlen.“ R. gave way and I went by cab to the police station on the Emmaberg.
The top sergeant sat there. The policeman R. wanted to lock me up in a cell, but the top sergeant waved, that I had to come into his office. He sent the young man away and asked me very surprised, what was going on. I answered: „R. found copper with me at home.“ By then it was noon. The top sergeant called his wife and asked her to give me something to eat. She brought me a big cup of broth with a beaten egg in it.
Later the top sergeant said after a careful search in different books: „Refer to an ordinance of our Secretary General in The Hague regarding the delivery of copper, alleged to the support of ’Dutch’ Industry. This is a case for the prosecuting attorney’s office, not for the SD in Maastricht!“ ( SD = Sicherheitsdienst des Reichsführers-SS, secret service of the SS )
R. comes in, ignores me and goes to the telephone. The top sergeant, who sits next to it, puts his hand on it and says: „This is a copper case, isn’t it?“ „Yes and I have to inform the SD on it.“ The top sergeant warns him that he will take himself to a scrape with the public prosecutor heavily if he passes him over. R. begins to discuss with the top sergeant why I am not in the cell. „This man is my friend and I don’t close him to a cell.“
R. lifted the telephone receiver. I could follow the conversation with the prosecuting attorney’s office in Maastricht (which apparently knew what was happening). They ordered R., to do nothing else but to confiscate the copper and to write a protocol, but no arrest. After that R. said to me with a pissed off face: „I have pleaded for you in Maastricht, so this first time we will leave it at confiscation and protocol. As soon as the men come back and report that they didn't find anything, you will be free to go.“ In the evening the men come back and didn't find anything. R. calls my wife with his kindest voice and pretends that he supported it for the judicial authorities to be allowed to let me go.
It turned out later that the chaplain, the parents and the public prosecutor have got notification over a friend on time.
In the same evening some reliable men took the weapons to another place (without me knowing this). Two policemen brought the copper back and warned me to put the soap barrels somewhere else. Shortly after this, a brother of the Jesuits came with a box lined with zinc into which we packed the goblets etc. We hided this box in the garage under the tiled floor, this time without witnesses. One gets clever from damage! I hung the mass gowns into a cupboard of the laundry and attached cards with the addresses of several South Limburg cloisters, as we usually did for our clients. My father and I hided the old books in a corridor around the safe of the former „Twentsche Bank“ in Heerlen. (In 1939 Peter Schunck had bought a building of the Twentsche Bank in Heerlen, to build an arcade: the passage between the Valeriusplein and the market.)
The story of these weapons had gone, with some exaggeration, like a wildfire by Valkenburg. In the street people whom I hardly knew came to me to congratulate me, one of them even said he would know a place for the weapons. However, I had learned a hard lesson. I knew now that one had to proceed prudently. You could say, I had got a crash course in resistance.
Shortly before the war a specialized tax consultant, Mr Stoffels from Bussum, was recommended to me. He always was reserved to me. After this search, however, his attitude was suddenly more open and he talked about war and enemy to me.
In 1941 the license of the company Schunck in Heerlen for the production of pit working clothes came into danger if no separate production apparatus would be set up. I was asked to take care of the organization (my original profession). I consulted Stoffels about administration and corporate management.
Stoffels knew a person in Amsterdam, who was from the textile industry and he would ask him whether he wouldn’t feel like coming to Limburg.
After a couple of days he was there again with the message: the young man, a single, would like to come indeed. He is a Jew and comes under a false flag. He would prefer to have a lodging possibility in the company so that he doesn’t need to walk onto the street. The preparation is completed in 1942. I had had a room separated behind the store just before, where the man to come soon would be able to live. I didn’t know (yet) his real name and I didn’t want to know it either. To me he was Jan Langeveld, like it stood on his ID card which made an unsatisfactory impression. It had been processed with an eraser by which the underground had been damaged. Exactly the right thing to attract attention already at the first check.
After Jan Langeveld was already installed in our enterprise and nobody of the employees who had moved from the glass palace to the Geleenstraat with machines etc. was astonished a bit about the new manager — after all a new enterprise also has other people — both my hiding man and me were a little easier. Since a chaplain in Heerlen had problems with the clothing of his hiding fellow human beings, we got in contact with him. We were able to help him with his clothing problems and he promised to do something for me with the papers of our hiding man. This chaplain was Giel Berix. The „diving work“ of this chaplain didn’t have contact with the national resistance yet. He and his people tried to help whereever it was necessary. Only 1943 the whole was organized on a higher level and taken to a countrywide network, with the participation of two chaplains from Venlo and primarily an elementary school teacher Ambrosius, alias Jan Hendrikx. And so I became a member of the resistance so to speak from one occurrence to the next one, in the beginning as the man for the clothes of the hiding people and later as a subdistrict leader (of Valkenburg and surroundings) .
If one suddenly would have asked me: come on, join in … then I maybe wouldn't have had something to do with it, after down-to-earth consideration, and because of the dangers of a married man with children and a company with people who also would be in danger, to lose their jobs. Now I was driven into it. I accepted it and knew that it had to be that way.
The first contact of Giel Berix with me concerned his lack of working clothes for students who went underground at farms (1942). Giel offered, in return for my support in this matter, to provide identity papers and food bills for the Jewish hiding man in the company S.K.I.L. in „the mill“ in Heerlen.
We came to an agreement: the costs for the overalls with regard to consumption of material and paid-out wages would be paid by Berix from a fund of the diocese (fund for special needs).
It turned out that the required materials which Distex delivered in large quantities came from textiles from confiscated Jewish enterprises which had been given to Distex to redistribute. Distex didn’t write a bill and so the resistance movement didn’t have to pay for these deliveries. Since Mr Hogenstein of the Distex central store in Arnhem took the redistribution literally, which means from Jews to Jews, he emphasized that Jewish hiding people should have priority at the apportioning of clothes.
Furthermore we agreed that no hiding persons should be referred to the company but that the need of clothing should be transmitted for them by couriers.
More complicated need of clothing used to be regulated by the director of the municipal social welfare office, Mr Cornips, with me. He was very competent for this due to his function. It was predominating about suits, clothes, coats etc. for families being hidden as a whole (primarily Jews) and suits and coats for prisoners of war (primarily Frenchmen) and pilots.
I had to deal personally with heavily solvable problems e. g. with a very thick Franciscan monk, father Beatus and also with a very tall one, father Amond. There our work had to to be made to measure.
Since the thirties my father exploited a lime quarry (Near the Meersenerbroek between Geulhem and Meerssen). The lime was crushed to small pieces and sold to the farmers as a fertilizer. The director of this company was Heinrich S., a German mining engineer, who lived in Holland. However, his main activity concentrated on a quarry with natural stone trade in Kunrade, in the possession of my father as well.
Until May 1940, this brother-in-law had always given the impression on us to stand extremely hostilely opposite the Hitler regime. We were therefore very astonished to hear that he had been appointed "ortsgruppenführer" (local group leader) by the German nazi party in Heerlen and that he had got a controlling function in the common mines in Limburg as a secretary of the German pit administrator.
In 1942 I heard from chaplain Berix that a chaplain in Meerssen was hidung two boys who were looked for by the Germans in the cave belonging to my father. Information confirmed this and I was allowed to pay a visit to these boys. The chaplain swore me, that he knew everybody of the staff of the lime works, and that each one of them was completely reliable. But he didn’t know that the boss was a German party functionary.
But chance played in our favor. My father was in conversation with Heinrich S. about the top-level position of the enterprise because of his workload on the pit and in the party. I knew a student graduated recently in Leuven, he now was an agricultural engineer. He was a brother of one of our priests in Valkenburg, and he was called graduate engineer Horsmans. I asked him whether he would feel like, temporarily, taking on the work of my brother-in-law in the Meerssenerbroek (as long as the war would last). My father and Mr Horsmans reached an agreement.
Berix and I had come onto an idea for these caves in the meantime. Our young organization was absolutely dependent on its own efforts to offer places to hide to people pursued by the enemy. We were not yet associated with a nationwide organization (the L.O.) and it was even still unknown to us (until 1943). Given the tense situation at the universities and the raids after Jews in the North, Berix feared that we suddenly would have to manage large groups of people. Such a cave would fit exactly as a temporary refugee accommodation. Enquiry among the staff in Meerssen, about the behaviour of S., showed in response: "We only see S. visiting quickly the office, the lime kiln and the open pit quarry. He never enters the underground caves and he also doesn't know his way around there."
Chaplain Berix found it rather positive that a German party functionary who didn't know his way around in the cave was a director. The German authorities would never become suspicious against this place.
There were two caves completely independent of each other. Seen from Valkenburg, the first cave was behind the lime kiln. It was built in the 20th century, very regularly like a chessboard, in the way of a modern "block breaker quarry". The only entrance was accessible and visible to everyone. The second cave was below the fruit meadow of my father's and was not used for the limestone extraction anymore. Its entrance was almost completely concealed by bushes, only accessible by a steep slope. In front of the entrance was the cottage of Sjir Jansen, a very simple man but a great guy, through and through reliable. In the past this cave was used by the Montfortan fathers from Meerssen. On days off their pupils came to paint wall pictures and they also made a fun to imitate a chapel in the way like they are still found from the French time in the caves of Valkenburg and Geulhem. We choosed this cave to be our „diver's lodge“.
It wasn't our intention to set up a durable place of residence for hiding people here. It nevertheless still had to get a bit more comfortable. Firstly, it was rather damp. The temperature is there only durably 10° to 12° degrees Celsius all the year round, just a little too cool to feel well. Berix knew a solution for it. A long electric cable was put to the hiding-place by employees of the coalmine Oranje-Nassau. By arrangement of another Berix acquaintance, a technician of the electricity supplier PLEM installed a safe electric heating, light and an electric cooker. I found electric cookers, light elements and electric heaters in the Jesuit cloister as well as dishes and kitchen utensils. The cable was attached directly to the net without an electricity meter in the control cubicle of the lime work.
Furthermore there had to be a escape opportunity, for if the entrance would be blocked by the enemy. It was created by scraping out a dolina, a loam tube which led into the Berger Heide (Berg Heath) and which should remain disguised well by the brushwood.
We also had to supply warm meals for the hiding people. Later, in the L.O. time, food coupons were no problem. But at the planning time, we couldn't yet fall back upon them. Of the food which actually was intended for the children's eating house in the laundry, my wife put the required part aside and cooked the meal for the cave with that. On weekdays the van of the lime works fetched this food with us and at the weekends I had to take care of it with the bicycle.
In summer 1944, I wanted to make the safest cave available as a training location for the future soldiers of the „Stoottroepen“. We began to set up the cave behind the lime work for the normal work with the "Diver's Inn. Before we were ready with that, however, we were already liberated.
See also the letter I received from Australia from the son of a resistance man who worked in this lime quarry. Read how he and his wife worked for the Diver's Inn