J.M. Fentener van Vlissingen
I’d like to introduce you to John Fentener van Vlissingen. One of Jan and Pamela Fentener van Vlissingen’s four children. John Fentener van Vlissingen was born in 1939 and grew up in Utrecht. During the war the family lived next to a German officer. John remembers eating the half eaten apple’s the Germans would throw over the fence. He also recalls a resistance worker dressed up as an electrician entering the German’s mess and creating a powerline from the German’s to the family home providing them from free electricity throughout the war.
Johns father Jan Fentener van Vlissingen was the Secretary of the Executive Board of the family company SHV. The company was the leader in Dutch coal and had acquired exclusivity in the Netherlands for trading in German coal from the Westfalen area. Before the war and at the beginning of the war SHV was in thriving business. Until the first of May 1940 Germany had a high demand of coal. When Nazi Germany attacked the Netherlands everything changed. Jan Fentener van Vlissingen had to go to war and was stationed at the Grebbeberg. After the capitulation J.M. Fentener van Vlissingen became prisoner of war and was in jail for a couple of weeks. In June 1940 he was released.
Within the Fentener van Vlissingen’s family an uncomfortable situation arose. The family had been doing business with the Germans for many years dating back to at least 1896. They worked with the Germans day in and day out. From one day to another the Germans became the enemy. During the war the SHV stayed in business which created more friction. The SHV was able to keep their employees in the Netherlands preventing them from forced labor in German. Also the SHV ‘hired’ resistance workers and payed them as employees. This allowed these resistance workers to continue with their resistance work and still feed their family. There was however a downside to this. The SHV was sometimes seen as a ‘bad’ company because they would do business with Nazi Germany. Nobody knew about the resistance of Jan Fentener van Vlissingen and therefore did not know about what the SHV was doing for the resistance. How could a company keep working with the Nazi’s? Why didn’t they refuse to do business with the Nazi’s? Quite simple, because the SHV kept their business running many lives were saved and a lot of money was able to go into the resistance. You could say that Nazi money helped finance the resistance. We also should not forget the men and women being saved from Arbeitseinsatz because the SHV didn’t shut down. This must have been a hard decision to make. Keep your business running and risk your reputation as Nazi collaborators or shut down and risk the lives of many innocent men and women.
“From the very begin my friend Lodi Voûte started to create an illegal paper, the distribution of this paper was very hard and dangerous. For us it was very important to be able to go around and gather information about the Nazi’s after the eight o’clock curfew. Therefore we joined the air protection and obtained a pass to be able to go around at night without being stopped.” Jan van Vlissingen wrote.
Jan Fentener van Vlissingen returned back to the SHV. In 1942 he became full member of the managing board and was directly involved in all the affairs of the company. But during the war Jan Fentener van Vlissingen was also a very busy member of the Dutch resistance.
“Sometimes my father came home at night via the neighbour’s roof. The family Voûte lived next door. After the war we found out that my father was in hiding on a farm in the Betuwe.” said John Fentener van Vlissingen.
At home during the war nobody spoke about their father’s whereabouts. He was gone and the less they knew the safer it was.
John also remembers Nazi’s coming inside their home and asking him where his father was. As a treat the Nazi’s would offer him candy to trick him in to talking about his father’s hiding place. He quickly learned to eat the candy first and then tell the Nazi’s he had no clue where his father was. Which he really didn’t.
Pamela Fentener van Vlissingen, John’s mother, had a very hard time during the war. She was English and had to raise her children. Her husband was barely home and living next to the Nazi’s didn’t make life much easier. This must have been very difficult for her.
In the family home two radio’s where hidden. One radio in the chimney and one in the sandpit in the backyard. With the radios the family could listen to the BBC.
Jan Fentener van Vlissingen had been in the army and quickly joined the resistance group “Orde Dienst’ also known as the OD. Jan van Vlissingen and Pim Boellaard joined the together. The OD was created to maintain order when the Nazi’s where defeated. They believed this would be within a year and were convinced a communist resistance group would try to begin a revolution. The communist resistance party was a very well structured group operating from the start of the war.
The liberation didn’t come very soon and so the OD started to do more. This led to the group being banned the Nazi’s. When a meeting of the OD was spied on a few members of the OD including Jan Fentener van Vlissingen were arrested and brought to prison in Schevenigen. After interrogation by Wachtmeister Blatgerste, Sturmführer Uhörlein and Untersturmführur Jocke ,Jan Fentener van Vlissingen was able to prove he wasn’t at the meeting because he was in bed with measles and insisting he’d had nothing to do with the OD, he was released. The majority of the arrested group from the OD were executed by the Nazi’s.
From this moment on Jan Fentener van Vlissingen become even more active for the resistance. He became chairman of the ‘Vakgroep Kolen’ who were responsible for distribution. The secretary ordered them to create forged stamps and papers, somebody else was specialized in forging signatures to create convincing papers to prevent people from the Arbeitseinsatz.
He financed several illegal papers and help with the distribution of it. He helped with save hiding places for people that were on the wanted list and provided food, stamps, fuel and forged identity cards.
Jan Fentener van Vlissingen was also active with the creation of the National Steunfonds, which was the financer of the Dutch resistance. The Boy Ruys-fonds was also created with the help of Jan Fentener van Vlissingen to support families who had lost family members shot by the German firing squad.
Next to this he also helped by picking up the drops made by the allies and made sure the allied pilots that had to jump out of their planes were brought to safety.
When the allies got to the south of the Netherlands and the Dutch railways wanted to strike to make the Nazi’s lives harder, so money was need to pay the people who had lost their income. Walraven van Hall approached Jan van Vlissingen for help. Jan van Vlissingen collected more than 900.000 gulden. Everybody that lent him money would get a Russian Bond he found in the attic as proof of the loan.
Jan Fentener van Vlissingen became more and more active in the resistance and he started to use more and more hiding places. He stayed at Mr Voûtes house on the Kromme Nieuwegracht, at Mrs. Boellaards in De Bilt, at Mr. Molenaars on Lange Viestraat, at Mrs. Vermeulen on Frans Halsstraat and in an abbendond house in the Herengracht. All the addresses were in Utrecht.
At one point the Nazi’s put a price on his head of 10.000 gulden which was a lot of money and so the resistance forged an identity card with the name Van der Weyden.
In 1944 Jan Fentener van Vlissingen was appointed town commander of Utrecht. His pseudonym was ‘van Wigge’. He worked very close with the group of K.D. Baas, G.C. Bosscha, D. Bosselaar, H.A. Bosshardt, J.H.W. van Koeverden, L. Maagdenburg and C. Onvlee. These groups focused on preserving important objects in and around the city of Utrecht, like the postoffice, Pegus (Power Supply Company) and the gas plant.
In September 1944 a resistance group including my grandfather robbed the Dutch railways safe and took 3 million guldens. The money was put into the Nationaal Steunfonds.
In October 1944 the German Razzia’s started on men between 18 and 50 years. Many men had to go into hiding but some were caught and arrested. Ubels, Jan Fentener van Vlissingen’s adjutant was also caught.
In early November 1944 Jan and his wife celebrated their 12,5 wedding anniversary with a select group in a safe house behind the Dom. They were happy and felt safe. But this didn’t last long. On the 22th of November the Sicherheitsdienst invaded the Chamber of Commerce in Utrecht during a big meeting with all the leaders of the resistance from Utrecht and the Betuwe. My grandfather was supposed to be in there but didn’t trust the situation so never attended. This decision saved his life because the Sicherheitsdienst arrested 15 from the 17 people attending the meeting. The other two attending the meeting fled upstairs instead of going down to the basement with the others. They stayed on top of a closet were they could hide for a couple of days. All 15 where tortured in a way nobody could imagine. One died of his injuries and 12 others were killed by a firing squad. Jan Fentener van Vlissingen and Cor Been survived. These arrests meant that all the top level of the resistance of Utrecht were caught. The Sicherheitsdienst that had arrested this group was from Amersfoort and luckily didn’t know much about the group. Even though the torturing was barbaric nobody started talking. Jan Fentener van Vlissingen wrote about this in a letter to his parents; “I’m in possession of a great gift, with every beating I received my jaws got tighter.”
Meanwhile the family’s life went on. The hunger winter started. It was not only very cold but there was very little food. The oldest son of the family, Frits, started to do courier work for the resistance. He worked for Jo de Jager (my grandfather’s alias) who was a friend of the family.
In the last few months Pamela Fentener van Vlissingen was arrested and the four children had to live by themselves. My grandfather and other resistance workers made sure they had food and were not left alone. After the war Frits Fentener van Vlissingen received a badge from the ‘Binnenlandse Strijdkrachten’ for his help to the resistance. He was only 11 years old.
Steven van Koeverden | +31617351867 | email@example.com