The Netherlands / Monument
The Maria-Gelofte-Monument in Tegelen, Municipality of Venlo, is a reminder of a promise made on 26 December 1944 to place a statue of Our Lady in the municipality if Tegelen would be spared from the evacuation, famine and further war disasters of the Second World War.
The Maria-Gelofte Monument in Tegelen (municipality of Venlo) testifies to the fulfilment of a promise made on 26 December 1944 to place a statue of Our Lady in the municipality if Tegelen would be spared from evacuation, famine and further war disasters.
After a successful advance through northern France and Belgium, the Americans of the 30th infantry 'Old Hickory' had succeeded in liberating most of South Limburg. Then, on 17 September 1944, the Allies wanted to capture a bridgehead over the major rivers in the Netherlands from Belgium by means of a major offensive (operation 'Market Garden'). Airborne troops had to secure the bridges in North Brabant and Gelderland in a lightning-fast attack. From Belgium, ground troops had to advance over the captured bridges to the IJsselmeer.
Three complete divisions were dropped: the 101st U.S. Airborne Division at Eindhoven and Veghel, the 82nd U.S. Airborne Division at Grave and Groesbeek and the 1st British Airborne Division at Arnhem and Oosterbeek. For the Americans, everything went pretty well. The bridges over the Maas and the Maas-Waal canal near Heumen as well as most bridges near Eindhoven fell into their hands. After a hard battle, the Waal bridge near Nijmegen was also a success. But the Rhine bridge near Arnhem turned out to be one bridge too many. The British paratroopers were surprised by German armoured troops and had to retreat to the Betuwe after heavy losses.
On 19 September, the American advance also stagnated in South Limburg, a few kilometres north of Sittard. The front line now ran right through Limburg. In the following months, a heavy and bloody battle ensued in this area, from which the civilian population suffered greatly.
During the period from October 1944 to March 1945, approximately 90,000 people from North Limburg (east of the Maas) were evacuated to the three northern provinces. Among this large group of people were hardly any citizens from Tegelen. The twist of fate meant that Tegelen, Steyl and Belfeld were spared the displacement forced by the occupying forces. On 16 December 1944, SS-Oberführer Leffler had issued the evacuation order for Tegelen. In consultation with the Dutch authorities still present, the necessary precautions were taken. Tegelen's distribution office was set up as an evacuation office. On Christmas Day 1944, Leffler visited the town with the 'Christmas message' that everyone had to be ready for eviction. He called the situation in Tegelen as unsustainable as that in Venlo, where there was a dramatic food shortage. Tegelen had also taken in a large number of Venlo civilians who had fled the bombing of their city.
Yet it did not lead to an evacuation of the overcrowded municipality. The British had started a purge in Central Limburg to break the persistent German resistance. The aim was to push the occupier back behind the Roer river. The Allies then launched a combined operation from the north and the south. From the vicinity of Nijmegen, British units would make their way the south-east of the Rhine. From the Roer, newly directed Americans would advance to the front towards the north-east in order to keep the German troops locked in the Lower Rhine area. This development caused the occupier to suspend the evacuation of North Limburg and first send the bourgeoisie of Central Limburg to the northern provinces.
Tegelen's inhabitants were in an extremely difficult position. The overcrowded Tegelen was on the front line. In addition, the food supply had been critical for weeks. In this time of need, many people drew strength from their faith. In the covered air raid shelters, many a Tegelen family prayed rosary after rosary. Many attributed the cancellation of the evacuation to Mary's intervention.
On Boxing Day 1944, Father E. Keuller took a triple vow with three people from the bourgeoisie in the emergency chapel of the Tegelse hospital. If Tegelen were to be spared evacuation, famine and further war disasters, there would be no carnival for 25 years, a pilgrimage to a sanctuary of Our Lady would be undertaken and a statue of Our Lady would be placed in the congregation.
This last vow was fulfilled in 1948. In the newsletter of Tegelen, Steyl and the surrounding areas, the meaning of the monument was described as follows: “Things could have been so very different. Why has God spared us? It does not concern us to understand His decisions, but now that we have been spared, now that we have accepted precious gifts from His hands, it is fitting that we also have great gratitude.” This is a duty of honour.”