Taeke van Popta

THE ARREST OF (RETIRED) TEACHER VAN POPTA1

In 1912 Taeke W. Van Popta (Jan 7, 1882-Jan 13, 1945)2 became principal of the elementary Groen van Prinsterer School as well as the Middle School at the Koningsplein in IJmuiden. He is actively engaged in extra-mural activities as, for instance, youth and church work, and is the initiator of a Christian Society for Mariners. Van Popta Jr.lives in the Vareniusstraat adjacent to the married couple Jaap and Nel  van Beelen-Homburg. All three of them had been taught by ‘Old’ Van Popta, as well as Ab and Piet Homburg, Wim de Waard, Jur, Geert and Ida Visser, not only within the school system but later also in church societies. In doing this he laid the groundwork for their subsequent resistance work against the Germans.
    When war breaks out Van Popta has, meanwhile, been retired, yet he remains active in the field of education. He is doing a great deal of work for the ‘Society of Christian teachers in the Netherlands and Overseas’. This society is also known as the ‘Protestant Christian Teachers’ Society.’ In addition, he is a member of the Executive for the ‘Reformed School Society.’ Van Popta has strong objections to the ‘appointment decree’.4  He is not remiss in communicating this in his letters to various school boards, which activities would finally be his undoing. His first arrest took place in the night of 17 to 18 January, 1944. After his release he wrote in a letter of January 22 about this experience:


(One of the classes and teachers of the Groen van Prinsterer School.
My father, Jelle, is in the middle row, third from the left.
Geert Visser, mentioned in this account, is in the third row, first 
on the left.)


‘A few weeks ago (either January 10 or 11) Jan Fidder, formerly secretary of the Anti Revolutionary political party was apprehended in IJmuiden. A day or two later Mr. Visser, and during Monday night (January 17 and 18) Geert Visser (official at the employment office) and I were taken from our homes. At twelve midnight the doorbell rang, with police in front and at the back of the house. The house was searched and I was then taken away in a razzia vehicle where I found G. Visser. On the following Thursday Fidder as well as both Vissers were free to go home , and I was allowed to go home on Friday. The problem was the issue of counterfeit permits to restricted areas along the coast. Fidder was suspected to be involved in this business, and then it was thought that a small group was involved, which resulted in trying to find its members among the good acquaintances of Fidder. Fortunately, I had nothing to do with them. But intitially one doesn’t know what the meaning of all this was, and so I had expected that I would be prisoner for quite awhile. After the hearing I thought that I would be in prison for at least half a year. So we felt we had received quite a break. During the search in the house, the policemen’s deportment was civil. At the farewell the children saw to it that I could take along a Bible with psalms. Next morning I started to sing in my cell, and both Fidder and G. Visser , who were in an adjacent cell, were singing along. We sang quite a few psalms and hymns, and after the meals we took turns reading from the Bible and praying. Because of the little window in the door we could understand each other quite clearly. Others, too, started to sing along to the extent of their knowledge of psalms and Christian hymns. When Fidder and Visser were no longer there, the other prisoners asked me to continue reading and praying. They were prisoners who didn’t know a single psalm or hymn. I made an attempt, and it was only during “Ere zij God” [beloved Dutch Christmas hymn] that a few could join in. But our reading and praying were much appreciated, and was listened to silently and reverently. And so it was that we three had some blessed days there. Yet we were very glad that this affair so quickly took a turn for the better, and that we could go home again. Meanwhile I have been enriched with some knowledge about life. 


According to the semi-monthly report of the municipal police in Velsen to the [German] Secret Police in Amsterdam, J. Fidder, Tusschenbeeksweg 54, IJmuiden, was arrested on January 10, 1944, for insult and provocation. D. Visser of Terrasweg 81, in Santpoort, was arrested on January 14 for reasons unknown. G.5  Visser of Middendorpstraat 2, in Santpoort, was arrested on January 17. According to the report he was sent home on January 20.

The fact that faith had been a support for many prisoners becomes clear from other conversations and published writings. Jur Visser, too, (arrested on March 1, 1945) can testify to this. 

Says Jur Visser: 

You ask why there were so many Reformed people active in the resistance movement? This came about because of the outstanding education they had received in catechism classes and youth societies. ‘Church, the body politic, and society’ ranked first. The school was an extension of the family. You could rely on that community; they were, by and large, dutiful Dutchmen. ‘Old’ Van Popta had trained us in the youth society, likewise by means of his articles in church news instructed us to resist the NSB [National Socialist Party]

   (Taeke and Regina van Popta with children)

Ida Van Popta-Visser6  adds: 

My father-in-law was much involved in everything related to Christian education, but in doing so he could be rather careless. His letters directed to several school boards were never properly disposed of. This was also the reason that we, my husband Wiepke and I, but also the other children, more or less forbade Van Popta to engage in other resistance work as well. By virtue of his work he had established a huge number of acquaintances, and he himself was a well-known presence since one half of IJmuiden had attended his school. He was, so to speak, part of the Reformed circuit, which recognized such names as: Van Beelen, Homburg, Van Rijswijk, Visser, Van Dijk, De Waard, Fidder; you name them. No wonder then that these people, in some way or other, had contact with one another. It should be said that these connections were not that prominent before that time. My husband and I belonged to those who had to evacuate IJmuiden,7  and (like my in-laws) found shelter at the Molenweg in Santpoort (village). But not all in the same house. We had only one room, and knew that in the same street a number of Jews were in hiding, amongst others at Jan Duitscher’s place.

A few months later the Germans raided Van Popta (Senior’s) house again. The day report of the Velsen police, May 5, 1944, 11:30 a.m. reads:

‘By order of the captain, chief of the police force, arrest was made at this headoffice of: Taeke Van Popta, born at IJlst, January 7, 1882, living at Molenstraat 21, Santpoort, principal of a Christian school. Incarcerated in cell J, Tuesday, May 9, 1944, at 14:30. The arrested Van Popta as well as S. (named in ordinance 111 and 120) have been transported to the Security Police in Amsterdam, under escort of H. A. de Jager.

Apparently, the enemy had uncovered certain written publications at a different location, for after the arrest Van Popta is confronted with a person who could be suspected of having been the original author of a series of advisory letters and recommendations to various Christian school boards. That person was Dirk Bothof, director of the Protestant Christian Teachers’ Association, who was arrested in The Hague and then transported to Velsen. He was, however, released the very same day. Van Popta had assumed total responsibility for the alleged action. He did this because in the event the investigation were to be pursued further in the direction of Bothof, the inevitable result would then have been the rooting out of the entire resistance movement of the Protestant Christian Schools, and many more arrests would certainly follow. On July 27, 1945, Bothof writes a commemorative tribute:

‘Early 1944, during a house raid, some incriminating papers were found in colleague Van Popta’s handwriting. These papers contained, at that time, illegal advice in the field of education. After having been interrogated several times and released, he was finally confronted with a person who might well have been the true author of this incriminating material. As matters stood, however, Van Popta received the courage to protect all areas of Christian education from additional hazard by accepting the full responsibility for the incriminating formulations. It was my painful duty to witness this confrontation personally. I was the last one (before the cell door was definitively closed behind him) to give him a handshake and look him straight in the eye. And when I, deeply moved, wished him God’s strength and nearness, his eyes lit up and he was at that moment already to such an extent reconciled with his dire circumstances that he apologized for the troubles he had caused the Society and me personally. High-spirited and unbroken he entered his solitary confinement. His work will remain a blessed memory in the domain of Christian education.

The letters that Van Popta sent to his wife permit us to follow the further developments after his arrest. He describes the situation he finds himself in through rose-colored glasses; but, since all letters were censored, this attitude comes as no surprise. On May 9 he is transported from IJmuiden to Amsterdam, where, as he reported, was interrogated in a ‘civil’ manner. On May 19 he is transported to camp Vught. Here he writes on June 4 a letter to his family:

‘Dear Regina and all of you. Don’t expect me to return soon. Another destination is quite possible. Life is good. Food is good and sufficient, plenty of bread. Then there are the parcels as well. Would like to get some sugar, syrup, toothpaste and – brush, my pocketknife, suspenders, and a woolen singlet. Have done all kinds of work. Exercising, cleaning barracks and camp grounds, compressing rags, peeling potatoes, sorting potatoes and bagging them. Have a chance of landing a good job, thanks to some intervention. I’m able to cope well, am in good spirits and think that Reg. will be too. Keep courage as you did in January. Hygiene, sleeping accommodation, and medical supervision are excellent, but there is uncertainty, lack of freedom, homelife, personal work, almost no Sunday observance to speak of, yet continue to pray, read the Bible, and experience the communion of saints, also in this place. J. Bruinsma was here, too, but is now in Venlo. Don’t change Aaf’s plans. Somehow we’ll manage to muddle through all this. We are safe in God’s keep, Who ordains everything. This should bring forth the fruits of trial. I am longing to get a sign of life from you. Your loving T.

        In his second letter (of June 18) Van Popta emphatically requests not to send him food parcels each week, since the food rations of his family are smaller than what he gets in camp. He makes it sound as though everything is just fine there. But he would appreciate it if the writers would utilize the full allowable length of a letter, i.e. four full pages, his wife three pages and the children the remainder. About his stay in Amsterdam Van Popta writes: ‘It was rather congenial in Amsterdam. First with 2 Roman. Cath., later with 4 prisoners of which 3 Reformed. Nothing was struck out in the letter. Will let you know if this should happen. Best regards, your loving T.‘

In his third letter, of July 2, Van Popta thankfully acknowledges having received some tasty items and comments on the successes his children have achieved in school. He asks for some toiletries and a pair of socks. He lets them know that he has gained 12 pounds. The mood is dampened in the middle of July, for Van Popta writes on July 25 that he is no longer permitted to receive mail or parcels in retaliation for the escape of a number of prisoners in his barrack. 

After ‘Crazy Tuesday’ [i.e the landing of British Airborne troops near Arnhem] camp Vught is evacuated. The prisoners depart for an unknown destination in Germany, while the hostages are transported to camp Amersfoort. A parcel sent to Van Popta does not reach him, but others profit from it. Perishable food items are distributed to charitable institutions, and the remainder is returned to Santpoort. Released prisoners are unable to give any information to family Van Popta about husband and father.

For several months the family lives in uncertainty, until the arrival of a letter (November, 1944) from Haarlem, from a campmate of Van Popta. Pierre Hartendorf was arrested on July 8, 1944, because he had been hiding Jews. Middle of July he, too, arrives in camp Vught, and after ‘Crazy Tuesday’ is transported with a large number of fellow inmates to camp “Sachsenhausen” in Oranienburg, near Berlin. There Van Popta and Hartendorf meet. After his release Hartendorf receives hundreds of letters from all over the country, people seeking information about their relatives who also were prisoner in Vught or else in Oranienburg. On his own initiative Hartendorf writes letters to families of prisoners known to him, and as a consequence to the family Van Popta as well.
Here follows a passage from Hartendorf’s letter of November 7, 1944:

‘Dear Madame, quite unexpectedly I was on Thursday morning Nov. 2nd released from Concentration camp ‘Sachsenhausen’ and sent home. I frequently socialized with your husband, and though I was unable to say farewell to anyone during my last day there, I would like to tell you that spiritually and mentally he is doing well, and I think that I would act in accordance with his wishes by forwarding to you his best regards. Yours truly, Hartendorf.’

Soon after, Hartendorf pays a visit to Mrs. Van Popta to bring her and her children up-to-date about the hardships the prisoners had to endure, for doing this by letter (as was also the case with Hartendorf) one could not truthfully describe camplife. 
    Another fellow prisoner, A. Wittebol from Maastricht, writes after the liberation in an undated letter to the family Van Popta:

‘The first time I saw your father was in Vught, but that was for only a few weeks. Thereafter we met again in camp ‘Sachsenhausen’, namely at the Heinkel airplane factories. It was especially there that I got to know him better. We didn’t have to work there; as far as this part of camplife was concerned this was the only little bright spot, for all the rest was just plain awful. But your Father was still in good health there and always full of life. This was most noticeable when he talked to us. The routine was that the available ministers would come together in the morning to decide on the Scripture text for the day, which would then be relayed by the pastors with a few devotional words to those who were interested. Your Father did this too, although he was not a pastor, and he did this with so much fervor that quite soon he was every morning surrounded by a sizable crowd. This was not permitted, and he was, as I recall, warned twice by the guards, since the crowd had become so large that it couldn’t help but attract their attention. By virtue of his talks he had encouraged and supported many in their difficulties. Since I had left Sachsenhausen as early as November 17, I am unable to write about later events there.’

It is in January, 1945, that Taeke Van Popta writes his last letter to his family. This letter, carrying a date stamp of Cologne, February 17, 1945, was received on March 8 in Santpoort. So as to avoid any difficulties with the censors, Van Popta writes this letter in German, so that no translation would be needed [i.e. for the censors]. He writes with a purple indelible pencil, and the envelope states: Geöffnet Oberkommando der Wehrmacht [opened by Army Headquarters]. It appears now that his brother-in-law Jan Bruinsma from Friesland, his wife’s brother, has been in camp as well. This letter can stand as a model for similar letters that were written by many other prisoners. Van Popta writes the letter while facing death and says farewell to his loved ones. It has turned into a valuable document and is therefore quoted in full (original letter here):

‘Oranienburg, Sachsenhausen, Sehr geliebte Regina und allen [Oranienburg, Sachsenhausen, my dearest Regina and all of you]. Versuch eines Briefes wenn erreicht schreibe [Trying to reach you by this letter; should it arrive, please write me]. Immer gut gesund. Froh [Still in good health and cheerful]. Die glauben, eilen nicht [The one who trusts will never be dismayed].  Arbeit nicht schwer; Kleidung genug, Essen weniger, [Work is not heavy; sufficient clothing. But less food]. Bisher hat Gott geholfen [Until now God has helped me]. Bete dass ich dir noch Liebe zurückgeben darf [Pray that I may be permitted to return my love to you]. Hier auch J. Br. gewesen [Jan Bruinsma has been here, too]. Gesund. Ihr werdet Hunger und Kälte haben [Healthy.[but] you’ll be suffering hunger and cold]. Hoffe und bete dass ihr durchkommt [Hope and pray that you’ll get through it all]. Winter angefangen nicht zu kalt, Gut schlafen. [Winter has started, but it’s not too cold. Still sleeping well]. Gebet und Trost: Ps 25 Will mir Euer Namen zu Ehren Übel verzeihen [Prayer and consolation: Ps 25 Forgive my transgressions for thy goodness sake]. Ps 73 Fehlt je im bittres Schmerz. Fl. und Herz als in Röm. [Ps 73 Though in grievous suffering my heart and flesh may fail, as in Romans]. In all dies sind wir mehr als Sieger [In all these we are more than conquerors]. Sehne mich nach euch und nachricht [Longing for you and news]. Das ist ein erstärkendes Band [That is a strengthening bond]. Grüsst Familie, Freunde, liebe Enkel [Greetings to family, friends, (and) dear grandchildren]. Ich sehe Jaapje vor mir [I can see Jaapje before me]. Bet immer vor euch [Am always praying for you]. Unsere Gebete fügen sich [Our prayers join one another]. Seid in Gottes Hut. Ich bin in Seiner Schule [May God protect you. I am in His school]. Alles Irdische geht vorbei [All earthly things pass away]. Lebe und Liebe sind ewig [Life and love are everlasting]. Alle Grüssen. Dein liebender T’ [Greetings to all. Your loving T’].

On January 21, 1945, Van Popta passed away in camp as a result of dysentery, but the family learns about this event as late as June 3, 1945, after a fellow prisoner contacted Mrs. Van Popta. Three years later Mrs. Van Popta receives word from an official at the Velsen municipal registration office [= town hall] that her husband’s death has now been officially recorded on December 5, 1947. This written notice ends with these words: ‘For the sake of finalization, you are advised that application for transcripts of these records may be made at this office, to be accompanied by cogent reasons stating the objectives for their issuance, and by remitting any administrative charges incurred thereby.’ A more chilly and business-like tone is hardly conceivable. Any attempts of the family to locate the grave of Taeke Van Popta remain unsuccessful. 

[On pp. 198, 199 follows a substantial exposition on the enemy’s detested ‘loyalty declaration’ of university students and its aftermath. On p. 200 we find a short sequel to the Taeke Van Popta episode: 

Mayor Tjeerd van der Weide has been personally involved in the arrest of Van Popta. During the session of the Special Court Assembly in Amsterdam, September 23, 1946, it was suggested that Van Popta had distributed the illegal newspaper Trouw. However, Van Popta was not involved in this. According to a news report on the session, it was Van der Weide who had delivered Van Popta over to the S.D. [Security Police]. The newspaper continues with Van der Weide’s admission: “Yes, I started the ball rolling, but I didn’t realize the consequences it would have.”

During the session, Prosecutor Nicco Sikkel reads a letter in which Van der Weide writes that things have become boring in Velsen: ‘We, too, should start with razzias, which are presently mostly initiated by our enemies. For each executed “pro” [= German sympathizer] ten “anti’s” must die...’ 

Sikkel says that the name of van der Weide was mentioned in Kennemerland with fear and trembling. The summons lists a large number of criminal offences....

The prosecution demands the death sentence.

Finally, van der Weide takes the stand. As reported by the newspaper he states:

‘For years I was convinced that I would eventually be shot. In what manner I did not know, but now it does not come unexpectedly. I would very much like to say, however, that I am terribly sorry that people have suffered because of me. I don’t consider the death penalty the worst thing that could happen to me; I think it is much more grievous that I have betrayed my country. Therefore I beg for clemency.’ 

On June 6, 1947, van der Weide is executed as one of the few [collaborating] mayors. 


(The news clipping about Van der Weiden's execution.)

Update: Cousins of mine, Seerp van Popta and his daughter, Malou, toured Sachsenhausen. They found our grandfather's name in The Book of the Dead.  ("HNr." is short for the German Häftlingnummer = Prisoner number. So my grandfather was Prisoner No. 100379.) Thankfully, we may know that his name is also in the Lamb's Book of Life. "The body they may kill....."

                                                                                         This date is wrong as he died on Jan. 21, 1945

In the Fall of 2012, Barack 1B, the last remaining authentic barracks of the former SS concentration camp Vught, was reopened by the “National Monument Camp Vught” after restoration. Prisoners' mail left from this particular building during the time Taeke was held at Vught.


Here is a Youtube clip about this concentration camp.

Death Announcement





 
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Notes:
  1.This is a chapter (pp. 192-200) out of the book VELSEN BEZET EN BEVRIJD (THE OCCUPATION AND LIBERATION OF VELSEN) published by Hartendorf, Guus; Velserbroek, 2000. It was translated by Rienk Koat September, 2000, Langley, B.C.  
  2.Father of the late Rev. Jules Taco (Jelle) van Popta and the late Gertrude (Truus) van Popta Koning.
  3.Taeke's eldest son, Wiepke—gvp.
  4.Transl. note: ‘benoemingsverordening’ = ‘ appointment decree’. On January 9, 1942 this German decree prohibited the employment of Jewish personnel in the Independent School System.
  5.Full name, Geert.
  6.Daughter-in-law of Taeke married to Wiepke; also sister to Geert Visser mentioned in this chapter.
  7.Transl. note: The German military considered the evacuation of IJmuiden necessary since it was situated in a restricted area that formed part of the Atlantic Wall defences.