10 - War years: The Dutch paradise for people in hiding

During the first years of the Second World War, the Noordoostpolder had been relatively peaceful. The German occupiers were not interested in the sparsely populated polder. They also had respect for, and showed interest in, that Dutch agricultural miracle. Because people in the new land did not know each other well, resistance was harder to organize. Resistance therefore only began to rally at a later time. When the resistance in the Netherlands increased after 1943, the need for hiding places grew and the NOP became the “Nederlands Onderduikers Paradijs” (Dutch Paradise for People in hiding).

Albert Knipmeijer

Albert J. Knipmeijer, management employee of the Wieringermeer at the department of Noordoostpolder Works as head of administration and personnel affairs, shaped the resistance in his own way. The Management had a branch office in Kampen (agricultural department). There, people could register to work in the Noordoostpolder. Knipmeijer made perfect use of that and invented the system of “Ausweis” (identity paper) declarations.

Ausweis for the Noordoostpolder.

On an Ausweis, it was indicated who, when and where a person had permission to work. There were no passport photos or fingerprints included, as on a passport. An Ausweis was therefore not an identity card or passport as we know it today. Particularly during wartime in the Netherlands, certain groups of people had to work during curfew, such as members of the Air Protection Service and Dutch Railways staff.

With such an Ausweis, people in hiding could 'legally' work in the Noordoostpolder and they were protected from forced labour in Germany. The Ausweis also contained a signature of the German authorities who were stationed in Zwolle. Incidentally, Director Smeding was not involved in this practice. He wanted to keep out of illegal practices and his service had to remain neutral as well. For him, the most important thing was that the work and the whole process of cultivating the polder would take place. Knipmeijer turned every person in hiding into a farm worker. The Noordoostpolder was therefore quickly known as the Dutch Paradise for people in hiding. In practice, students, dentists, bakers, watchmakers, factory workers and professors worked side by side with their shovels on this tremendously hard task. The reclamation work (see also pane 9) continued in spite of the horrors of the war outside the Noordoostpolder. The agricultural workers were pushed to the limit. The working days were long: nine hours of work every day from Monday to Friday and another five hours on Saturdays. For many, the work was too hard. They left the Noordoostpolder, often with bleeding blisters on their hands.

Aeroplanes

Since 1943, the number of flights from England to Germany had increased rapidly. The Allied Forces bombed cities in Germany. Thousands of planes flew over the Netherlands at night. In 1944 and 1945, about 29 aircrafts crashed in the Noordoostpolder. The monument on the Lindeweg reminds us of that.

The plane depicted is the Boeing 17G "Dinah Might" that landed on 10 February, 1944, on lot J107 on the Vliegtuigweg near Nagele (Collection Roel Winter).

Drop-off weapons

Due to the influx of people in hiding, a different atmosphere had developed in the young polder; stronger anti-German resentments and more activity in the resistance. The resistance and the Allies discovered the desolate Noordoostpolder as an area where pilots could make an emergency landing or even drop weapons. The thugs on the old land received their weapons mainly by means of droppings from allied aircraft. Two weapon droppings took place, one of them was successful. Such a dropping was a complex manoeuvre and had to be organized in secret by reliable people.

The national resistance expressed their concerns. At the end of 1943 and in the beginning of 1944, there were so many people in hiding in the Noordoostpolder that if the Germans had pulled a net around the edge of the polder, they could have captured an enormous number of prisoners. It is estimated that there were around 20,000 active people in hiding in the Noordoostpolder. Knipmeijer, after whom a street in the Emmeloord district De Erven was named (he did not want to lend his name to the square that later became the Harmen Visserplein), eventually became head of the Domestic Forces in the Noordoostpolder. During the last months of the war, there was a bounty of 25,000 guilders offered for his capture and he had to go into hiding himself. His hiding places included the infectious diseases department of the hospital barracks in Vollenhove.

The “Onderduikersbank” (bench of people in hiding), made by Wim van Doorschodt was placed on De Deel (after restoration, it is now on the Harmen Visserplein). The inscription on the bench is: "A.J. Knipmeijer, inseparably connected with the people in hiding 1940-1945 ".

Raids

The tension increased in 1944. In the south, the Allied forces made quick advances. The nervous Germans needed more people to organise their defence. The German Army Command then turned its attention to the Noordoostpolder. On August 7, 1944, 130 young men were arrested in Vollenhove and its surroundings and put to work at the front. The relative peace in the Noordoostpolder was over.

The big raid

The weapons droppings, the hiding of allied pilots, in combination with the need for manpower to defend Germany, were the underlying causes for the big raid on Friday, November 17, 1944. On a rainy day at about 4 am, about 4,000 German soldiers entered the polder, supported by many faithful Dutch. This took place under the command of Höherer SS- und Polizeifűhrer H.A. Rauter. His function in the Netherlands was Generalkommissar fűr das Sicherheitswesen.

An image of the big raid. A drawing by Henk Rotgans.

Around 1800 polder workers were arrested and brought to Vollenhove in columns. There, they were gathered in schools under harsh conditions. In the meantime, the Board did everything possible to have as many polder workers as possible released because they were indispensable for the work in the polder. From Vollenhove, the remaining young men walked to Meppel from where they were transported to Germany by train. Ultimately, the Board, families and other mediators were able to bring around 900 young men back to the polder.

After the raids, many did not feel safe anymore in the Noordoostpolder. They went home and the polder emptied out. It was difficult to find workforce for harvesting and other work. The Germans remained convinced of the importance of a smooth reclamation and exploitation of the polder. Even in May 1944, the Executive Board received about 100 oxen from Bavaria to provide necessary draft power. The Germans also had electric engines delivered to speed up threshing. They also brought peat workers from Twente to speed up the work. After the raids, the Germans themselves did not appear often anymore.

Explosives in the dike and the myth of the Poles

In the early spring of 1945, the Noordoostpolder was under threat by vengeful Germans who wanted to blow up the dike. At Lemmer, they had, as the story goes, already dug large holes in the dike in which more than 1,000 kilos of explosives could be placed. Prominent Dutch representatives were involved and supposedly negotiated with the German commander Jähle in Lemmer. Even Prince Bernhard is said to have played a role in those negotiations. The four Polish soldiers under German command had to guard the dike close to the lock. During the upheaval (flight of the Germans and the resulting void in authority), they managed to invent heroic roles for themselves. They exclaimed how they had saved the dike. During the Liberation Party on May 31st, the Poles received an award for their invented heroic act.

De Polenweg is a tribute to Polish Liberation Soldiers Lipowski, Sloma, Brillowski and Pufelsky. They were said to have prevented the Nazi Germans from blowing up the dike at Lemmer at the end of the Second World War which would have caused the Noordoostpolder to fill up again with water from the IJsselmeer. Further research shows (see image text) that the Poles made up the story in order to save their lives. They have therefore unjustly received various honours.

Was the dike in danger? Did the Poles act on behalf of the Germans? Or did they just try to save their own skins? Various sources show that the polder dike was actually not in any direct danger. The strategic importance for the Allies was not that great. In any case, the Polenweg reminds us of that story.

Domestic Armed Forces group Vollenhove May 1945

Harmen Visser

The organized resistance stemmed from Vollenhove. The initiator was Harmen Visser who became a policeman in Vollenhove in 1943. Later he became Commander of the Dutch Domestic Forces, Groep Vollenhove, which was also active in the Noordoostpolder.

Harmen Visser Both Emmeloord and Vollenhove have a Harmen Visserplein as memorial.

Tragedy

The day before the liberation of the Noordoostpolder, a tragedy struck. On April 16, 1945, tanks of the Canadian 8th Brigade drove towards Slijkenburg, near Kuinre. The Germans had blown up the bridges to the Kuinderpolder and Schoterzijl on Saturday, 14 April. And now, they were fleeing and moved from Lemmer in the direction of Slijkenburg. Skirmishes ensued. Harmen Visser, who fought for the Canadians, was shot dead during those battles. After the encounter with the Germans, he fell with his motorcycle and thus became a target for the Germans. The Canadians quickly left the scene of disaster and left the fallen resistance member behind. Harmen Visser lost his life in the face of freedom. A small remembrance cross on the Zeedijk near Slijkenburg reminds us of the event to this day.

A.J. Knipmeijer (2nd from left) and S. Smeding (1st from right) during the liberation of Emmeloord, 1945.

May 31, 1945, liberation party in Emmeloord.

Liberation

The advancing Allied Forces had no interest in the Noordoostpolder because there were no Germans present. The next day, Albert Knipmeijer transferred the authority to Landdrost Smeding, the highest representative of the civil administration. A year later on Liberation Day, April 17, a liberation tree was planted on the only square in Emmeloord, the current Harmen Visserplein. The tree now stands at the entrance of the library. There is now a memorial stone on the square in front of the town hall.

Emmeloord citizen Marinus van der Weele places a flower arrangement at the memorial for Harmen Visser on the Zeedijk near Schoterzijl.

The big liberation party in the Noordoostpolder was celebrated in Emmeloord on 31 May, 1945. The violent times were over. After the liberation, the Dutch paradise for people in hiding became simply the Noordoostpolder again.