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Return of Personal Effects to families from Putten

"It is indescribable, impossible to put into words," says Herman Hamstra at the sight of the wallet and the cufflink. The two items are among the few remaining belongings that his father had with him on his imprisonment in the Neuengamme concentration camp. After more than 67 years, Herman and his brother Evert held these in their hands for the first time. Thanks to the research of the foundation "October 44", the International Tracing Service (ITS) in Bad Arolsen, on 13 September 2012, could return personal effects to the members of five families from Putten in the Netherlands. Another two families will receive the effects by post.

"I did not think that these things still existed," comments Evert. "My father was arrested on a Sunday. Only that day did he wear cufflinks." The two brothers consider the belongings and the documents for a long time, all of which tell their father's fate. "German thoroughness," commented Evert. "It's true, absolutely every detail."

The 48-year-old father, Harman Hamstra, was one of 660 men from Putten who were abducted in October 1944 and taken to the Neuengamme concentration camp after an attack of the German Wehrmacht. Only 48 men returned home after the end of the war. The village of Putten was completely burned down. "For a long time our family did not know what had become of him. Many of us thought that the men would return. Only several months after the end of the war did we learn about the death of our father," says Herman. "The period of uncertainty was hard to bear." The family of seven children couldn’t even celebrate the liberation by the US Army.

His father, who had worked in a dairy, was a caring and humble man, reminisces the 82-year-old Evert. "First the other, then I,” was his motto. “Presumably he still kept to this motto in the camp.” For Evert, the war remained a part of his life. "I have the pictures before my eyes every day.”

“It’s very emotional for me.”

Fennie Zevenbergen-Schuiteman got back a wallet with two keys and a small photo of her brother Evert. "Of the few men who had survived the detention, we knew that Evert had been deported to a sub-camp of Neuengamme," recalls Fennie. "By that time, he probably was already very weak." The 18-year-old was in the Kommando at Meppen-Versen where the prisoners had to construct the “Friesenwall” (a fortification). Hitler had given the order to secure the German North Sea coast from the Dutch border to Denmark to protect it against an attack by the Allies.

"My brother Jaap and my father Jan were also deported by the Nazis," says the 84-year-old. "A survivor sent us the news of the death of my father. Jaap fled from the deportation train that would bring him from the Neuengamme concentration camp to an external camp. He survived. He has never spoken about his experiences except with a friend." What had become of Evert remained uncertain for the family for some time. "The Red Cross issued death certificates for the families of those who had disappeared," said Fennie. "We later learned that he was buried at a cemetery in Meppen."

"To hold this personal property in my hands is very emotional for me," says Fennie quietly. "In the small photo you can see Evert with his girlfriend Jo from that time," she explains to her son Evert-Jan who had come with her to Arolsen. One of the keys might have been from his bicycle, the other perhaps for a small cash box, she speculates. Fennie will initially keep these belongings and then donate them to the “October 44” foundation. "There they will be in good hands for the future generations."