Researcher life stories

Since 2021, I have researched more than 50 war stories from people. It often starts with information from relatives of the person in question. For example photos, letters, memories and more. Then I start doing research in archives and at historical locations. Below are some examples of these stories. The full versions, personal data and archive documents are available for the family members.

Franz killed in action in Italy

Franz is German and was born in 1920. He grows up to be a young adult and becomes a chimney sweeper by profession. But military service is compulsory and that is why he has to join the German army. He starts as Schütze (soldier) and rises to Obergefreiter (corporal). Franz is stationed in the Calabria region of southern Italy in 1943. An allied amphibious invasion will take place there in September. English and Canadian soldiers conquer more and more territory inland from the beach. A week after the invasion, Franz is seriously injured in his right shoulder. This during an attack by a low-flying aircraft, which fires its on-board weapons. Franz is transported to the hospital, but dies in the car (23 years old). The same day he was buried with military honors at Lake Sirino, next to other German military fallen. The next day the doctor writes a letter to Franz’s mother Frieda. He offers her condolences for her loss and tells her that Franz’s personal belongings are being sent. In August 1944, Frieda receives official notification of the civil registry and the death certificate. In 1959/1960, Franz was reburied at the soldiers’ cemetery in Cassino. He has been here since then, with more than 20,000 other German soldiers who were killed in action.

Marija ‘Ostarbeiter’ (forced laborer) from Ukraine

During the war there is a huge shortage of personnel in Germany. Many workers are brought from occupied parts of the Soviet Union. First a small number of volunteers and later millions of forced laborers. One of them is 39-year-old single Marija, from the Stalino district in Ukraine. Her nationality is revoked and she is given the status of ‘Ostarbeiter’. She must wear an emblem on her clothing. It is made of blue-white fabric and has the text ‘Ost’, so she is immediately recognizable to everyone. From April 1942, Marija had to work in the German city of Minden. She does not speak the German language, but she does have agricultural knowledge. That is why she is placed at a farm. In general, working and living conditions are poor. She receives a low wage, plus room and board on the farm. Marija is also allowed to go to a doctor when she is ill, which happens, for example, in May 1944. Her work stops when the war ends in May 1945. The German city of Minden, where she then lives, is in the British occupation zone. The rule here is that Eastern workers must return to the Soviet Union. Once home, they are often seen and treated as traitors by their fellow countrymen and the government. This often for the rest of their lives. “They had helped the Germans and lived comfortably in the Third Reich while their own country burned.” Their passports (and those of their children) record their time in Germany. As a result, many jobs became no longer accessible to them.

Bernard killed in action between Nijmegen and Arnhem

Bernard is a British infantry soldier during Operation Market Garden. This is the Allied attempt in September 1944 to enter Germany through the Netherlands. Bernard is part of the ground army that is on its way to Arnhem to relieve the paratroopers there. But during their advance, Bernard and his fellow soldiers encounter heavy German resistance near the village of Elst. It is defended with tanks, by the infamous SS armored division ‘Frundsberg’. Bernard died there at the age of 32 on September 24, 1944. Many of his fellow soldiers also died there. They are from ‘The Worcestershire Regiment’ of the British Army. The English paratroopers in Arnhem are unable to hold the Rhine bridge and are defeated. Operation Market Garden failed. After the Liberation, Bernard and more than 1,700 other killed British and Polish soldiers are buried at the Military Cemetery in Oosterbeek. (This is 3 kilometers from my house. The photo shows the madness of war. Bernard’s grave among many more victims. I am wearing a British WW2 uniform, in memory of the soldiers of that time. In 2023 and 2024 I met Bernard’s cousin).

Johannes missing in action in Russia

Johannes is German, born in 1912 and has been missing in action in Russia since 1944. The grave is empty because nothing of him has been found. Yet he is mentioned on the family tombstone, because his life story is special. In 1941, he was 29 years old and founded a secret group against the Nazis. The members are Catholic and want a different future for Germany. But one day the Gestapo (the secret state police) finds out about this. Many of those involved are being interrogated and punished in public. To avoid persecution, Johannes becomes a German soldier in the Wehrmacht. He is given the position of military wounded caregiver (Sanitäter). After his training he is sent to the bloody Eastern Front. Johannes went missing on February 1, 1944 in the vicinity of the city of Vinnytsia. This is about 1,093 miles (1,760 kilometers) from his home. He has never been heard from again since.

Jen as a worker in a German mine

In May 1942, Jen is 21 years old and has a conversation about work. This at the Regional Employment Office in Beek (Limburg). He is one of the Dutch men who is going to work in Germany. They do this voluntarily or compulsorily, and among them there are many unemployed. Jen signs with his name and a few days later he starts working in a mining quarry. This is 150 kilometers away at the Hibernia company. Namely in the town of Waltrop in Kreis Recklinghausen. He is an ‘Lehrhauer’ (apprentice underground worker) for 52.5 hours a week. Jen receives a salary and is still single. Part of his wages are paid to his mother in the Netherlands. After 5 weeks he is ill and stops working. Jen has appendicitis. He is treated in hospital for two weeks for this. His contract has now been terminated and he returns home. In May 1943, the Arbeitseinsatz was introduced. This means re-employment for the Germans. Jen doesn’t want to do this again. He hides at home when they come looking for him. He is being found and arrested. He attempts to escape, but is caught again. As a punishment, Jen is taken to a small room. There is a German standing in all four corners. He is beaten very severely by these four men. Later he makes a second attempt to escape, and is being fired upon. But Jen is not being hit and this time he is successful. He then lives in the field for three days and stays out of the hands of the Germans. He won’t eat spinach again for the rest of his life. This reminds him too much of the boiled nettles he had eaten in Germany.

Henk and ‘kidnapping’ in Curaçao

In 1937, Henk is a sailor in the Dutch Royal Navy. In October he sails from Den Helder to the Dutch West Indies. This on board the ship Hr.Ms. Gelderland. It is stationed in Curaçao during the winter months. It is tradition within the Navy that the crew tries to ‘kidnap’ a wooden statue. This statue is called ‘The Lead Traitor’ and they then take it with them to the Netherlands as a trophy. In February 1938, the homeward voyage for Henk and the rest of the crew is approaching. Some of them manage to steal the statue from a bank vault. It is displayed on the outside deck when leaving Curaçao, and again a month later when returning to Den Helder. Henk and his colleagues are very proud that it has been successful. At the end of 1938, the Navy returned the statue to the Maduro family in Curaçao. After this the tradition continues; the family hides the statue as best they can, and the sailors try to ‘kidnap’ it. Henk has a painting made in memory of his adventurous journey. He gives this as a gift to his mother after returning home.

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