Oegstgeest during World War II

The Netherlands under attack

In 1940, Oegstgeest had less than one-half the inhabitants it has today while, at the same time, its ground surface area was more than twice as large. Its territory included the southern part of Leiden’s Merenwijk, Rijnsburg as far as the Sandtlaan, and in particular the area of Leiden south of the Wassenaarseweg as far as the Oude Rijn including Rhijnhof, Haagse Schouw, and part of Hoge Mors. This, however, had no effect on the number of Allies buried in Oegstgeest. Their numbers would have been no different had Oegstgeest had its present-day border. However, this was important regarding the number of Dutch servicemen who died in Oegstgeest on or soon after 10 May 1940, the first day of war. Many of the more than 60 individuals buried at the Groene Kerkje cemetery would not have been buried there had the limits of Oegstgeest not stretched as far as the Haagse Schouw.

Oegstgeest was situated directly in the middle of war territory. The German objective was to occupy The Hague, eliminate Dutch government, and take Queen Wilhelmina hostage. Their goal was to break Dutch morale in a single blow and thus win the war. With this object in mind, the Germans wanted to take control of the major traffic intersections and three airfields (i.e., Valkenburg near Oegstgeest, Ockenburg, and Ypenburg) in the vicinity of The Hague, using parachutists and airbourne troops from the 22nd Airbourne Division of the Luftwaffe. The Germans ordered 74 transport planes into this region: 12 carried parachutists and 62 carried other types of airbourne troops. Fifty-three German airplanes landed at the airfield Valkenburg, while the remainder were either shot down or landed on the beach or in the dunes.

 

In total, approximately 1200 German troops landed in the vicinity of Valkenburg. During the early morning hours of May 10th, inhabitants in Oegstgeest observed and heard what was happening, and Dutch troops were immediately dispatched into the area: from Oegstgeest the IVth Depot of the Mounted Artillery and a Depot Batallion of the Corps Mobile Artillery called the ‘Gele Rijders’ encamped at Castle Oud Poelgeest as well as soldiers from Leiden (mainly men still in training), Katwijk, Noordwijk, Sassenheim, Lisse, Hillegom and Haarlem. The fighting was fierce but successful. The airfield which had been taken unexpectedly by elite German troops was recaptured, and the Haagse Schouw which was also occupied by the enemy was won back with great personal courage. Forty-two percent of the German commissioned officers and 28% of their non-commissioned officers and other soldiers were eliminated. Almost all of the enemy aircraft were set alight or rendered unserviceable. Similar success stories were reported at the Ypenburg and Ockenburg airfields. The Hague remained free, and the German objective had failed miserably, although the village Valkenburg which had been badly damaged had fallen into German hands. It was therefore not through the fault of Dutch soldiers fighting in this area that The Netherlands was forced to capitulate on 14 May 1940.

More than 200 Dutch soldiers had died and were buried in surrounding villages, a large number of them being laid to rest at the Groene Kerkje cemetery in Oegstgeest or temporarily buried at the Postbrug, bordering on Sassenheim. This will be discussed later: see: Klaassens en Niemeijer.

Occupation of Oegstgeest

The Netherlands, and consequently Oegstgeest, had been occupied by German troops. This would have many deep and far-reaching consequences for the populace of Oegstgeest, as discussed in detail in the book Oegstgeest in bange dagen. Fellow townsmen who were Jewish would be deported to concentration camps and later murdered. Jews were forced into hiding, homes were requisitioned by the Germans, the town mayor was replaced by a German sympathizer, and the community council was made redundant. Curfew (during the evening and night) was imposed, metal objects such as church bells were confiscated for the benefit of the war industry, radios (television did not yet exist) had to be handed over, and the press was censored so that the citizenry could only be kept informed from a German perspective. Later, all adult men were obligated to take part in the ‘Arbeitseinsatz’ (forced labour) in Germany; anyone who refused was wise to go into hiding. It became much more difficult to obtain food which now had to be distributed. Therefore an organization was set up to regulate food distribution to people in hiding. Everyone had to be wary, even of his neighbor who might be a member of the NSB or willing to commit betrayal for any reason. Et cetera. Moreover, good things were also happening: i.e., complete strangers were helping each other, a tremendous solidarity prevailed, and later some people would even claim that they never had laughed so much as during the war years. However, that was not until after the war had ended.

One consequence of the war was the responsibility that must be taken to bury 15 Allied airmen who had crashed upon Oegstgeest soil. That was not always an easy task, because the Germans held the reins tightly concerning war burials. In the beginning, the Germans made certain that Allied airmen were buried with military honor; later during the war, bodies of the fallen were buried properly but without much ado.

 

Another consequence of the war was the development of an organized resistance movement, composed of both men and women who refused to put up with what was happening and who began taking part in active resistance, with or without a weapon in hand. During the first war years, such resistance was tentative and carried out on a small scale. Later, acts of resistance intensified as people met other individuals having similar ideas, resistance became more organized and plans were coordinated from England. Frequently, resistance activity involved providing the Allies with information, helping airmen who had crashed escape, or caring for many people in hiding (i.e., Jews, people trying to avoid forced labour in the German war industry, and resistance fighters themselves), et cetera. Towards the end of the war, the Binnenlandse Strijdkrachten (BS, Forces of the Interior) was established with the aim to help during liberation and maintain peace and calm thereafter. Many resistance fighters were captured, sometimes after being betrayed, by the Germans and executed by firing squad or by other means. One resistance fighter lies buried at the H. Willibrord Church and six others at the Groene Kerkje cemeteries.

The destroyed bridge of the 'Oegstgeester Kanaal', close to the 'Groene Kerkje', blown up in October 1944.