Jo van der Laan

I’d like you to meet Jo van der Laan also known as ‘Jo de Rover’ (or Jo the Robber). He was born in 1921 in Burdaard in Friesland.

“Good times” is what Jo kept saying. Hearing that for the first time from a man whom was very active and important for the resistance was kind of strange.

Jo was a member of the ‘Knokploegen’. His main activities were spying on any German activities, bringing import information through the country, helping Jews to safe hiding places and raiding distribution centers. Asking him why he was in the resistance he answered: “I think I was just a good Dutchman”. He doesn’t remember making the decision to work in the resistance. “I just rolled in to it. First you would help one person to safety and then five and so on. Then I was asked by the ‘Knokploeg’ to help with a raid to steal ration coupons for the distribution center. You just did what you had to do.” His parents were not as active in the resistance as he was but his father gathered safe places for people in hiding. His mother helped with the same but even more active. She took care of some people in hiding in her home and helped many students from Delft.

“I had to bring letters destined for Delftzijl. In Delftzijl shippers would take the letters to see and use a secret message to alert allied ships. The letters would then be brought to England. These Letters contained important information about the German defenses and other Nazi movements. I never knew the details about what was in it but I know what it was about.”

 

“My friends and I barely talked about what we did. Sometimes somebody would say I can get in on of the distribution centers. Many weeks later we would obtain a duplicate of the key of the safe. I had to be very careful with it and bring it back the same day.”

“Another time we obtained a key of the military police in Dokkum. Some resistance workers were in jail there. We would climb over the brick wall. When doing that my revolver fell out of my front pocket and fell on the ground making a lot of noise. I thought this is it. We’ll get caught. But the policeman in service was a good Dutchman and didn’t raise alarm. In fact he already loosened all the jail door bolts.”

“I travelled a lot by train, picking up people in need of a safe place. I was very clear in my approach. Never would I sit with the people I was helping because that would be too dangerous. If there was a passport check I told them to trust there forged identity cards. Some would argue about his way of working and would tell them I didn’t have to help them. I work in this way, take it or leave it.”

This seems harsh in some way but because of this strict way of working Jo was able to help many and stay out of Nazi hands. Nobody was ever arrested when travelling with Jo.

“You got to know the conductors working in the train. One time I was traveling with a package and the conductor sat next to me. He said:” I know you have package for the resistance and there is a very strict search by the Nazi’s. Give me the package.” He took the package to the front of the train. Talked to the train driver and left the package with him. When I arrived in Leeuwarden the conductor gave me the package. “

 

“I could pass security checks quite easy. I had first class forged papers and I had a forged document stating that I was a controller of meat. My ‘job’ was to check butchers and farmers if they had the right papers for their cattle. I had absolutely no knowledge about cattle. But it was a document from The Hague and the Nazi’s therefore believed I was important. They always let me through quite easily. “Another time we were going to raid the town hall of Ternaard. The weather was horrible. I think it is still in the history books as one of the worst weather conditions in the history. We went through the backyard of the house next to the town hall. There was a window with six small parts. I cut out the bottom right part. As I did the glass fell and made a very loud noise. We got what we wanted and escaped by car. On the road we got stuck in a cable, I was not sure if it was a power cable of some sort of telephone cable. Without thinking we cut the cable. As I think back it was very dangerous. But well we got out. Later we heard that the janitor living next door was a sleep with his wife. She was awakened by the sound. Her husband woke up and told her nothing was going on. Probably the wind he told her.”

How did you get a car I asked? “Well at first we stole it from the doctor. He was okay with that but he needed a car in case of emergency. So we went to the local car shop and made a deal that if we had the doctor’s car the doctor could borrow one of his cars in case of emergency. With that car we also delivered 7000 newspapers of Trouw. A big part we dropped in Assen. Some of it in Dokkum and what was left over we took to our village.” As you have read before about Rienk Kuipers arrest. Jo van der Laan was in the church during the service. Because Jo had forged papers which were very convincing Jo was not arrested. Later Jo heard that the Nazi’s had said regretting letting him go. “It was a big mistake to let that guy go. We had to arrest anybody it should have been him.”

 

“One time I was sitting in the tram to Drachten. I had letter to deliver for the resistance. And well I was young so I tried to flirt with the girls in the tram that just came from school. I winked to one of them I found very pretty. To my amazement she winked back. She told me she just had her exams. She didn’t want to talk about it. Later I found out she got an A+ for every exam. I asked her if she wanted to go biking someday. We did and of course I planned the bike trip in a way that I would see what the Nazi’s where building near Leeuwarden Airport. I think she like me as much as I like her because in 1950 we got married. She was never active as a resistance worker but she did gather intelligence that I could use. She also had contact’s that helped me to get a key of the safe in a distribution center.”

“After the war I worked as an inspector for a paint company. I had to go to houses and check if the paint was still good. One time I rang the doorbell of a house and a woman opened. Her first reaction was: “My god, Jo, what are you doing here?” It was a Jewish family that was in hiding in our home during the war. My father was a painter and I obtain all my diplomas but I never became a painter. I do draw and paint a lot but not as a profession.”

Jo van der Laan showed me his paintings and I was amazed about the beauty of them. He showed me one painting in particular. It was a beautiful landscape with a naked woman in it. I asked who the woman was and he answered: “yes, she was so beautiful. We had a wonderful marriage. She pasted away 4 years ago and I miss her so much, every day.”

 

Steven van Koeverden | +31617351867 | info@stevenvankoeverden.nl