“Maybe somebody knows something about him”
From 1943 until 1945 Cornelis de Zeeuw had to do forced labor in the Harz region for the Nazi Regime. His family regrets never asking him specifically about the two years he spent as a forced laborer. Now, a few years after Cornelis de Zeeuw’s death, his grandson has started the search for more information.
“My grandfather told me about his time as a forced laborer in Germany”, the Dutchman Mitch van Koert explained when he, together with his mother and his aunt, came to the International Tracing Service (ITS) in Summer 2016. “That he did boxing matches with forced laborers from other countries, for example, and similar stories.” After Cornelis de Zeeuw had died in December 2013, his daughters and grandson realized that they actually had very few details about their grandfather’s 26 months of forced labor. True, he had told about having been sent to Mittelbau-Dora Concentration Camp to do coating work in the tunnels there, and having to witness the suffering and dying of the concentration camp prisoners. But about how long and where he had been forced to live and work - his family didn’t have enough information to put the pieces together.
Mitch van Koert’s work as prop Master and deputy stage manager for the musical “Soldaat van Oranje”, which had him dealing with information about the Nazi era on a daily basis, contributed to his already growing interest in his grandfather’s personal history. He did some research in archives in Amsterdam and found February 1943 noted as the time of deportation. After coming across information on-line about the ITS he sent an inquiry regarding his grandfather. Having developed an interest in the ITS as an institution, and wanting to have the results of the search request explained to him, he travelled to Bad Arolsen.
Several dates and addresses were found in a listing of registrations and de-registrations for the Niedersachswerfen municipality. Here, in the southern Harz area, where tens of thousands of forced laborers were deployed in armament production, Cornelis de Zeeuw was registered, in private lodgings first, as of April 1943. Mitch van Koert was very pleased that the ITS was able to identify the precise address from the registration listing, as this information may help him continue to retrace his grandfather’s history. It is also apparent from the registry that Cornelis de Zeeuw was transferred to Herzberg/Harz in July 1943.
By the time he returned to Niedersachswerfen in October 1944, the National Socialists had expanded the Buchenwald sub-camp, a mere five kilometers away, into a large autonomous camp complex – Concentration Camp Mittelbau-Dora with tunnels where the camp prisoners had to do slave labor in the production of the A4 rockets. In Niedersachswerfen Cornelis de Zeeuw was housed in a communal camp of the German Labor Front (DAF). He had told that the Americans had liberated him, but how exactly he made his way back to Amsterdam in 1945 is not clear.
“Please write that my grandfather was called Nelis and Cor. Maybe somebody who remembers him will read that”, Mitch van Koert requested before he left.