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Remembering his father

Erald de Wachter is planning to keep the memory of his father alive through a book to be published this year. Maurice de Wachter was a Belgian resistance fighter arrested by the Nazis and deported to the concentration camp Neuengamme, near Hamburg. Erald and his wife Agnis van Mieghem visited the International Tracing Service (ITS) in Bad Arolsen for a day to view documents from Neuengamme on his father´s fate and that of friends from the Resistance.

On 28 July 1944 Maurice de Wachter and 20 other resistance fighters were arrested. He was sent to a prison near Ghent for a month and subsequently transported by truck to Antwerp and from there by train through Holland to Neuengamme. “My father arrived at the concentration camp on the evening of 2 September 1944,” reported Erald de Wachter. “He first had to be quarantined but then there was a 6-week gap in his biography. I only know that until November he was in a satellite camp of Neuengamme, but I don´t know which one.”

This was de Wachter´s last unsolved question in the biography of his father, born in 1905. Neuengamme had 86 satellite camps and the SS had burned most of the documents before clearing it. As a result, the ITS archives has only a limited number of records. “I was nevertheless astounded at how many documents, letters and remembrances I was still able to find for my book,” said Erald de Wachter. “I thought many more had been lost.” Last year the Belgian travelled to Hamburg to visit Neuengamme.

After his outside detachment Maurice, a tailor by profession, was put to work on the night shift making clothes. “It was warmer there than in the other blocks, which must have helped him,” his son assumed. Once de Wachter had to make a pair of trousers for Max Pauly, the camp commander. “My father said that he was very afraid of that meeting. He was tremendously relieved when Pauly said the trousers were good.”

At the end of the war the Neuengamme prisoners were evacuated to Lübeck. De Wachter was onboard a ship which was later bombarded by the British Royal Air Force in the Bay of Lübeck and sunk. “He had the most unbelievable luck,” said his son. “He and other Belgians were able to board the Swedish ship Magdalena and on 2 May 1945 reached the safety of the Swedish coast.” During the last days of the war Heinrich Himmler allowed additional concentration camp prisoners to be evacuated. He had originally only given permission for the evacuation of Scandinavian prisoners. The Swedish Red Cross under the leadership of Vice President Graf Folke Bernadotte arranged the evacuations.

De Wachter regained his strength in the Swedish village of Veinge for two and half months before he was able to return home on 12 July 1945. “I have reproduced my parents´ correspondence from that time in my book,” said Erald. “During my father´s absence my mother experienced a lot of solidarity in the village. Neighbors and relatives helped her.” At the time of his arrest, de Wachter and his wife had three children, and she was pregnant with their fourth. Erald and another brother were born after the war.

After the end of the war de Wachter worked as a tailor in his own store. “He always sang while he was working,” remembers his son. It was difficult for his father, who died in 1994, to deal with the reactions of people at home. “They said, ‘you´re exaggerating!’”. They didn´t believe that anyone could survive such a thing, so for a long time he stopped speaking about what he had experienced. We kids only knew a little.” Erald de Wachter sees it as his moral obligation to keep the memory of his father alive through his book, “Maurice – from Stekene to the Hell of Neuengamme,” “for me, my brothers and the generations to come.”