Local man's aunt honoured as WWII hero in Holland - Nov. 17, 2016
BY DENNY SCOTT
This Remembrance Day marked a solemn occasion for Herman and Marlene Mooy of Blyth – the first Remembrance Day since Herman’s aunt Emmy Van Taack (nee Vroege), a Dutch war hero, passed away.
Mooy, who moved to Blyth four years ago, recently told The Citizen about his father, Reinier Mooij (anglicized to Mooy), and his aunt Van Taack who were members of the underground during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands in World War II, and explained how, in his motherland, the war is remembered much more vividly than it is here in Canada and how Canadians are honoured every year throughout the country.
Van Taack and Reinier worked against the occupying Germans through subterfuge, espionage and rescuing both persecuted Jewish peoples and allied soldiers caught behind enemy lines.
Reinier passed away in 2005 at the age of 88 while Van Taack passed away May 25 of this year at the age of 91.
Interred at Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Toronto, Van Taack was the focus of media attention for years after the war as she made it her goal for people to remember what happened under the yoke of Nazi oppression during World War II.
That media attention intensified, especially in the Netherlands, when she passed away earlier this year. Mooy has a collection of newspapers and television videos showcasing his aunt as she was recognized for her efforts.
Reinier was an administrator at a police station prior to the occupation and after the Nazis moved in, he remained at the station, administering ration cards for the Nazi regime while working for the underground at the same time.
However, not everyone was working to undermine and overthrow the Nazis, and Reinier’s work with the underground was revealed by someone either under duress or for their own gain. After being outed, he found himself on the run.
Until his betrayal, Reinier and his underground cell worked with other cells to liberate those trapped behind enemy lines. After being identified as a member of the underground, however, Reinier found himself seeking shelter from the Nazis just like those he had once helped out of the country.
Hiding under the floor at a friend’s house, Reinier was soon faced with a difficult situation. A betrayer had discovered his hiding place and brought the Nazis to the home. After a first sweep, the Nazis and the betrayer started to leave after not finding anybody.
Unfortunately, the betrayer was adamant about Reinier being there, repeating over and over again that he was sure he was in the home.
“By the time they got to the end of the driveway, however, they decided to do a second sweep,” Mooy said. “My father decided to try and make a run for it.”
Unfortunately, his flight would be cut short by two bullets in his hip, which would land Reinier in a hospital that the Nazis made sure he wouldn’t leave.
“His bullet wounds were infected and they weren’t sure if he would live or not,” Mooy said.
Live his father did, though, and, thanks to a pair of socks given to him by a guard who had to be convinced they weren’t part of an escape plan, he was able to escape from the hospital despite his injuries.
After finding refuge with a Catholic nun, he eventually made his way back to his friends who hid him from the Nazis. However, due to his injuries, his days of working for the resistance were over.
Fortunately, his sister-in-law Van Taack, who was a mere 14 years old at the time, was also a strong part of the underground.
Whether by retelling or by print, provided by underground printing presses, Van Taack was getting the word out about German positions, plans and the actions of the underground.
Van Taack, in a transcript of her experiences throughout the war presented at the Royal Canadian Military Institute (RCMI) in 2004, explained that her mother was always ready to help people during the war, even if they were sought by the Germans.
“She did not hesitate,” she said. “That was the start of our family’s involvement.”
From there, Van Taack said that it didn’t take long before fugitives from the Germans were being provided with identification and ration cards through a network of people in the community.
Van Taack spoke of the “secret” or “hidden” village, a location with dozens of underground hiding spots built to hide Jewish people, Allied pilots and soldiers and other fugitives from the prying eyes of the Nazis.
“Up to 80 people found a hiding place for a longer or shorter time,” she says of the village. “It was extremely difficult to keep an undertaking like this a secret. The people hiding there were not allowed to leave the grounds, but they had to receive supplies. Spies were everywhere.”
Despite some intense practices to keep the village hidden, which included never approaching the space from the same route twice as to not leave trails and hiding deliveries whenever possible, the location was eventually discovered. Thanks to early warnings, however most of the people in the village had already escaped prior to the arrival of the Nazis.
Van Taack was a courier, ferrying messages to and from members of the underground as well as gathering information from a hidden radio (as radios were forbidden under the Nazis) which would then be spread through the villages.
She told the tale of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, a hidden location that housed pilots and paratroopers who fell behind enemy lines. The site became her responsibility, and she had to find food and supplies for the eventual five soldiers housed there.
During this period, Mooy was born to Van Taack’s sister. The Germans sought both Mooy and his mother as a means of flushing out his father and so Mooy’s first weeks alive were spent in a box on the back of his mother’s bike moving from safe house to safe house under the cover of dark.
“The Germans were petrified of the dark,” Mooy said. “We had to go house to house, night after night until we found safety.”
Through her own brushes with betrayal, Van Taack was eventually detained, though a bout with Scarlet fever saw her moved to less secure location which proved to be the opportunity she needed to escape with help from her family and a sympathetic nurse.
After some tense weeks hiding who she was, Canadian forces starting pushing through the Netherlands, liberating what had been taken by the Germans. Van Taack said she remembers the Canadians coming through the highways, their tanks and waving soldiers a more-than-welcome sight.
She was the last of her friends who worked to undermine the Nazi occupation of her homeland, the others either not escaping the Germans or passing away after the war.
Van Taack’s final words in her address at the RCMI are about the Canadians who liberated her country and how they will never be forgotten.
“Every year on April 1, I go back to Holland to commemorate and celebrate the end of World War II in May, 1945,” she said. “On April 19, when my village was actually liberated, we lay wreaths for the Canadians.”
Van Taack goes on to explain how May 4, which is Remembrance Day in the Netherlands, is marked by flags at half mast and people walking to their local cenotaphs. May 5 is marked as Liberation Day when the country remembers all those who fought to make their homeland free and whole again.
Mooy travelled to the Netherlands for the 50th anniversary of the end of the war in 1995 and said it was an amazing experience. He and his family went to the Apeldoorn parade, which features Dutch veterans and citizens who lived through the occupation as well as honoured guests, like representatives of Canada.
“Canadians are welcomed everywhere,” Mooy said. “There is this reverance for anyone with a Canadian flag on their back.”
Mooy’s own family is also honoured because of the work they did during the war. He said, during his visits, he was honoured for simply being his father’s son, leading him to understand how well thought of his family was for the sacrifices they made during the war.
In a commemorative book that was put together by Herman’s wife Marlene, there is one hand-made flower, crafted from fabric, that one young boy was passing out, which Mooy says shows how connected the youth of the country are with what happened decades ago.
“Remembrance Day here is great,” he said. “There, though, people lived through dark days and they didn’t know how or when they would end. It’s a different experience.”
Next year, the Mooys will be making their way to Holland once again to mark the passing of Herman’s aunt and to honour the woman who saved many.