The Netherlands / Monument
The monument at the 'Three Pines' reminds the inhabitants of Velden (municipality of Arcen en Velden) of the general evacuation of the local population in January 1945.
The monument at the 'Three Pines' reminds the inhabitants of Velden of the general evacuation of the local population in January 1945.
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 occupier had taken a stand at two bridgeheads: one on the west bank of the Maas in North and Central Limburg and one in the area between Roermond and Susteren, bordered by the Roer and the Maas (also known as the 'Roer triangle'). In the following months, a heavy and bloody battle ensued on this front line, from which the civilian population suffered greatly.
In the evening of 13 January 1945, Velden's inhabitants were given an ultimatum: the next morning everyone had to leave for Straelen in Germany, where trains would be ready to take the evacuees to the northern provinces. This way, the area would be more defensible. Heinrich Himmler's daily order urged the military to: “Treat people well and remember they are Germans who will belong to the Empire in the future.” The next morning, the civilians were chased out of their homes and emergency quarters by 300 members of the Grüne Polizei (Green Police), with 25 kilograms of luggage per person.
Eight inhabitants of Velden tried to cross the Maas to the liberated west bank. Two of them were able to reach the other side with a canoe, but subsequent attempts failed. When one of the refugees jumped into the cold water, he was shot at by German soldiers. No one ever saw him again. The others were stopped on the east bank and taken to a German guard post to be executed. During the trip, one of the inhabitants of Velden fell into a trench. As a result, he and a fellow refugee who rushed in, ended up walking behind a German soldier. Together they overpowered the soldier and made him roll into a canal unconsciously. The next morning they left for Straelen with their relatives.
The road to Straelen was a harsh journey of eleven kilometres, through frozen snow with an icy north wind in the face. Pets walked along for a while, but eventually stayed behind, lonely and dazed. Barely crossing the border, processions of German horses and carts already met the advancing evacuees to plunder the houses and farms in Arcen, Lomm, Velden and Schandelo. The exhausted people were constantly hounded by the Grüne Polizei. In Straelen, people were only put in cattle wagons after hours of waiting. At the bottom of the wagons was a frozen mixture of cow dung, horse dung and straw, which melted under their warm bodies. The evacuees arrived in Groningen via Winterswijk and Zwolle, where they could tell their story in the concert hall De Harmonie (The Harmony). Afterwards, the evacuees were spread over many villages and hamlets. Only in the course of the month of May could most of them return to North Limburg.