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“I’ve wanted to learn more about him”

Wendy van Eijnatten during her visit at the ITS.
Wendy van Eijnatten during her visit at the ITS.

Because she wanted to learn more about her family history, Wendy van Eijnatten, from the Netherlands, sent an inquiry to the International Tracing Service (ITS). In April 2016 she travelled to Bad Arolsen, as she was interested in seeing the documents about her uncle Jan (Johannes Franciscus Maria) van Boeckel. Together with an ITS staff member she also searched for documentation on Maurice Christelbach und Arthur Simon, two survivors who had been incarcerated with her uncle. It was from these two people that the parents and siblings of Jan van Boeckel had heard in the 1960s that he had died in the last days of the war while on a death march-like train journey towards Dachau. In October 2015 Wendy van Eijnatten started looking for all the pieces to this narrative puzzle, to try to tell a story as richly detailed as possible. She managed to find contemporary witnesses and to speak with resistance fighters, and with the children of former friends of her uncle.

Jan van Boeckel, born on February 11, 1923 in the Dutch city of Breda, was a freedom fighter in Belgium and had joined the “Front de l'Indépendance“ group in the Ardennes. In May 1944 he was one of the resistance fighters arrested near “Moulin de Rahimont” in Bértogne. A camp near the old water mill was both a meeting place and hiding place for forced laborers who had managed to escape out of the camps. Jan van Boeckel was first taken to a prison in Lüttich. In the summer of 1944, as a “Night and Fog prisoner”, he was deported to Germany and incarcerated in the Ebach prison in Upper Franconia. As of December 1941, in accordance with the so-called “Night and Fog Decree”, opponents of the Regime who were living in occupied territories were deported to Germany without any criminal proceedings, and with the strict orders that their families or loved ones would not receive any information about their fate. Having individuals disappear without a trace was used as a means of intimidation and warning.

In its archive the ITS has documentation dated February 1945 on Jan van Boeckels deportation by the Liège State Police/ Nürnberg-Fürth State Police to Concentration Camp Flossenbürg, and on the transfer to the subcamp Saal/Donau, a satellite camp of Flossenbürg. Among the 11 documents is a “personal effects card” listing all the belongings he was carrying when he arrived at the main camp. In the subcamp Saal (code name: Ring or Ring-Me), and under atrocious living and working conditions, the prisoners had to dig out tunnels for an underground aircraft factory of the Messerschmitt Plant Regensburg. Shortly before the camp was liberated, some of the prisoners were transported in open train cars, without food or water, to Dachau Concentration Camp. Jan van Boeckel did not survive this tortuous journey.

During her visit to Bad Arolsen, Wendy van Eijnatten also learned that some of Jan’s twelve siblings had previously contacted the ITS for more information about his fate. Because her own family had spent many years in Africa, where she was born, she didn’t know much of the story herself at first. She has been publishing the results of her research on the fate of Jan van Boeckel on the Internet at mogromo.com/portfolio/jan-van-boeckel. At the start of this project, Wendy van Eijnatten had not thought that she would find so much information. But the motivation for searching has been with her a long time: “Ever since I saw his photo, I’ve wanted to learn more about him.”