Frans en Mien Wijnakker

In 1984 ontvingen Frans en Mien Wijnakker uit Dieden de Yad-Vashem medaille met bijbehorende oorkonde. Yad-Vashem is het gedenkteken in Jerusalem voor alle joden die tijdens de Tweede Wereldoorlog omkwamen. De oorkonde zegt ondermeer: “au peril de leur vie ils ont sauvé la vie des juifs pendant l’holocaust”. Dat wil zeggen: met gevaar voor hun eigen leven hebben zij tijdens de oorlog joden gered.

Voor Frans en Mien is een boom geplant in Jerusalem in de ‘Allée des justes’, de laan van de rechtvaardigen.

onderstaand  een gedeelte van het boek Two Among the Righteous Few:A Story of courage in the holocaust van de  de Amerikaanse auteur Marty Brounstein
T.z.t. wordt dit artikel in het Nederlands vertaald

Frans en mien wijnakkerFrans worked as a miller in the grain milling business of the Meulemans in Ravenstein. He had learned the trade from an uncle in the town of Schayk. It was normal in those days to learn a trade from someone in your family.At the same time, as the decade of the 1930s wore on, the threat of war was looming again. Adolf Hitler had risen to power in Germany, and a military buildup was well under way. By the end of 1938, Hitler had already negotiated his way with Great Britain and France to seize control of Austria and Czechoslovakia. Then in September 1939, World War II had begun in Europe with Germany’s attack on Poland. Within a month, Poland had succumbed.For people in Holland, the threat of Nazi Germany grew more and more. Holland had remained neutral in World War I and had declared in its neutrality again, along with its neighboring country Belgium. The likelihood of Germany honoring that neutrality grew less and less. The Dutch military began to prepare.

Since the Wijnakkers had a large house, they were willing to quarter Dutch soldiers there. These soldiers came from various parts of the Netherlands, including from the more urban western parts. The priest was worried about the wrong kind of influences on the community, thinking these city-type characters might pass on their sinful ways to the small-town folk of the area.Frans, who regularly attended church, got to hear about this at confession one day in the fall of 1939. Before Frans could offer his confession, Father Simons anxiously blurted out to him, “Now I’ve heard something awful. You don’t know about it, as you were not home. At least I think not. You were probably working in the  mill. I heard that there was a window open at your house.”

The local government had ordered that the shutters be kept closed. For saftety reasons, residents throughout the country were told to keep their curtains and shutters closed.  The thinking was that conditions would be safer for homes if they looked closed rather than open should a German attack occur.The priest continued. “I discussed this with the commander. The soldiers are to be in the back of the house, not in the front of the house. There are thirty quartered soldiers with you, and they were seen in the large living room, the windows open, all of them sitting inside, and your wife was serving them coffee. She was serving those young men while dancing through the house. Terrible, you don’t know what types you have in your house. No beliefs, or maybe Protestant. It’s terrible!” “I’ll mention it at home,” Frans answered in his laconic way. The incident was actually minor but had been  blown up through the rumor mill in the community to which the priest was closely connected.

Frans got to know the soldiers that were quartered in his house, and these contacts proved to be useful even long after they departed. Later on during the war, Frans dealt in selling meat, fat and eggs. He would travel to the western part of the country, including Amsterdam, because of the contacts he had made while the soldiers had been quartered in his house.While Frans earned fairly good money with his business of selling meat and eggs in the western cities, the family still needed to live frugally. Frans sometimes still worked as a miller for the granary in town to help make ends meet. He wanted to one day build his own windmill and become an independent mill owner.Then May 9, 1940 came. German forces invaded the Netherlands.

While the Dutch put up a fight, due to heavy bombing of Rotterdam, one of the country’s major cities, Holland surrendered within a week. Queen Wilhelmina and her royal family, along with the prime minister and his cabinet, fled to Great Britain as a government in exile. They would spend the rest of the war there. In fact, within a month, by June 1940, the Nazi blitzkrieg had toppled all of Western Europe, other than Great Britain. By June 1941, most of Europe had fallen under the control of Adolf Hitler’s Germany and his Axis allies. Britain was shaken yet still standing, and the Nazi attack on the Eastern front had been launched with the forces of the Soviet Union under retreat. Thus before May 1940 had concluded, Holland was now an occupied country. Arthur Seyss-Inquart, an Austrian Nazi, was put in charge as the ruling governor of this conquered land.

dieden.kerkThe Nazi push to round up Jews, put them into ghettos, ship them off to concentration camps and eventually exterminate them was on the horizon. The first Nazi raid to round up Jews and ship them off to concentration camps occurred in Amsterdam in late February 1941. By 1942, being rounded up to live in ghettos and then get shipped off to concentration camps would become the norm for most Jews in Holland.

In the meantime, Frans did his best to maintain a normal life as much as possible despite the Netherlands falling under Nazi control. Living in the countryside rather than in the cities, Frans was less exposed to what life was like under the Nazi occupation. He kept up his business of selling meat and eggs. As part of doing business, he sometimes took trips to Amsterdam. He had customers there, and these customers had acquaintances, and hence Frans would then also go to meet them.

In 1942, around the time of the birth of his youngest son, Frans, Jr., he ran into a serious mishap. Frans was arrested by the Dutch police and jailed in the city of Den Bosch, accused of hoarding grain and possibly moon shining, forbidden activities especially during the war. The Dutch authorities were not buying his story that some travelers had left the grain with him for a short period. But Frans was not deterred as he persisted with his claims that this was all some misunderstanding.

After a few months, he was released and allowed to go home. Mien and the four children, at the time, stayed in their home and made do, although worried and wondering when Frans would return home. When Frans returned, he continued with his business trips through Holland to sell his goods of meat and eggs. On one such trip to Amsterdam in the spring of 1943, Frans came to the house of a doctor whom he had met previously in his business travels. His visit to the doctor that morning changed his life as he now came into contact with one of the large dramas of World War II: the persecution of the Jews.“I heard from the woman upstairs that you live in a nice, quiet area. She said that there are only around three hundred people in your village in the neighborhood of Zaltbommel,” the doctor said to Frans.

The upstairs neighbor did not know any better, and she always said that Frans came from there.“I want to ask you something,” the doctor continued. “Could you take a girl with you? Could you take her for maybe up to three weeks? I have an acquaintance, and she has a girl in her house who is underfed. I said I would look for someone, and then we can send the girl out of the city for a bit.”“Yes, for three weeks. That’s okay. We have enough food.”At this point, Frans was not fully aware of what was happening to Jews in Holland, nor of the dangers of Nazi occupation that people in the cities faced.

The countryside where he lived had no Jewish residents and had little German Nazi presence at this time. For many of the Dutch at that time, if someone you knew asked for your help and you could help, then you did so. This doctor was a casual acquaintance who had asked for helped; therefore, Frans said yes.The doctor responded with a smile. “That’s good. Would you like to see the girl first before you finish your business today and head back home with her?”“If possible,” Frans said.The doctor gave Frans the address where he could meet the girl. He also let him know that he would get word to the woman there so she would know who he was when he arrived.

A short time later, Frans went to the given address and knocked on the door. An elderly woman opened the door just a crack and stared at him.“I come from the doctor,” Frans said in his greeting to the woman, Mrs. Junkman.“Come closer to the door and whisper to me what your business here is,” directed Mrs. Junkman. When Frans explained that he had come to help transport a young girl to a safe place where she could be well fed for a little while, Mrs. Junkman motioned for him to come into her house.“Yes, you are that fellow I’ve been told about. I had to be sure that the person ringing the doorbell would be you. I’ll go get the girl.”Then Mrs. Junkman opened a closet door. A thin girl of fourteen years old stood in the closet, although she looked younger due to her small size.

At that time, to have a Jewish child hiding in one’s home was quite dangerous, especially in the cities where the Nazi presence was the greatest. At this time, Frans was not too aware of these dangers.“I’ll take her with me later today,” he said.“What time?” she asked.“About four.”“No, that won’t work.”“How about I get her at eight?” Frans asked.The woman, with a concerned look on her face, replied, “No, not then. There is still some light then. It has to be a little later. After sunset.” She continued, “I want to ask you something. Didn’t you find it strange that the child was in the closet?”“Yes, I did,” Frans answered.She then asked, “Did the doctor tell you anything else?“Not really,” Frans responded. “He only asked if I would take a child with me for a few weeks.”

“Let me fill you in on some things.” Mrs. Junkman then explained to Frans, “This girl is Jewish. In fact, she is a German Jewish girl. She came here in 1938 after the German-Dutch border was opened briefly to let in a certain number of Jewish children but not adults. The Netherlands was not generous in allowing in Jewish refugees. ‘The Netherlands was full’ was often the line given. Our government was just too timid and didn’t want to offend Germany.  So the children who were let in, like this young girl, were placed with foster parents and even attended school.”The woman continued, “She’s been given the Dutch name of Freetje. You’ll take her anyway, won’t you?”

Thinking the assistance was only for three weeks, Frans nodded yes.“Now here are the instructions to follow: You will meet the girl at the Central Train Station just before nine this evening. Go stand under the clock. Put a newspaper in your right jacket pocket. When you enter the train, the child will follow you. The girl will sit at a distance, facing you. You’re going to Zaltbommel, right?”“No, I don’t live in Zaltbommel. I actually live near Ravenstein.”Mrs. Junkman found a map and noted that Ravenstein was a little place with a small railway station. She then continued with her instructions. “I’ll buy her a ticket to Den Bosch. Then when you get off there to transfer, assist her only if truly needed to buy a ticket to go on the train to Ravenstein.

This serves to give the impression that the trip did not start in Amsterdam. At no time should you sit with her, as that can be dangerous. She knows to stay in the last car away from you for the whole journey.”“Are there further costs you see?” Mrs. Junkman asked Frans.“No,” he replied. “It won’t cost anything. She can lodge with us for free.”At the Central Station in Amsterdam, everything went off as agreed. When the train reached the first major city in the province of Brabant, Den Bosch, Frans and the young girl called Freetje both stepped off the train.

They then transferred to a train headed to Ravenstein. Per instructions, Freetje started out sitting away from Frans as she had done in the first leg of the journey. With few passengers around, all was quiet in the train. After a while, Frans told the girl she could sit with him. That, in itself, added danger and went against the instructions. After arriving at the station in Ravenstein, they walked to Dieden, about two miles away. After eleven thirty at night, they were home.

“You are late,” said Mien, wide awake and looking worried.“Yes,” responded Frans. “I have a child with me. She is an acquaintance of the doctor I know in Amsterdam. The child needs outside air and needs to eat well to regain some of her weight.”“Is there not enough to eat where she was?”Frans answered, “No, there wasn’t, but we have enough food. And her stay is only for three weeks.” Mien nodded her head in agreement. Being late, Mien said no more and helped Freetje settle into a bed so they could all get some sleep.Freetje would be the first Jew to arrive and hide in the Wijnakker house. Her stay would not be as temporary as first thought. The mission to shelter Jews so they could escape from Nazi persecution had only just begun for Frans and Mien.

Two Among the Righteous Few:A Story of courage in the holocaust van de Amerikaanse auteur Marty Brounstein lees verder