Pays-Bas / Histoire

The prisoners from Wilhelmshaven




On April 15, 1945, the day that almost the entire city of Groningen was liberated, a hospital transport with three hundred prisoners departed from the prison camp in Wilhelmshaven, Germany. The next day they boarded an open boat in Emden. On board is the emaciated and exhausted Henk Brouwers, the resistance fighter and helmsman of the training ship Abel Tasman in Delfzijl.

Many prisoners thought that the ship was torpedoed, but the same day the barge sailed into the harbor of Delfzijl. The German army commander had no idea what to do with the prisoners. The Allies were almost at his door, so he had other things on his mind than caring for a ship with exhausted prisoners. He wanted to send them back to the Ems, but the mayor intervened and the men were allowed to stay. One of the scrawny prisoners who walked onto the quay was Willie Brouwers' father.

“We knew my father was on that boat. A black dealer had seen him in Emden and told us he was coming. I ran to the Great Water Gate. There used to be a green dike there with a staircase going down. I can still see him coming down those stairs. He was wearing a black coat and was very thin. It didn't bother me at all and I went straight to him. "Girl, don't," he told me. “I'm covered in lice.” It later turned out that he also had tuberculosis.” The inmates trudged through the streets of the port city, stared at by a bewildered population who had taken to the streets despite a curfew. A large number were later taken to villages on farm carts, where they experienced the liberation a few weeks later. But not everyone. At least seven more died during the journey by sea and also after the departure from Delfzijl.

“Dad wanted to go home right away,” says Mrs. Brouwers. "But I said it wasn't our house anymore. It had been confiscated by the Germans. Our family lived with my grandparents on the Vennen. The Germans kicked us out after Dad was arrested. A traitor lived there with his family. His wife wore my mother's Vosse fur and their children wore our clothes. I wasn't even allowed to take our cat Jantje with me. He started to cry.”

Henk Brouwers was not allowed to go to his parents-in-law's house. “All the prisoners had to gather and they would go to Uithuizen and Roodeschool. Dad had to come too. But at night there was a knock on Grandpa and Grandpa's door. It was Dad. He had been brought to Delfzijl by a coal merchant and was hidden under a rug. But my aunt, my mother's single sister who still lived at home, didn't let him sleep in a bed. Not while he was still covered in lice. So, Dad slept on the hard-wooden floor.”

J. v.d. Kornputplein 1, 9934 EA, Delfzijl