The Netherlands / Landmark

Psychiatric care in war conditions




The Psychiatric Hospital (the PZ) in Franeker was and is a household name in Friesland. During the occupation, besides its own eight hundred patients, it had to take in residents of two other institutions. The occupiers had requisitioned their buildings. Other war victims, including evacuees from Limburg, were also taken in and cared for. And the tuberculosis ward was an ideal place for people in hiding.

During the final war months, the hospital's kitchens provided food for all those people, as well as much of the population of Franeker. 

In 1930, a brand new and modern housing development called Groot Lankum was built to the west of the city. The old accommodations in the city centre (the "Binnengesticht") also remained in use. The treatment of psychiatric disorders was still in its infancy, medication did not yet exist. Patients lay in bed all day, with nothing to do. 

The hospital had a tuberculosis ward, which was cut off from the rest of the building due to the risk of infection. That made it a perfect hiding place; the occupiers were not very eager to check there. . .  

It was February 1943 when the Germans requisitioned the Vogelenzang Psychiatric Hospital in Bennebroek. 369 patients and 100 staff had to leave and were transferred by train to Franeker. The Franeker patients from the Binnengesticht moved to the large attic floor of the new Groot Lankum to make room for the guests. Space was way too tight, but there was no choice. 

When the Allied advance reached the south of the Netherlands, the front slowed down and the province of Limburg in particular remained a battleground for a while. Residents had to be evacuated. In January 1945, a train full of weak and hungry people from Roermond and the surrounding area arrived in Franeker after a harsh journey. Before they could be lodged with host families in the surrounding villages, they were cared for and fed by PZ staff. The sick were admitted to the already overcrowded hospital. 

As if things were not difficult enough, on 27 March 1945, a total of 528 patients with their nurses from Dennenoord Psychiatric Hospital in Zuidlaren were added. By order of the occupiers, the buildings there had to be evacuated immediately because a German emergency hospital was to be set up there. The kitchen staff of the PZ had to pull out all the stops to feed the many mouths. Fortunately, they had previously started growing large quantities of vegetables on the premises, and 40 pigs were kept for their meat. Local farmers supplied potatoes and turnips. 3,600 kilos of potatoes were consumed each day. 

In the very last days before the liberation of Franeker, which finally took place on 15 April, another German order came to evacuate the PZ, to make room for wounded German soldiers. But it did not come to that, as the Canadian liberators were already on their way and the occupiers left in a hurry. 

A television documentary by Omrop Fryslân (partly in Frisian) on the wartime PZ can be seen here