Friday, August 5, 2011

Jan de Jong Pt 3 - The War Years

In the last blog we'd left Jan de Jong travelling by boat to Holland in later 1939 to pursue a career as a pilot. He arrived in Holland in February 1940.

At the outbreak of WWII in 1939, the Netherlands declared itself neutral as it had been during WWI. This was not to be as Germany invaded on the morning of 10 May 1940. Hitler had hoped to conquer the country in just one day but his forces met unexpectedly fierce resistance. The German command received the following order on 13 May: 'Resistance in Rotterdam should be broken with all means, if necessary threaten with and carry out the annihilation (Vernichtung) of the city.' The Dutch and Germans were negotiating the surrender of the city when, just after midday on 14 May 1940, the heart of the city was almost completely destroyed by the Luftwaffe (a sentiment which is captured in Ossip Zadkine's statue Stad zonder hart ,'city without a heart').

The Germans employed shrecklichkeit. Shrecklichkeit ('frightfulness') is a term Hitler used to refer to the deliberate targeting of civilian populations to destroy civilian morale. The German's experimented with shrecklichkeit during the Spanish Civil War with the bombing of Guernica, then used it in Warsaw, Poland in 1939. In the early afternoon of 14 May 1940 it was Rotterdam's turn to experience shrecklichkeit. One third of the city was destroyed. Nearly 1,000 people were killed and over 80,000 lost their homes and more than 25,000 houses and buildings were destroyed. The fires raged on after the bombardment for weeks and the entire country sent fire brigades to Rotterdam. The bombing of Rotterdam would later become one of the war crimes Hermann Goering was indicted for.

De Jong sat on the roof of his apartment block watching the bombing of Rotterdam. On one of our European teaching tours, De Jong took myself and his daughter (Maggie) to see where he lived in Rotterdam during WWII. The photograph to the right is of the building with De Jong and his daughter standing in front of the front door. If it isn't the world's thinnest building it has to be up there. Looking up at the roof of that building as De Jong reminisced about the day he saw the heart of Rotterdam nearly completely destroyed was very evocative.

De Jong said that the Gestapo occupied a building on the same block but behind his apartment building. He used to listen to the BBC which was banned by the Nazi authorities and he hid the radio aerial down a gutter. They had to be constantly on the lookout when listening to the radio as the German's used mobile detector vehicles to locate radios and their listeners.

De Jong initially relied on the financial support of his father which dried up when the Nazis occupied Holland. He then survived on the borrowings from friends and was relieved when Reinier Hulsker offered him a position to teach jujutsu at his sports school. The entrepreneurial Hulsker taught jujutsu, that’s how they met, and he could see the opportunities for martial arts/self defence training in the forthcoming years. De Jong would forever refer to the day he started teaching jujutsu professionally as the day he retired. He was the living embodiment of Confucius’ saying: 'if you enjoy what you do, you’ll never work another day in your life.'

Within a year, De Jong had decided to open up his own school. Out of respect and friendship for his benefactor, he opened up his school on the opposite side of the city in order to not compete with Hulsker, even though this exposed him to greater personal dangers. Travel within the cities of Holland was a dangerous business. The Germans, with increasing frequency, would round-up all able-bodied men for forced labour in Germany. There was a time that De Jong was ordered to present himself for selection for these labour details which he avoided by forging papers saying he was studying at the local university which excluded him from selection.

There was also the risk of being randomly selected for execution in reprisal for Dutch Resistance activities. De Jong would recall the time when he and his friends were walking down the street and one of their number was selected among them to be executed. He's shown me a newspaper clipping which he's kept from those times which lists one of his friends as being among the executed.

In spite of these risks, De Jong opened and operated his first martial art school which proved to be successful, teaching approximately 300 students at its height. This is some feat today, let alone in Nazi occupied Holland. Kees van Deijk, a student of De Jong’s at that time, recalls that De Jong gave lessons in an 'ordinary private house' and that 'on the floor in this room was a kind of tarpaulin and under that straw which had to be filled up frequently. Sometimes there were complaints from the neighbours owing to the booming by us and all the other pupils. Jan invited them to come and see what we did. Complaints stopped.' Over fifty years later, Van Deijk’s impression of these lessons was that 'the lessons that Jan gave were great, we worked hard with of course a lot of fun. That was Jan too!'

When De Jong left Holland after the war, he turned the school over to Piet Hesselink. They didn’t maintained contact, however, in 1994, whilst teaching in Holland, De Jong was approached by the tearful grandfather of a young student who was attending the seminar. It was Hesselink … and he was still teaching. When approached by Hesselink, De Jong, with his amazing memory, thought for a moment and then said: 'You’re Piet Hesselink.' Hesselink confirmed De Jong’s identification after 50 years and produced his membership card from De Jong’s school during WWII. De Jong graded Hesselink shodan (black belt) during the war years. Shodan in what is another matter. It might have been in whatever Hulsker was teaching. Hesselink's story is one which would add further information to that of De Jong's.

In addition to training with Hulsker, Jan de Jong sought out other jujutsu practitioners. He trained with, among others, Mark van Gich and Maurice van Nieuwenhuizen, but he was most impressed with Jan Boretius whose jujutsu he described as being 'very dynamic and effective.' Given his predilection for dynamism and effectiveness in latter years, this is high praise indeed. Boretius lived in Amsterdam, so the extended travel exposed De Jong to greater dangers. He would recall, and which has been misquoted in various interviews, a time he was forced to utilise his skills to extract himself from a predicament he encountered when a German soldier asked him for an Auswiez (permit to stay in Holland).

Nieuwenhuizen went on to become an important figure in Dutch martial arts after the war. He wrote a few books on judo/jujutsu and was the inspiration for the cartoon and film hero 'Dick Bos'. Nieuwenhuizen was also one of the founding members of the Netherlands Judo Federation and one of his students was the Olympic champion Anto Geeslink.

De Jong was recruited into the so-called Dutch Resistance early on during the Nazi occupation. 'So-called' because the Dutch Resistance had no central command or control. Individuals recruited relatives, friends and neighbours to join groups who often had no outside links at all and who conducted their operations as they saw fit. Association with these groups was risk laden as capture often resulted in torture then execution or deportation to a concentration camp. These risks were exacerbated by the geography of the countryside. The lack of mountain and forested terrain did not provide hiding areas for large groups of marquis and the flat terrain and many bodies of water confined movement to established railroads, road networks and bridges, which were easily occupied by the Germans who established check points to prevent complete freedom of movement by the Dutch inhabitants. Then there was the risk of being informed upon. Due to the geographic proximity and the cultural ties with Germany, there were many Dutch who were sympathetic to the idea of German nationalism.

In addition to all these risks, there was Englandspiel – 'the English game' as the Germans called their penetration of the Dutch Resistance. The Allies Special Operations Executive (SOE) operations in Holland had been penetrated in March 1942 and they were convinced, through SOE’s 'sole agent' (the Germans), that a vigorous underground movement was being built when in reality the entire operation was compromised. Abwehr Lieutenant Colonel Giskes, the officer in charge of the operation, showed a certain panache when, after the operation had been blown, he signed off to London on 1 April 1944, appropriately April Fools Day, with:
Messrs Blunt, Bingham and Successors Ltd. London. … you are trying to make business in the Netherlands without our assistance. We think this rather unfair in view of our long and successful co-operation as your sole agents. But never mind, when you come to pay a visit to the Continent you may be assured that you will be received with the same care and result as all those who you sent us before. So long!
De Jong very rarely spoke of his operational experience during the war. Of the experiences he confided in me, there is no doubt he was engaged in active service for most of the occupation of Holland. When we were walking in Amsterdam one day, he pointed out a large church (or cathedral, I don't know the difference). He stood there for a moment and told me of a fire-fight between the Germans and Dutch resistance on the roof of the building. He went to their aid by climbing up into the ceiling and taking some tiles down to get onto the roof, only to find one of his comrades had been shot in the head and killed. He also spoke of hijacking a meat wagon only to find a German officer was hiding in the back. They had to kill the officer, having no means of imprisoning him, to which the German's responded with their standard reprisal - executions. When questioned on his operational experience, De Jong would usually reply:
[this is] not a time I really like to talk about. Because war is such a stupid thing and it turns people into creatures that do the most horrible things to other human beings.
The ending of the war had just as profound an effect on De Jong as the war itself. The German’s had plundered Holland during the occupation. There was no coal, no electricity, no wood; there was no running water, no sewers and no waste disposal. Food had always been scarce, but by the time the Germans left it had become a rare commodity. The population were starving and were forced to eat tulip bulbs, and on occasion, family pets. They would put an old shoe in boiling water in an attempt to infuse some sort of taste of meat from the leather into the 'soup'. Then nature imposed a harsher winter than was the norm. More than 20,000 people died due to the deprivations of what came to be known as the 'Hunger Winter'. De Jong would recall how he had to survive on one loaf of stale bread for an entire week and how bitterly cold it was. For the rest of his life he would attend to his meals with a single-mindedness that could not be easily dissuaded and he was unable to leave a morsel of food on his plate. He would leave Holland not to return for another twenty years, and never during winter.

His eating habits became a bit of a 'thing' between us. On occasion I would attempt to engage him in conversation while he was eating, no mean feat I can tell you. On all subjects he had no problem ignoring any attempts at conversation; all conversations bar one - jujutsu. I'd deliberately raise some issue of interest related to jujutsu with De Jong while he was trying to eat and you could almost see the internal battle being waged. He knew what I was doing but still he had to fight (and often lost) the impulse to talk about jujutsu. On one of the last visits I paid to De Jong before he passed away, he proudly informed me that he had left some food on his plate. It was a moment of connection between us which appears to all intents and purposes to be trivial, but it wasn't as we both knew what it meant.

De Jong got married during the war and fathered two children. He also studied physiotherapy during the war years. After the war, a friend of his father offered him a civilian position as a physiotherapist attached to the Royal Netherlands Indies Army (KNIL). The promise of a posting to the warmer more plentiful Dutch East Indies, later to be known as Indonesia, secured his commitment. That and the watch he was offered.

Unfortunately I was unable to secure a Resistance medal for De Jong before he passed away. I applied to the Netherland authorities a little too late when they were awarding these medals.

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