Historical story

The Dark Side of Liberation

The liberation in May 1945 caused a release in the Netherlands. Everywhere there was celebration but also revenge. Years of suppressed anger, frustration, fear and envy came out at once. This popular anger was aimed, among other things, at girls who had become involved with the Germans, the muff girls. Jan Bokken describes in The retribution strikingly the war years and the reckoning afterwards in his native village Rhoon.

The book is not only about the relationships between Rhoon girls and German soldiers, but it runs like a red thread through it. The title of the book refers to a retaliation by the Germans billeted in the Zuid-Holland dike village.

On October 10, 1944, some German soldiers, together with the two Rhoon sisters Dien and Sanderien van Regt, walk over the unlit dykes. A dangling high-voltage cable hits the tallest soldier, coincidentally also called Ernst Lange, who will later die.

The German sergeant Walter Loos, who is also present during this nighttime walk, is convinced of sabotage and picks up seven men the next day. He doesn't choose randomly:boys who had thrown stones at him, men who had shown contempt, that kind of work. They end up in front of Loos' firing squad, their houses are set on fire and their families are chased away. But was it really an act of resistance?

The sources

Jan Bokken wrote the book with the help of Bert G. Euser, his former neighbor. Euser has spent more than seven years collecting and reading historical documents, archival records, reports and official reports about the events during and after the war in Rhoon.

In addition, Euser and Bokken spoke to a total of 185 eyewitnesses, those directly involved, their children or relatives and relatives of the victims. All this information has resulted in a historically sound book that reads like a novel. Once I started, I couldn't put it down.

Bokken describes the events in a village during the war on the basis of ordinary people such as Sanderien de Regt. She is the girlfriend of the 18-year-old soldier Lange. On the day he dies, she is only fourteen herself, but she seems a lot older.

She was taken in tow by her 23-year-old sister Dien, who has already had several German boyfriends and is now madly in love with Sergeant Loos. After the retaliation in October 1944, Loos will be transferred and Dien will move to Hellevoetsluis to continue to meet him.

Dirkje dances with Germans

In Rhoon, the soldiers and the girls often meet in the dike house of Dirkje Veth – de Ruyter. A beautiful woman who was left alone in the war. Her husband, Arend-Jan Veth, fought on the Dutch side and managed to flee and reach England after the surrender in 1940. Together with the Allies, he would not set foot on occupied territory again until D-day.

Because Dirkje's husband had deserted, she did not receive any money from the government and had to make it financially alone. Her own parents were not well off and her richer in-laws refused to give her food:she couldn't afford that after all?

After the death of her son, something snaps in Dirkje. She still has to feed her two daughters and she goes to work for the Germans. First as a laundress, but soon it is a regular party at her house. The villagers look with envy at the only house where the radio is allowed and where there is plenty of food and drink available. Dirkje, like the other girls, got into bed with several Germans and came out of the war pregnant.

After the first intoxication of the liberation, Dirkje is arrested by an angry mob on 8 May 1945 and brutally cut bald with enormous sheep shears. With swastikas made of carbolineum on their heads, Dirkje and other 'Muffin girls' are driven through the village on a cart. The cart stops here and there so that the bystanders can indulge in the girls. The pregnant Dirkje is punched, beaten, kicked in the stomach and spat on. Sanderien accidentally manages to escape this dance.

Just as Dirkje is being mistreated by her fellow villagers, her husband Arend-Jan Veth arrives in a large American sleigh full of gifts and delicacies. Arriving at his old house he does not find his wife and children and a little later he hears what is going on. He waits a few hours and then drives to his in-laws.

Saying goodbye to sin, he walks into the house and takes his two daughters outside again under his arms. He ignores his wife, who is half in a coma and under the compresses in the next room. A week later he would set fire to the entire contents of Dirkje's house, all her clothes and even the dolls of his daughters. And then never return to Rhoon.

Shame comes later

One of the interviewed witnesses says of these first days of regained freedom:“The worst part of the war for us was the liberation”. In the days after May 8, many villagers look back with shame on the brutal treatment of the village girls. Then don't talk about this anymore.

After a lot of research, Euser and Bokken slowly got enough data to reconstruct the wartime of the village. But he still lacks information and important witnesses have died over the years. Who is behind the death of Ernst Lange will always remain a secret.

Bokken:“The war in Rhoon was much more war than I thought. Drama struck from the first day of the war. This is of course also because the village was located just below Waalhaven Airport. It has not been quiet after that first day of war.”

“In Rhoon, 300 to 350 German soldiers were stationed, in the Castle, the primary schools, in people's homes. In the fall of 1940 the schools were closed. The children were educated in the church, where they sat on their knees and used the pew as a lectern.”

Large families and poverty

“Life was disrupted from the first day of the war. In 1944 170 to 190 men were hiding in the village. There were also 200 evacuees from Voorne-Putten, where the polders had been flooded by the Germans to prevent an Allied landing. 700 strangers out of a population of 2000 souls, that's a lot. And I was shocked how poor it was in my village in 1940. However insanely large the families were:12, 13 children is commonplace. Give them something to eat in a war!”

“After the war, the attitude has been:what does not know does not hurt. In our village we have always heard a standard story about the dramatic event of October 11, 1944:the execution of seven civilians in retaliation for the death of a German soldier who had run into a broken high-voltage cable. 'Sabotage', the Germans thought. "Dislodged by the storm," the villagers said."

“We started investigating the case by holding a magnifying glass over the village. What exactly happened on October 10 and 11, 1944? What preceded it and what followed it? As it turns out, everyone in the village has something to blame, from small things to very large ones. Nobody wants to be reminded of that shame.”

Read more about the Second World War on Kennislink

Previous Post