On October 1, the small village of Putten in Gelderland remembers a painful day from its past. It was on this day in 1944 when almost all the working men from the village (659 of them) were taken and sent to concentration camps by Nazi troops. Only 48 of them returned alive to their home in Putten. Every year on October 2, this dark day in Dutch history is commemorated.
Why did Nazi troops raid the village of Putten?
Nothing can ever be reason enough to do what they did in Putten, or anywhere else. Fuelled with hate and cruelty, the Nazis were retaliating against the people of the village because members of the Dutch resistance orchestrated an attack against them.
The attack happened the night of September 30 – October 1, 1944, when a car carrying two Nazi officers (Leutnant Otto Sommer and Oberleutnant Eggart) and two corporals was shot at on the Oldenaller bridge. The corporals got away. Eggart was captured by the resistance fighters but was later let go. Sommer also managed to get away and succumbed to injuries the next day. But that was only after he had a chance to raise the alarm.
Friedrich Christiansen, the Captain-at-Sea gave the command and the troops marched to the village. They separated the men from their families and any man between the ages of 18 and 50 was torn away from them and sent to the concentration camp at Amersfoort. There, they released 59 men from the group who were older or unfit. The others were taken as forced labour to the Neuengamme concentration camp. 13 men jumped off the train while they were being transported there. After the war ended, only 48 of them returned home to Putten.
Remembering the Putten raid victims
The silent commemoration
Every year, the city takes on a sombre overtone, with shops closing down earlier than usual. Hundreds of people come together in front of the ‘Het Vrouwtje van Putten‘ statue and lay down wreaths for their men. During the silent commemoration, there are no speeches expressing sadness, no words of comfort for the families who lost someone. Instead, they sing Psalm 84; the same psalm the men were singing when they were taken away.
The ‘Het Vrouwtje van Putten’ statue and memorial garden
Also called as the ‘Little Woman of Putten’, the statue was built by Mari Andriessen to signify the pain and loss the families felt when all the men were rounded up in the village’s square. She is positioned so that she is looking in the direction of Oude Kerk or the Old Church, the place from where they were taken. She wears a traditional dress with a handkerchief in her hand.
There’s also a memorial garden in front of her. The hedges are grown so that they make 660 memorial graves – one for each of the men who were forcefully taken from the village.
Memorial stone at Oude Kerk
Oude Kerk or Old Church in Putten was where the women and children were held while the men were held separately at the primary school in the village square. When they realised that it was getting overcrowded in the school, the women and children were sent home and some of the men were kept in the church. This is also where the Little Woman of Putten is looking towards because it marks the spot from where the men were taken.
There is a memorial stone erected in 1947 at the church that reads (translated to English): “From here they were taken”.
Memorial monument Poorterbrug
A monument is erected to remind residents and visitors of the place where the attack occurred on the Oldenaller bridge. It is at Waterweg, 3882 RR, Putten for anyone to come and pay their respects for the people lost because of the raid.
The text on the monument reads (translated to English): “Near this bridge, the attack took place that led to the raid of Putten on the 1st and the 2nd of October, 1944”.
A memorial center, run by Foundation October ’44, can be found where you can learn all about the raid, the details of what happened that night, and the aftermath. They also organize the silent commemoration every year. This year, Princess Beatrix made an appearance to pay her respects.
You can learn the names of each of the men lost during the raid. The foundation has done an excellent job of maintaining easily accessible documentation of each of them on their website.Why is that so important to do when archiving information about the lives lost because of the war? We have easily accessible information on Wikipedia about the Nazis who gave the command. We even have some information about the Dutch resistance fighters who carried out the attack. But what about the 659 men who were taken? 659 men were taken, 59 were let go, 13 escaped, and only 48 returned. The pain and suffering of their deaths cannot possibly be summed up with just those mere numbers.
What about 25-year-old Drees Alten who was arrested along with his soon-to-be father-in-law, Marinus Simon, despite trying to hide from Nazi troops in a garden? Or 41-year-old Willem Frederik Joseph Hendrik Adolfs who was a painter and made a self-portrait at Camp Amersfoort? Even if you learn about just one them, you will be keeping the memory of them alive.
Did you already know about the raid of Putten? Have you been? Let us know in the comments below!