Explore Het Nationaal Onderduikmuseum (The National Resistance Museum) in Aalten, The Netherlands

This morning Bert S drove me to Aalten, a town 30 minutes due south of Eibergen, to visit Het Nationaal Onderduikmuseum (The National Resistance Museum) at Markt 12. Aalten is a sizable rural town, with a population of about 28,000.

The Onderduikmuseum focusses on hiding and resistance practices during WW2. It highlights everyday life and the personal choices people had to make at that time. The museum is in a house in the old town centre, and a modern gallery-like extension added at the back in recent years. The house was inhabited during the occupation years by the Kempink family including two young children. In the attic, eight persons were hidden during WW2 – the attic is part of the museum display, and exhibits typewriters and printing presses used to produce printed materials that undercut the Nazi war machine.

As the house is centrally located in the town centre, the German Ortskommandant (Local Commander) for Aalten set up office in the front room. This reminded me of my father’s experience, where the Ortskommandant for Eibergen set up office in the front room of St Mattheüs Rectory while my father stayed secretly in an upstairs bedroom (and sometimes the garden shed) between October 1942 and May 1945. Typically, an Ortskommandant was responsible for cooperating with and controlling local police and community leaders.

Apart from the illegal printing house in the attic, the Onderduikmuseum collection includes a hiding place, shelter, weapons, uniforms, anti-WW2 propaganda material, identification documents, photographs and other objects such as food coupons that give an impression of daily life for Dutch families during the German occupation.

There is also an exhibit in memory of Hendrik Jan Wikkerink (1896-1981) who lived in Aalten. Wikkerink, also known as Ome (Uncle) Jan, was a deeply religious member of the Dutch Calvinist Church. He managed to save the lives of about 70 Jewish persons, as well as many others. Wikkerink and his wife, Dela Gesina Wikkerink-Eppink, had eight children between the ages of eight and 20 in 1944 when they started taking people in.

Wikkerink was active in finding hiding places for Jews and supplying them with money and ration cards, which he or his eldest daughter would deliver every week. Toward the end of 1944, the Germans caught up with Wikkerink and he was taken to the Aalten police station. While the arresting officers were out looking for a vehicle to continue their journey, the local police faked an incident by breathing in chloroform to make them unconscious, hence enabling Wikkerink to escape. The Germans retaliated by setting fire to the Wikkerink home, burning all their belongings. The Wikkerinks and their wards spent the last months of WW2 with relatives.

The Wikkerinks, who did not have the means or materials to rebuild their home when the war ended, lived for a long time in an emergency structure. Dutch Queen Wilhelmina, who visited the family in their temporary dwelling, honoured Wikkerink with the Orde van Oranje-Nassau (Order of Oranje-Nassau), a civil and military order to recognise conspicuous acts of chivalry. On 1 January 1978, the Israeli organisation Yad Vashem recognised Wikkerink and his wife as ‘Righteous Among the Nations’, an honour accorded to non-Jews who protected Jewish people during WW2.

The Onderduikmuseum is an interesting place and a visit is well worthwhile.

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