IamA 90 year old Dutch man that was coerced into the german workforce during WW2 in 1943-1945. AMAA
Hello, I am a 24 year old Dutch student that ever so often visits his grandfather. My grandfather is a person who likes to talk about history, his past and is very open to debate and exploring the past in general. I think an AMA could not only enlighten some readers, but also engage him with interesting topics. PROOF =]
He is 90 years old and still in good mental and physical health. He was the ceo of a chemical company and started as a chemist. He is an avid reader and history enthusiast. He has been writing his autobiography for years and usually spends a couple hours a day on it on the computer.
Recently he focused more on the time he spent as a German involuntary worker during the second world war from 1943 to 1945. Born on the countryside in the North-East of the Netherlands on the 10th of April in 1924, my grandfather had a fairly typical and uneventful upbringing in the small village of Kolham. When the Germans invaded in May 1940, they started to impose their rules on the country. My grandfather had just started his studies at the University of Groningen. To be able to carry on with your studies at the University you had to sign a pledge of allegiance to the German occupiying force. (Later during the war the germans would close universitys and send students to work for them in Germany regardless) His father, anxious for German reprisal, sent his son to sign the pledge but my grandfather wouldn't do it. He has always had a streak of stubbornness, like the time he refused to step aside for an SS officer in a hallway so they bumped into eachother and was subsequently dragged into the office of my grandfathers boss (who was an fervent anti-nazi and generally good man) by the officer. Or the time he was explicitely told not to engage with prisoners of war, and despite of this he struck up a conversation with a female prisoner of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp who were assembling the gasmasks in an underground facility. The prisoner told him they had to march many miles to the factory everyday, but she was grateful because at least they got food in the factory, which they did not get in the camp. A female guard came up to my grandfather and gave him an earfull for disobeying the orders concerning prisoners. For this my grandfather was called to the Gestapo official of the factory and scolded but not punished.
Without the pledge, he could not carry on his studies of Chemistry. He got a job at a auctionhouse where his boss was later shot by the Germans as a random act of reprisal for an assasination in the area. At 19 years of age he and 9 other Dutch students from his university received the 'invitation' to work for the Germans as 'arbeidseinsatz', a forced labourer for the German war-effort. Almost 12 million people were abducted for this puprose during the war. My grandfather was first sent to transport camp where a lot of Dutch men where held, waiting shipment to Germany. There he and some others where rounded and selected by some distinguished looking men and interviewed for their knowledge. These men would later be revealed as high ranking officials from the company that he would be working for and may have done him a great service by selecting him, compared to the other places he could have been sent to. He was then shipped to the city of Orianeburg, near the German capital of Berlin. The company was called Auergesellschaft and had a factory that produced and tested gas masks. He was generally treated quite well, getting paid a small amount and having relatively much freedom.
Recently it was discovered that the factory was also used for the quest for the German Nuclear Weapon Project. My grandfather was unaware of this while he worked there and this greatly peaked his interest and motivation to revisit his thoughts on the period. He was present during the bombing of the factory on 15th of march 1945, an order from General Leslie Groves to deny any material or knowledge to fall in Russian hands. My grandfather endured this bombing which destroyed the factory and killed 700 people of which the greatest amount where workers like him from all over Europe. This left a great impression on him and he wrote down a detailed account of the event. After the factory was destroyed, the country in disarray and the war almost over, my grandfather and friends took the trains West to get back home to the Netherlands where he returned on 4th of May 1945.
After the war he went on to live in the United States for some years but returned to the Netherlands where he worked in a chemical company called Purac (now Corbion) and worked his way up to CEO.
My grandfather has written extensively about his life and wishes for his accounts to be spread to anyone who finds it interesting.
All of his writing is in Dutch, although his English is also very good. If anyone wants to read his account of the bombing of Auerwerke Oranienburg I will upload it.
My grandfather has kept an enormous amount of papers, documents, letters and newspaperclippings from the war. I have added some of these to the album.
UPDATE: My grandfather is going to sleep now, I will try to get the questions to him tomorrow. For people that can read Dutch, here is his account on the story (not translated yet). Arbeitseinsatz door Harm Benninga
Also fixed some errors, it was not a prisoner from Ravensbruck but from Sachsenhausen.