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“He became a real person”

Originally, Titia Vuyk had merely asked for information about her grandfather Jan Hendrik Olivier Bosdriesz and his persecution during the Nazi period. It was more than mere information, however, that came to light in the archive of the International Tracing Service (ITS). As it turned out, there were also objects once belonging to Bosdriesz in the ITS holdings. When they learned about this, Bosdriesz family members of two generations set out for Bad Arolsen from the Netherlands to retrieve the items. 

The three siblings Anske (84), Marieke (80) and Jan (76) Bosdriesz sit side by side, contemplatively looking through their father’s few possessions, which came to Arolsen from the effects depot of the Neuengamme concentration camp. Titia Vuyk and Marion Wiedemeijer of the grandchildren’s generation stand behind them, looking on. An engagement ring, a pocket watch, and a fountain pen are handed around. The date of the engagement—October 12, 1930—is inscribed on the ring. “My grandparents got married two years later,” Titia Vuyk relates. The inscription also includes the name Anske. “That was my grandfather’s nickname for his wife, and later my mother was given that name.”

Jan Bosdriesz’s oldest daughter can still remember the watch. “We used to go hiking on Sundays and collect different kinds of grass and plants, which we took home to dry,” Anske Vuyk-Bosdriesz recalls. “I can still remember exactly how my father used to pull the watch out of his pocket.” He was a friendly and downright poetic person who especially loved to play the violin and write poems, she tells us. “He managed to smuggle a couple of poems out of the Vught camp, which were later published in a small volume.” 

Jan Bosdriesz had earned his living as a teacher. His Christian-pacifist attitude would be his downfall. He circulated an anti-war petition that also appealed to its readers to help victims of persecution. “I remember when he was arrested. I was nine years old at the time,” Anske Vuyk-Bosdriesz reports. “He called up to the balcony: ‘See you this afternoon. I’ll resolve this.’” Marieke Wiedemeijer, who was five years old when her father was taken away: “It was horrible. My mother cried.” According to the earliest document in the ITS archive, from Amsterdam Jan Hendrik Olivier Bosdriesz was committed to the Amersfoort police transit camp on October 23, 1942. “It wasn’t until everyone around me fell silent when his name was mentioned, and their faces became very serious, that I realized what it all meant,” his eldest daughter remembers.

The deportation to the Herzogenbusch-Vught concentration camp followed on January 13, 1943. From there the path of persecution led to Sachsenhausen and subsequently to the Neuengamme concentration camp in October 1944. In the Meppen-Versen subcamp, Bosdriesz—forty-three years old at the time—was put to work in the construction of defensive walls. The SS had the camp cleared on March 25, 1945. Jan Bosdriesz was transferred to the Sandbostel reception camp. On May 20, 1945, shortly after his liberation, he died of the consequences of concentration camp imprisonment and was buried in Rotenburg near Hanover.

After the war, the family went through a grueling phase of uncertainty, Anske Vuyk-Bosdriesz continues. “First an English officer wrote to us that my father had survived. So on May 21, 1945, we wrote him a letter. But it never reached him. He had died the day before.” Marieke Wiedemeijer: “After the war I often imagined I saw my father walking down the street”.

The family cherished the memory of their loved one, but “my mother hardly ever talked about him anymore. If anything, she talked about the war,” says Anske Vuyk-Bosdriesz. “Personal feelings were pushed aside.” Her mother had to sell a lot of things to make ends meet. But she never touched her husband’s violin. “I even played it,” adds granddaughter Titia Vuyk.

Decades later, the youngest in the Bosdriesz family—also called Jan—finally travelled to Germany, visited the sites of the persecution and shot a film for the folks back home. Then, in 2016, his sisters went to Lübeck, with their daughters Titia and Marion. The remains of Jan Hendrik Olivier Bosdriesz had been re-interred in the Parkfriedhof there on April 8, 1954, a circumstance also documented in the ITS archive.

“In Lübeck the four of us joined in reading the last letter of May 21, 1945 aloud,” recalls Marion Wiedemeijer. “In that moment, my grandfather came to life”. Titia Vuyk: “He became a real person. All the more since we now have his personal belongings.” The family plans to consider carefully how best to keep these possessions in the future. “This is a historical day for us, and a very emotional one. It’s incredible that, in such a chaotic period, so much was documented.”