In the South of the Netherlands, sandwiched between Belgium and the German province [presently called] North Rhine-Westfalia, lies the rural and somewhat sleepy Dutch province of Limburg. (This is not to be confused with the German town of Limburg on the Lahn River.) Its capital, Maastricht, goes back to a Roman settlement by the name of Mosa Traiectum [Maas/Meuse river crossing].
The local dialect of Dutch is nearly indistinguishable from the Plattdeutsch [Low German] spoken across the German border, and traffic and commerce across the border was fairly frequent in the prewar era.
Limburg only had a small Jewish population, 1,660 as of August 1941, 0.27% of the total population and just 1.2% of all Jews in the Netherlands. Most Dutch Jews lived in Amsterdam — to this day known in Dutch slang as “Mokum” [from Hebrew makom=place] — or its suburbs, to a lesser degree in the other major population centers (Rotterdam, Utrecht, Leiden,…) of what meanwhile has become the Randstad Holland megalopolis.
After Hitler [y”sh] came to power and the persecution of the Jews commenced, Limburg was one area where Jews who couldn’t afford the ruinous exit taxes would slip across the border. Usually they traveled on to the Randstad Holland, but many were trans-migrants who subsequently slipped across the lightly guarded Belgian border into Belgian Limburg, then onward to Antwerp with its large Jewish community and its port with ships going every which way.
Yet a number of Jews stayed on in Limburg. At first they caused grumbling among the local tradespeople, who complained they had it tough enough as it was (in the later phases of the Great Depression) without having to deal with new competitors. However, as the persecution in Nazi Germany escalated from economic and civil marginalization to physical violence [particularly the Reichskristallnacht 81 years ago to this day], the attitudes of many Limburgers softened. Local Catholic clergy at first focused primarily on Catholics of Jewish origin, but later broadened their activity.
After the 1940 invasion and occupation, resistance in Limburg was at first the work of individuals and small groups working in isolation, later coalescing into larger resistance groups. Their history is discussed at great length in a 1994 Ph.D. thesis (in Dutch) at Groningen State University by one Alfred P. M. Cammaert, “Het verborgen front: Geschiedenis van de georganiseerde illegaliteit in de provincie Limburg tijdens de Tweede Wereldoorlog” (The Hidden Front: History of the organized underground in Limburg province during WW II), available in full online here:
Some of those resistance group worked in Jewish rescue as a side activity. (Interestingly perhaps; while many Dutch rescuers were motivated by philosemitism and/or their beliefs, Cammaert quotes antisemitic diary entries from some Dutchmen who engaged in Jewish rescue nevertheless — their hatred of the Nazi occupation and desire to thwart the occupiers overcame their prejudices. A similar phenomenon existed in Belgium, particularly in the French-speaking part with its traditional aversion to anything Germanic. Recent memories of German occupation during WW I helped too: the Netherlands had been neutral throughout that war.)
Developments in Amsterdam, however, inspired the formation of a few dedicated Jewish rescue groups. One of the largest, based in Limburg, went by the name of NV-group, NV being the Dutch acronym for “naamloze vennootschap” /“anonymous venture”, idiomatically the term for a public joint-stock company or “Ltd.”.
In Amsterdam, Jews who had been rounded up were initially collected at the Hollandsche Schouwburg [Dutch Theatre] for registration and trans-shipment to the Dutch camps at Westerbork and Vught, and hence (usually) to the extermination camps in the East (particularly Sobibor and Auschwitz). As the building became too crowded, a “creche” (idiomatically: daycare) annex was opened across the street where children under 12 were held and cared for by Jewish Council employees.
As Cammaert explains it, this building was less well guarded than the Schouwburg, and bordered on a trade school run by the Reformed Church. Until the creche’s closing on September 29, 1943, about 1,000 children were smuggled out to non-Jewish rescuers via the school, in outgoing dirty laundry baskets, and using various other subterfuges. Registrars Süsskind and Halverstad would finagle the card indices and deportation lists, with the connivance of director Ms. Pimentel; after the latter was herself deported, head nurse V. Cohen (daughter of the controversial Jewish Council co-chair) likewise got involved. The children were first conveyed to two addresses in Amsterdam, where they were given forged evacuation slips, claiming they had been made homeless by the destructive 1940 Nazi bombing of Rotterdam. (Holland had mandatory ID cards then as now, but children under 16 were exempt.)
The children were handed over to a rescue group started by several students at Utrecht University (“Utrecht Children’s Committee”), working in tandem with another group around Amsterdam law student Piet Meerburg (later to become a prominent theatre producer in the postwar Netherlands). (The group got some financial assistance: Cammaert reproduces letters from the [Catholic] Bishop of Utrecht explaining that his diocese had used 25,000 guilders from its assistance fund and calling on other dioceses to chip in as well.) Until the arrest of most of the Utrecht group in mid-1943, they managed to smuggle out some 350 children, usually to foster parents in rural areas like Friesland and Limburg that were less well policed. (Hiding in the anonymity of a large city might seem superficially appealing, but Amsterdam and other large cities were teeming with both Nazis and Dutch collaborators belonging to the NSB.)
Another rescue stratagem was devised by a Dutch pediatrician named Ph. H. Fiedeldy Dop. He discreetly advised Jewish new parents to ‘expose’ their infants: non-Jewish rescuers would then “find” the babies, and they would then be registered as non-Jewish foundlings. This activity had to be abandoned when somebody “helpfully” wrote about it in the Jewish Weekly’s January 15, 1943 issue. The mind wonders how naive that reporter had to be not to realize that the one allowed Jewish periodical would be tightly monitored by the occupiers…
The rescue operations’ main bottleneck was finding temporary foster parents for that many children. [NB: as the Nazis considered the Dutch Aryans, those caught rescuing Jews were treated more leniently than, say, Poles, who usually paid with their lives as well as those of their families.] Here is where NV and similar groups entered the stage.
The first contact was a traveling salesman from Maastricht named A.H. van Mansum, who worked as a sales representative for an office equipment supplier in The Hague. As such, and with the papers to prove it, he enjoyed relative freedom of movement, which he put to use as a courier for forged IDs and ration cards. [He leveraged a number of his old contacts in the small and tightly-knit Dutch Reformed community in mostly Catholic Maastricht.]
After the Utrecht and Meerburg groups reached out to him, he managed to find homes for a number of children in the mining areas of Limburg. Many of the foster families were working class with many children, where one more would be less conspicuous.
The kingpins of the NV group were two Amsterdammers named J. Woortman en Jaap Musch. The latter, a lab technician at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, answered an ad for a position at the analytical labs of Dutch State Mines in Heerlen, Limburg, and was hired. There, together with dominee (=Reformed pastor) G. J. Pontier, he set about recruiting foster parents in Limburg for the NV effort.
NV was not the only such group (others were the Stakenborg and Paaschen group), but a particularly thorough and well-run one. All 231 children they hid survived. Jaap Musch was arrested and brutally murdered, and one Protestant clergyman in the group, dominee De Jong from Venlo, was arrested in 1944 and shot in 1945. (NV operative J. Postuma was killed in an Allied air raid on Nijverdal.)
Earlier, until its arrest by the Sipo (Sicherheitspolizei) with the help of a mole, the unrelated Westerweel Group had managed to smuggle about 100-150 Jews to Spain and Switzerland. One group of Youth Aliyah pioneers, mostly originally from Germany, was smuggled out in particularly devious fashion: after equipping the whole group with false papers, their guides signed up the whole group and themselves for voluntary labor service with the Organization Todt (OT) and got papers to travel to Bordeaux and La Rochelle in southwest France, where the OT was then carrying out major construction works. Arrived there, they went underground and made their way across the border into neutral Spain.
Aside from the specifically Jewish rescue groups, there was the national https://nl.wikipedia.org/…/Landelijke_Organisatie_voor_Hulp… (LO) which helped all manner of people wanted by the Nazis to go into hiding: numerically the largest group were Dutch men who were being press-ganged into forced labor in Germany, and understandably had no desire to contribute to the enemy war machine.
Tragically, a number of Limburg rescuers reported later that they had earlier offered Jews in smaller towns like Valkenburg help to go underground, but that their help had been declined, as these small communities could not believe what was awaiting them.
Limburg was liberated by Allied troops in the autumn of 1944, and thus was spared the “Hunger Winter” that caused about 20,000 deaths in still-occupied Holland.
In many cases, the children in hiding had been orphaned, and those who had been raised by Protestant or Catholic foster parents often had no idea who they really were and their foster parents desired to have them baptized and to adopt them. As in other places, a heart-wrenching tug-of-war developed between the would-be adoptive parents and surviving Jewish relatives.
As for the rescuers: a number (including LO leaders imprisoned at Vught concentration camp) had been executed in the bloody period of the https://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deppner-executies Deppner executions, when following the failed Valkyrie plot Hitler (y”sh) issued an order that resistants were no longer to be tried by courts-martial but to be handed over directly to the SD and Sipo for (implied) execution. Ironically, SS-Sturmbannführer Erich Deppner himself escaped the arm of justice, while both some subordinates and his superior Schöngarth were sentenced to death by Dutch postwar courts and executed.
Many of the NV group people, and the NV group as a whole, were later honored with the Righteous Among The Nations designation by Yad Vashem. Here is the information page on Jacobus “Jaap” Musch.
His main accomplice, Reverend Pontier, survived the war and was honored in the same way. https://righteous.yadvashem.org/?searchType=righteous_only&language=en&itemId=4043458&ind=36
Greater love hath no man…