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Westerbork Liberation
Special agent Sgt. Willem van der Veer

Special agent Sgt. Willem van der Veer

       Willem van der Veer, born and raised in Alblasserwaard a region in the province of South-Holland, arrived as a special agent in the province of Drente on the 9th of October 1944. It was nighttime when he was dropped, approximately twelve thirty. He was at liberty to carry out his assignment as he saw fit. It was in the first place his task to distribute the weapons that were dropped in the province of Drente to the appropriate underground cells. Furthermore, he was to organize these cells into a solid working resistance group. He was to instruct these men in the proper use of weapons. Next it was his task to ensure that various bridges across canals in the province were protected and fall undamaged into the hands of the underground. This would facilitate the approaching Canadian army units. He also received instruction to help with the defusing of detonators on these bridges. Assisted by contacts and friends who lived in the surrounding of Westerbork he was able to establish an operational cell of underground fighters in the area of Appelscha, a town on the border of the provinces of Drente and Friesland. This group operated out of a well hidden, secret hiding place.

       When in the night from 7 to 8 April 1945 Operation Amherst was carried out, van der Veer and his group heard the engines of a low flying bomber overhead. Having no foreknowledge of Operation Amherst, they thought it was an aircraft having trouble. Perhaps damaged by anti-aircraft guns, they believed the bomber was trying to make an emergency landing. However, there was no sound of a crash. The next morning van der Veer happened to come upon some French paratroopers who were dropped during the night. He decides to team up with the paratroopers who are making their way into the direction of the village of Westerbork. Van der Veer follows his instinct and joins them. Once in Westerbork he makes contact with his friend, the Staff sergeant who had harbored him when he first landed in Drenthe in the fall of 1944. The name of the local opperwachtmeester bij de Marechaussee - Staff sergeant of police was Stoel. Stoel was one of the few active policemen who could be trusted during the war years. The Staff sergeant was a reliable individual. While at this policeman's home, van der Veer observed the gunfight that had broken out between the French paratroopers and the German garrison that was located at the cafe-hotel-restaurant Slomp in Westerbork. The gun battle lasted about an hour. The unarmed van der Veer, all he had was a pistol, could do little else but observe the fight from a distance. When the battle was over, in order to place himself in safety, he left his friend's home and sought refuge on the farm of the family Sliekers, a farmer who also lived in Westerbork. On Tuesday 10 April, very early in the morning, van der Veer decided to go outside. He could identify the sound of engines and of caterpillar-tracks of approaching tanks in the distance. They were coming closer. Close enough for van der Veer to make a positive decision.

Staff Sergeant of police Stoel stationed in the village of Westerbork and Special agent Sgt. van der Veer

       What follows next is the story as told by Willem van der Veer to the French author Roger Flamand, which in turn was translated by Mr. J.H. Jansen for his book "Operatie Amherst - Operation Amherst". Armed only with the service pistol he had received from Staff sergeant Stoel he set out to go to the town hall of the village of Westerbork.

       Van der Veer continues, "My plan was as quickly as possible to capture the mayor and his aldermen so that I would have hostages in exchange for others. As a national socialist collaborator, the mayor was not one of the worst kind. Moreover I wanted to see the Dutch national flag, the Red, White and Blue, fly from the town hall when the tanks arrived. I am not sure what time it was, perhaps around 6 or 7 (Ed.: in the morning). By now I had lost all track of time.

       I went to the town hall. The door was unlocked. The custodian came up to me. I asked 'May I speak with the mayor, I have an important message for him.' 'I will ask him', the custodian said, who was a trustworthy patriot. When he came back he said, 'The mayor will see you now.' When I entered the counsel chamber I saw the mayor and five other people (members of council). I announced, 'My name is van der Veer, according to this my Ausweis - identification card. I have something for you.' With that I produced my weapon and said, 'You are my prisoners.' The mayor's response took me by surprise. 'Mr. van der Veer, we are well aware that the situation is hopeless. The case is lost. We came here because we want to surrender.' He took a pistol from one of the drawers of his desk and munition and handed it over to me. My heroes' role had quickly come to a resolve. Shortly after I had put his weapon away the custodian's wife came in carrying a tray with coffee. 'Would you like a cup of coffee also, Mr. van der Veer?' the mayor asked. There I was, a resistance fighter drinking coffee with the mayor and five of his members of council, all national socialists.

       I opened the windows, the weather was just picture perfect. In the distance the rumble of tanks could be heard. That very moment the telephone rang. The mayor, as was his habit, reached for the phone, but I was faster and took the horn of the hook. I heard a voice saying, 'Gemmeker here!' Gemmeker was the commandant of camp Westerbork. 'Am I speaking with the mayor?' 'Yes', I answered. My German was not very good. 'What is the present situation in Westerbork?' 'Very good indeed, it could not have been better.' Gemmeker posed a few more unimportant questions and at that moment I held the telephone near one of the opened windows and suggested to him: 'Listen.' His response was quick. 'What on earth is that? Are you the mayor?' (I am sure my broken German had given me away). Therefore I answered him in English: 'Why don't you speak English? Because within a very short time you will get plenty of opportunity to learn the language!' 'Ach - alas', was his response and returned the phone on the hook. In the meantime the tanks rolled into Main street. Immediately I ran to a Polish tank commander, a lieutenant and said to him: 'Quick, go to Pieterberg, you will find hostages in that camp!' and I climbed on top of his tank." (Note: camp Pieterberg was located west of the village of Westerbork while camp Westerbork lay to the north-east of the village, on the other side of het Oranjekanaal -the Orange canal).

The entrance to camp Pieterberg (not to be confused with camp Westerbork)

       The above account, as given by van der Veer, contains the only connection of any significance to camp Westerbork. I refer to the telephone conversation van der Veer had with Gemmeker, the commandant of camp Westerbork. Whether that short conversation had anything to do with Gemmeker's plan to leave the camp is pure guesswork. The story itself is of sufficient significance to be told on my website. Van der Veer was a Dutchman, born in the province of Drenthe. He was dropped as Secret Agent by parachute behind enemy lines. He took active part in the resistance movement in the province of Drenthe and survived the war. For his heroic actions, first in Burma in the Far East and last but not least in Drenthe, Willem van der Veer received the Bronzen Leeuw - Bronze Lion by Royal Decree No. 12 on the 4th of November 1948.

Photos courtesy publishers Hollandia and Scheltens & Giltay - Amsterdam.