The Netherlands / Story

Hostage in the Church




Siebrand Paapst (1928-2016) is taken hostage by the Germans on April 27, 1945. Together with 25 villagers he spends a frightened night in the church of Holwierde. “If even one German was killed by the underground that night, everyone would go against the wall.” But that night, only one German soldier is killed. His comrades shoot him for cowardice.

The Paapst family is home that evening. Siebrand Paapst is sixteen. He lives with his mother and father in the house next to the grocery store. (…) The Bierumerheekt cuts through the village. The Germans blew up the bridge, delaying the Allies' advance. By ten o'clock everyone is in bed. Then a loud crack is heard. Two German soldiers kicked in the door. Siebrand and his father Tidde have to come along and bring blankets. They are taken to the Reformed Church. The house of worship is a target of the Allies. There is a machine gun in the turret that regularly gives short bursts. The villagers hide under the covers from the falling rock and glass. Every now and then the sounds of the war fade away for a while. Two Germans are carried away on a stretcher. They have a blanket over them. They are dead. Shrapnel cut the steel wires of the bell weights.

They crashed down and crushed the soldiers. It will be April 28. Two neighbors approach Tidde. To congratulate him. Because today is his birthday. A German soldier sees the congratulations. He looks very young. He walks over to Tidde and offers him two cigarettes and a cigar. The soldier sits down next to father. He smiles. Moments later he starts to cry. And doesn't stop. Then he grabs his gun, puts the barrel against his chin and pushes Tidde's hand against the trigger. He has to shoot. But he refuses. He's looking forward. The next morning at seven the villagers are released.

The Canadian Perth Regiment launches the attack on Holwierde around April 20. The village and its surroundings are under fire from the four German guns of the battery Nansum. The village was liberated at the end of April. After the battle, the regiment counted eight dead and 24 wounded. Holwierde is heavily damaged. Paapst: 'A total of sixty Germans were killed.' Among them is the young German who had offered his father the cigarettes and cigar. "He was shot dead by his comrades. He couldn't stop crying.'

'After they released us, they executed him in the church. Apparently, he knew he wouldn't survive that night. We later learned that he had hidden a suicide note for his family in the Bible in the pulpit. The pastor then sent this letter to his family in Germany. He was buried outside the church by his comrades. Later he was put in a mass grave with the other dead Germans. The bodies were later exhumed and transported to Germany.'

Hoofdweg 29, 9905 PA Holwierde