Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Family Legend, True or False? Part 4: Endings and Beginnings

Last time I talked about what I’d found out about my grandfather (and grandmother) in relation to the research questions I had when going to the archive. But of course, there was a lot more in those files than I could have hoped for. A small summary of the information I found and the research questions it raised.

My grandfather’s childhood in Germany was completely unknown to me up until now. However, some light was shed on this by data provided by my grandfather about his schooling in Germany and the sketch L.J. van Aken made about the situation of the Polish immigrants in Bottrop in that time period.

My grandfather’s immigration is said by both him and L.J. van Aken to have been in 1928, when he was 14 or 15 years old (depending on which of the two are talking). This is a subject I’ve written about before here, here, and here. However, in spite of family stories that he came to the Netherlands when he was 16, I had only been able to find him coming into the country in 1932, at 17, or even later when he was 18. A puzzle to be sure and I want to check some last sources before coming to a final conclusion about this, although at the moment I am tempted to go with the 1928 date.

My grandfather’s life pre- and post-war was enlightened by several facts and tales in the file. It’s something that will give his biography just that much more life to it and I’m very happy about it.

My grandfather’s time in the German military got a lot more clear due to this file. The family story about his injury in the war is fleshed out by his own words and I now know where he served. Of course, the further proof of his time at the Eastern Front only makes me want to find the book my aunt told me about so much more. Apparently, my grandfather is named in that book. I’m still looking for it, as she’s forgotten both the title and the author.

My grandfather’s naturalization was always a bit of a mystery to us, as he became a naturalized citizen quite late, in 1957. This file held the answer to his late naturalization, but it also raised a new question. Apparently, he’d tried to get naturalization in 1937 but was rejected. I hadn’t check the records for naturalization yet, so when I do I’ll make sure to search for that rejected request to see if I can’t find a reason for it.

But the real gem, the one that made me certain that yes, there is a genea-Santa and yes, I had been a good girl, was the information about Adolph Knura’s parents. Until then, I only had their names, which is not a lot to go on. Now though, I have information about why and when his parents came to Bottrop, and their birthplaces in Poland! Well, I’ve got a great lead to their birthplaces, but no actual clue as to where it is yet. But that’s enough to write a whole separate post about, which I will do in the near future. Suffice to say it is a whole lot more than the nothing I had.

All in all, this file gave me a lot of information. It ended my search into several big questions and opened up whole new questions with the information I found. A search that started out with merely trying to determine the truth of a family story ended up giving me the pieces of the puzzle that might get me over the border and a generation further. So you see, no story is too small to check out. You might never know what unexpected gems you’ll find!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Are You Sure You Want To Know?

Are you sure you want to know? That’s the question my mother asked me when I started researching her father’s war past. She was concerned I might learn of things I rather hadn’t known. Luckily for me, my grandfather hadn’t any skeletons in his closet from that time. The same question popped back into my mind yesterday when I was watching an episode of the Dutch version of Who Do You Think You Are?.

Dutch celebrity Jan Jaap van der Wal researched his great-grandfather’s war past, after having heard stories that he had to go into hiding at the end of 1942. During his research, the picture he was forming about his great-grandfather began to show something very different than what he’d always thought. Documents started showing a pro-German attitude and even a possible desire to join the SS. Luckily, this story had a ‘happy’ ending, when his great-grandfather stood up against the Germans, refusing to help them capture Jews, which ended with him having to go into hiding as an arrest warrant was put out for him as well.

What this showed is that family stories can be quite different from reality, especially when it’s about things like actions in a war. Once you start researching, you might learn things about your ancestors you rather hadn’t known. But once you begin to get the first inklings that something is wrong, it is already too late to stop.

So what’s a researcher to do? Keep on digging, even if there’s a possibility you might not like what you find? And what do you do with such information if you do find something you wish you didn’t know?

Friday, January 14, 2011

Family Legend, True or False? Part 3: Answers At Last?

Last time, I talked about the fact that I had not found any evidence as of yet that my aunt’s memory of my grandfather’s arrest and the story in the book was true. I’d not been able to find mention of my grandfather in any of the archives of Kamp Vught. But then, at last, the answer to my inquiry to the NIOD came. They did not have any records of my grandfather at Kamp Vught either, but they told me to try the CABR archive kept at the National Archive.

The CABR is an archive that consists of files of people who came into contact with the Special Justice that was instated after World War Two to investigate anyone who was suspected of having sided with the Germans. If my grandfather had been arrested, or even just questioned, there would be a file about him. It’s a restricted archive, though, which means you need permission to view it. Luckily for me, my grandfather is deceased and I am a direct descendant, which is the best case scenario for getting access to my grandfather’s file. Provided, of course, that there was a file. I sent my enquiry and then the wait began.

The reply was thankfully quick and a positive one: there was a file on my grandfather and I had permission to view it! There was no guarantee to what was in there though. So I went to the National Archive. My mission was to prove or disprove these three facts:

- My grandfather served at the Eastern Front (book and family stories)
- My grandfather was arrested and imprisoned at Kamp Vught for several months (my aunt) or a year (book)
- My grandfather got to stay in the Netherland because of intervention by the Mayor of Voorschoten (my aunt)

Did I find my answers? Why, yes I did! And they were quite unexpected.

My grandfather served at the East Front

From his own statement, I was able to prove this fact. My grandfather didn’t only serve on the Eastern Front in the north, he served in several other countries as well.
Due to his statements, given at different times, I’ve been able to make a nearly complete reconstruction of the happenings since the Germans attacked the Netherlands (started preparing for War, even) until the capitulation of the Germans, which brought my grandfather back in the Netherlands with his family. I’ll write this up in a separate post at a later date, as it’s quite a story on its own.

My grandfather was arrested and imprisoned at Kamp Vught for several months or a year

This was the most important reason I went to the National Archive. I desperately wanted to know if this was true. One of the first papers I viewed after I opened the file was in fact an official message from Kamp Vught declaring the release of my grandfather! It was true and the proof was right in front of me. Reading the file, I found more documents proving this.
Although I have not been able to find my grandfather’s arrest date in the file, the earliest date I can place him at Kamp Vught is 22 August 1945. My aunt is right in this case, he was there for less than a year, as he is transferred to prison in Leiden on 1 December 1945. He’s released completely on 20 December 1945.

My grandfather got to stay in the Netherland because of intervention by the Mayor of Voorschoten

Before I get into what I found out about this in the file, first a little history on this. Before the war, law in the Netherlands was such that if a woman married a man, they assumed the man’s nationality. So when my grandfather’s sister Anna Knura married the Dutch Lambertus van Aken, she got the Dutch nationality. In reverse, when my grandfather married my Dutch grandmother she became a German national, as did their two children who were born before the war.

After the war, all German nationals were deported to Germany. My grandfather was first arrested, which delayed the deportation of him and his family, but they were supposed to be deported. However, in the file, the following note was found:

“Would initially be deported. Permission to stay only given because of exemplary behavior of the wife during the war.”

There was no sign of anything the Mayor might have written. There was a letter of recommendation from my grandfather’s brother-in-law Lambertus van Aken, who was a famous resistance fighter and also a big name in the clean-up after the war. In the end though, it was my grandmother’s actions in the war that kept the family in Voorschoten.

What were my grandmother’s actions, you might ask? Well, she helped Lambertus hide Jews and other wanted people during the war. There’d always been stories in the family about this, but I’ve never once heard my grandmother mention it, nor was there any proof. However, in Lambertus’ letter he comes right out and says she helped him by doing this, plus the note also indicates this happened. So by disproving this tidbit of the family legend I was researching, I proved another one!

Tuesday, in Part 4: Endings and Beginnings I will tell you about the very unexpected gems of information I found in this file – which of course brought me new questions I am still struggling with – as well as neatly wrapping up the research into this particular family legend.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Family Legend, True or False? Part 2: Lost: One Archive

Last time I talked about uncovering a tale about my grandfather’s arrest and imprisonment in Kamp Vught after World War Two. I wanted to find some paper proof to collaborate this story and figured the most logical place to start would be the website of Kamp Vught, which is now a national monument.

I found some information there about Kamp Vught after the war. During the war it had served as an internment camp of the Nazi’s. After the allied forces took it in 1944 it was turned into a prison camp for thousands of Dutch nationals who were suspected of collaborating with the enemy and thousands of evacuated Germans from the border area between the Netherlands and Germany. So it was indeed possible that my grandfather had been imprisoned there because he was suspected of being a traitor.

I couldn’t really find anything about an archive though, although I did find mention they kept an archive about the period in which the camp was in Nazi hands. That wouldn’t help me though, so I had to look further. I figured there were two likely archives I could find material about the Kamp Vught after the war.

One possibility was the NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies (until 9 December 2010 the Netherlands Institute for War Documentation), which has a lot of archives and other material about the war period in the Netherlands and also some things about the aftermath. I checked their online catalogue, but couldn’t find an archive for Kamp Vught in that period. So although I wrote to them, I was doubtful I would find anything there.

Another possibility was the Brabants Historic Information Center, the BHIC. Vught is one of the towns who’s archive is kept by the BHIC. I figured if there was a part of the prison archive that survived, it would be there. I wrote to this archive as well.

I got a really fast answer from Mrs. van Geloven from the BHIC. She’d checked the personal files kept from Interneringskamp Vught, later called Strafgevangenis Nieuw-Vosseveld. Unfortunately, there was no mention of my grandfather in those files. She asked me for some extra information to better search for my grandfather in the archives they had. I told her my grandfather lived in Voorschoten at the time of his arrest, sometime in 1945. I also told her he’d just returned from the East Front, where he’d served in the German army as a medic.

Once again, she got back to me very fast. She’d checked the records of the police department Vught, where there were several archives that had to do with Kamp Vught in the period my grandfather would’ve been there. Unfortunately, he wasn’t to be found in the archive of prisoners that resided at Kamp Vught in the period 1945-1946, nor in the archive of foreigners, Germans and stateless ex-Dutch people residing at Kamp Vught in the period 1947-1952. He also wasn’t listed in the alphabetical list of prisoner names, period 1944-1946.

I was severely disappointed that nothing had been found. Mrs. van Geloven did mention that on his persoonskaart there should be a note about his internment in Kamp Vught or any other camp he would’ve been held in and perhaps that would give me some clues. Unfortunately, I had that document in my possession already and there was nothing on it about any imprisonment, in Kamp Vught or elsewhere.

Back of persoonskaart Adolph Knura, no mention of imprisonment to be found. Parts blacked out due to privacy reasons

I was beginning to doubt the story. In none of the archives I’d searched so far had I been able to find even one shred of evidence that the story of my grandfather’s arrest and imprisonment was true. Sure, my aunt remembered it, but she’d been four. Could I rely on her memory, or was it just a tale told to her at that age?

Friday, I’ll talk about the response of the NIOD, that prompted me to do one last search to find out the truth behind this family legend in Part 3: Answers At Last?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Family Legend, True or False? Part 1: Uncovering a Tale

Back in March 2010 I spotted a local history book when walking into my local bookstore. It was about the Second World War and its aftermath, and specific to my town. I’d long coveted the book, knowing many of my ancestors would be mentioned there. Several of my ancestors were either active in the resistance or big names in the town during and after the war, so they were sure to be mentioned.

I looked through the names index in the back, seeing many names I was expecting: van Aken, Lamboo, Bolle, all familiar names and ancestors of mine. But one name greatly surprised me. My grandfather Adolph Knura was mentioned in the book! He was born in Bottrop, Germany and came to the Netherlands in 1932. His sister, Anna Knura, was married to L.J. van Aken and he came to live with her and work for L.J. van Aken’s painting company. He met my grandmother Henriette Geertruida Lamboo and got married. By the time the war broke out, they had two children. But however much my grandfather had integrated into Dutch society, he was still legally a German citizen. And so it came to pass that my grandfather was called to serve in the German army. He didn’t want to, but he still had parents and siblings in Germany and if he didn’t comply, they would feel the wrath of the Nazi’s. It was only after the war ended that he returned home, so I was not expecting him to be mentioned specifically in the book.

Adolph Knura, 1942-1944, German military

Of course I bought the book and when I got home I looked up the page my grandfather was mentioned. There really were only a few sentences about him, but what a shock they brought! Instead of saying something about him being called on to serve in the German army, it said that my grandfather, as a German national that lived in the Netherlands, was arrested after the war and imprisoned for a year. He was accused of being a traitor, but eventually released. The source was an interview with someone not known to me or my older family members. My mother didn’t even know anything about this, but she was born some fifteen years after the events would have happened. So I called my aunt, who was four years old during these alleged events.

My aunt remembered the events mentioned in the book quite clearly for a four year old. She recalled visiting her father in Kamp Vught, where he had been imprisoned for less than a year according to her. She also recalled that my grandfather and his whole family were to be transported out of the country, but that the major of Voorschoten wrote a letter to keep them in the country. She said that she believed that if Adolph had been a common soldier instead of a medic in the army, they would’ve had to move to Germany. She didn’t know much else.

I decided that the memories of my aunt and the mention in the book were enough to think the story was true, but I wanted proof. Paper proof that is. I figured it wouldn’t be hard to find evidence of my grandfathers imprisonment, once I figured out where the archive of Kamp Vught was kept, that is. But finding the archives wasn’t as easy as I thought…

The story will continue on Wednesday with Part 2: Lost: One Archive