The original article first appeared in AVOTAYNU, the International Review of Jewish Genealogy, Vol. XXXV, no. 2, Summer 2019.
End May 2018 I made contact, through MyHeritage (which is a very valuable tool for at least first contacts if not more), with descendants of one of my great-grandmother’s siblings from the Strauss family.
During one of our conversations via e-mail, the resistance work of a mutual relative during the second world war in The Netherlands came up. I knew through one of my uncles notes that his name was Edgar Kan, he fought in the Dutch resistance and he was born in 1928, Edgar was my maternal grandmother’s cousin. My new-found cousin wanted to know more about the resistance work, and how Edgar came to be murdered.
Useful session at the Famillement conference:
I was lucky to have joined a conference in the same week as when our mutual interest in Edgar’s resistance was raised. On Sunday (June 3rd, 2018) I went to the Famillement-conference which is about genealogy in Leeuwarden in the Northern province Friesland of the Netherlands. The Famillement is:
[…] the biggest event in the field of family history in the Netherlands. It is a free event that has a lot to offer to both laymen and advanced people in the field of (family) history. Leeuwarden has been chosen as the site in 2018 since the city was then the cultural capital of Europe. The CBG cooperates with Tresoar and the Historisch Centrum Leeuwarden (HCL) for the organization of the event. The next Famillement will take place on Sunday 3 June 2018 in Leeuwarden at Stadsschouwburg De Harmonie, Tresoar and HCL.
(Source: https://cbg.nl/famillement/, retrieved 7 June 2018)
One of the sessions was given by a researcher from the Tresoar who specializes in war-related sources. He provided us with a list of many sources. He explained that many files which were held by the Germans or composed elsewhere by other instances were destroyed during and after the war because of the warfare, but also deliberately by parties who had the interest to conceal their acts of collaboration and other war crimes. The speaker elaborated on several sources which could be consulted and, according to him, the sum of remaining sources still offers a possibility to form a quite complete picture. One of these sources is CABR, which was created after the war.
I had now a new source to check out. But first I’d like to elaborate on the Erelijst van Gevallenen 1940-1945.
Erelijst van Gevallenen 1940-1945 (Honour Roll of the fallen 1940-1945):
Since 1960 the Honour Roll of the fallen 1940-1945 can be found in the entrance hall of Binnenhof 1a of the Dutch House of Representatives (Tweede Kamer der Staten-Generaal). This document lists the names of those who gave their lives as soldiers or resistance fighters for the Kingdom of the Netherlands in the Second World War. Each day a person from the Tweede Kamer turns a page to reveal new names to the public.
The Netherlands Institute for War Documentation (NIOD) has seen to it that all of these alterations in the text were calligraphied. Eventually, the quality deteriorated to such a degree that NIOD no longer has changes and additions made on paper. The calligraphic Honour Roll on paper will continue to exist as a monument.
The possibility of making changes and additions must be preserved. For this reason NIOD has decided to digitize the document and publish it online. By order of the Tweede Kamer and NIOD a website was built where everybody can consult the Honour Roll. Visitors can submit their suggestion for alterations, additions, or applications using the contact form on the site.
(Source: https://www.erelijst.nl/en/the-honour-roll-of-the-fallen-1940-1945-a-brief-history, retrieved November 6, 2018)
I found Edgar’s name in the online edition of the list: http://www.erelijst.nl/edgar-henri–kan:
place of birth: Oldenzaal
date of birth: June 24, 1921
place of death: Amsterdam
date of death: Janaury 6, 1945
Edgar’s name also appears in the physical copy of the ‘Erelijst van gevallenen 1940 – 1945’:
Before I found that, my sources from up until then, told me that Edgar died in 1945 and that his father was Henri. But according to the Erelijst, it seemed that he died in 1943 and that his full name was Edgar Henri Kan. In the Netherlands, it is not very unusual to have the father’s name as a patronym. That would still be a very reliable match, considering all the other information I had, and the new information I have found by then.
Now I knew indeed that his full name was Edgar Henri Kan and that he was an electrician. But I just wanted to know more, in what circumstances did he die? Let’s get back to the CABR files.
The website of the National Archives explains more about the CABR collection which is held by them:
After World War II, hundreds of thousands of Dutch citizens were tried under the provisions of special criminal jurisdiction. They were accused of collaborating with the occupying German forces, treason or membership of the National Socialist Movement (NSB). The Central Archives for Special Criminal Jurisdiction (CABR) have a file on all these people. These large archives, four kilometers in length, are stored at the Nationaal Archief.
The CABR files have been open to the public since 2002. In the interests of privacy, the Nationaal Archief exercises discretion in all cases concerning individuals who are still alive. This mainly applies to those individuals for whom a file is present. But nearly every file also mentions the names of other people who may still be alive, such as relatives, neighbors, witnesses, victims and fellow villagers. We do our best to protect the privacy of these individuals as well.
Source: http://www.gahetna.nl/en/q-and-a/research-guides/looking-for-someone-the-central-archives-for-special-criminal-jurisdiction, retrieved November 3, 2018.
CABR came recently (October 2018) up in the news. The organization Onderzoek Oorlogsmisdaden (https://www.onderzoekoorlogsmisdaden.nl), headed by journalist Arnold Karskens, filed a petition to get the law changed pertaining to privacy rules in regards to these files. Currently, only if can be proved that the person of which you’d like to check the files died or are older then 100 years, the files may be accessed by the requester. Karskens and Wiesenthal consider it in some cases may be the last opportunity to expose war criminals. Karskens further relates to current ISIS war criminals, they should not consider themselves secured by similar privacy rules. “They should never start to think that they are not being prosecuted with the passage of time or because of their privacy.”
(Sources: https://www.parool.nl/amsterdam/-geef-toegang-tot-archief-oorlogsmisdadigers~a4605830, https://www.jta.org/2018/10/19/news-opinion/dutch-activists-seek-release-archive-holocaust-war-criminals).
I sent in a request for permission to get access to any relevant file in which Edgar Kan’s name would appear. First, you have to send in the name of the person, and they’ll reply whether they could indeed find the name. The Nationaal Archief has access (the general public has no access to that database, even with permission) to an internal database with the names of resistance victims that appear in the CABR files (Verzetsslachtoffers Centraal Archief Bijzondere Rechtspleging). They found the name, they also can see in which CABR file it appears. In order to get access to the file, you need to provide them with proof that the person is not alive. They accepted my proof which I took from the website of the aforementioned Erelijsten. Since the list does not include names of living people, and the date of when Edgar died is clearly mentioned, they accepted it.
Just as a side note: Even though they replied positively to my request that they found Edgar’s name in the database, the database still does not show the exact location. That could mean long hours at the archives. In the case of Edgar, they told me that his name appears in the file of Willi Lages who was a Dutch war criminal. Lages’ file contains 9 boxes! Box I to box IX.
At the Nationaal Archief:
I went Thursday, November 1, 2018, to the Nationaal Archief of The Netherlands where the CABR files are held.
When I arrived, they showed me the table where I would be allowed to check the files. A long table, reserved for files which are still closed to the general public. At the head of the table, an employee of the archives was seated. When someone new arrived at the table to check the files with a computer or tablet, he stuck a sticker on the webcam. No photographing whatsoever was allowed at that table. He also requested very politely to put my phone in my pocket. I did what I was asked. They were really very gentle (there was a minor administrative issue, which they solved internally and I received for that minor delay a voucher for a coffee in the cafeteria).
I received the first three boxes since only three boxes could be borrowed at a time. I started browsing through the first box. There were really huge files in that box. Some files contained really very detailed testimonies about what happened during the war with victims during their contacts with the Nazis, the hiding, resistance fighters, etc.
When I finished the first box, quite some time has passed, and I still didn’t find Edgar’s relevant records. Would I need to check all 8 boxes, in order to find it in the last box? I hoped not! In the second box, also with many files, I also did not find the name. At the third box, I got lucky, I found it (in folder 140III B)!
It is just unbelievably amazing how accurately the Germans have recorded everything, and which later was used as evidence. Read on:
(the following sources were written in Dutch, I have translated it into English)
What I found was a list which was part of a “fusilleringsmap” (fusillation folder). The map contained lists with names of executed names. Two groups, numbered 23 and 24, with in each five names, were executed on January 6, 1945. Edgar kan was part of group 24. The commander of Edgar’s firing squad was J.F. Stöver. Member of the firing squad and in charge of the roadblock were B. Swagers and S. Tiepel.
Edgar, whose address was Leidsekade 99hs in Amsterdam, had an alias: Beckmann. His group was killed for reprisal on a bomb attack on the Regional Employment Office in Amsterdam. The other group with 5 people (group 23) was killed for reprisal on an attack on the Amsterdam-Hilversum railroad. The list also mentions were he was burried, in Overveen (Overveen lies on the eastern fringe of the North Sea dunes, about 30kms from Amsterdam).
Another list in the file, composed after the war, contains information about: “Names of executed Dutchmen who were buried in the dunes in Overveen through the intervention of Bleekmolen”:
Kan Eggar (sic) Henri, born in Amsterdam 24 June 1921, lived on Molenbeekstraat No. 14/I in Amsterdam _________O8
During a police interrogation on 26 June 1945, Van Bleekmolen, who was an undertaker, told the following, among other things:
I am called: Joannes Bartholomeus Josephus Maria BLEEKENMOLEN, born in Amsterdam, October 5, 1898, an undertaker by profession, living Da Costakade No. 85 in Amsterdam. […] In 1936 I became a member of the N.S.B. and always been a member. My wife, I believe, joined the N.S.B in 1940. My daughter is, as far as I know, not a member of the N.S.B. I became a member of the N.S.B., because I thought that via the N.S.B. a better future for the workers would come. […] On the same date (7 January 1945) I also removed 10 bodies from the city of Amsterdam. 5 bodies lay on the Muiderstraatweg near the railway viaduct, and 5 bodies lay opposite the Spiegelschool on the Marnixstraat. I have buried these corpses in the dunes in a burial pit designated by you as “O”[…]
And somewhere else in the file:
Johan Friedrich Stover born in Bremen (Germany) August 9, 1899, ex-Kriminalsekretar der Sicherheitspolizei, a detainee in the house of detention II in Amsterdam, declared: […] The fusillation was always carried out in the place where some sabotage was done and was meant as a deterrent. I usually did not know which acts of sabotage were involved. Sometimes I took billboards from Amsterdam and brought them to the mayor of the municipality in question. The mayor then had to make sure that the notes were posted in clearly visible places within his municipality. The notes contained an open announcement that people had been executed.
Both Van Bleekmolen and Johan Friedrich Stover claimed their innocence. Van Bleekmolen claimed that he was simply an undertaker, and Johan Friedrich Stover claimed that he did his job as a soldier under a higher command, and could not refuse as that would mean his own demise.
My post-visit research at home:
When I arrived home, I searched the Internet for more information about those dates. What I found was the following:
On Friday, January 5, 1945, the registration of labor had begun within the framework of the Liese-Aktion – a German action aimed at recruiting Dutch men for the German occupation. The resistance in Amsterdam wanted to counteract this registration. ‘Every Dutch citizen who reported himself released a German for the front and that had to be stopped.’
In the evening of 5 January, the Knokploeg, the Council of Resistance and the Ordedienst attacked nine German-speaking employees of the Regional Employment Office (GAB). Six employees died, three were seriously injured. Shortly after, the resistance set fire to the Spieghelschool in the Marnixstraat where the labor registration took place. Two days later, the resistance exploded a bomb in the Koningin Emmaschool on the Passeerdersgracht, the new location for labor registration.
The German occupier reacted immediately. On 6 January, five “Todeskandidaten” (Prisoners who were sentenced to death and could be shot at any time by the Germans as a retaliation for any act) from the House of Detention were taken to the Weteringschans as reprisal for setting fire to the Spieghel School. They were shot dead in front of the burnt out school building. The attack on the nine German-speaking GAB employees had not yet been punished. To the perpetrators, a more extensive police investigation was carried out by the Sicherheitspolizei.
(Source: http://monument-rozenoord.nl/18-januari-1945, retrieved November 5, 2018)
One of those 5 “Todeskandidaten” was Edgar. Now we know how Edgar came to be killed, but why was Edgar in first place imprisoned? How was he captured?
I had checked Edgar Kan before on Joodsmonument.nl. Joodsmonument.nl is a website which serves as an online monument and which commemorates the more than 104,000 persons who were persecuted for being Jews in the Netherlands and who did not survive the Holocaust. I thought to remember not to have found any relevant information about his activities in the Dutch resistance. I checked again. I was apparently wrong because there was quite some background information about how Edgar Kan came to be captured after one of the brave acts of his resistance group (sometimes it pays off to check and recheck again):
Edgar Henri Kan was married. The couple had no children. They lived in Amsterdam. He was a wholesaler in rags and scrap metal.
Edgar Henri Kan belonged to the Interior Forces, region 10/Amsterdam. He carried out various resistance activities: being a member of the Knokploegen (heavies team), transport of weapons and ammunition, co-operation on the illegal publication ‘Het Parool’. He took part in an attack on Klene’s Confectionery factory to seize food for people in hiding. This went wrong and he was picked upon 5 January 1945.
On 4 January 1945, the resistance shot down a few NSB officers who worked in the Spieghelschool at the Amsterdam Marnixstraat near the Leidseplein. The school was at that time in use as a check-in post for the Arbeitseinsatz. In retaliation, Edgar Henri Kan and 25 others were executed by firing squad on 5 January 1945.
NIOD, Erelijst Verzet en Koopvaardij, database made by J.W. de Leeuw
(Source: https://www.joodsmonument.nl/en/page/520171/about-edgar-henri-kan, retrieved on November 5, 2018)
Joodsmonument.nl also refers to the website of the Bloemendaal cemetery, were Edgar was reburied after the war.
The Bloemendaal Cemetery has the following about Edgar H. Kan :
Grave number: 27
Full of enthusiasm he gave his life for the homeland
born: June 24, 1921 in Oldenzaal
died: January 6, 1945 in Amsterdam, aged 23 years
marital status: married
profession: trader in rags in Amsterdam
location: memorial stone 1
Edgar Kan worked with his father in his lump sorter in Amsterdam. On 11 March 1943 Kan and his wife, both Jewish, went into hiding because of the danger of deportation. Because of his non-Jewish appearance, Kan could move freely on the street.
From his time in hiding, Kan was involved in the stenciling and distribution of the illegal magazine Het Parool and the daily news bulletins published since September 1944. In this context, he collaborated with, among others, Paul Hartman, one of the driving forces of the news bulletin organization in Amsterdam, and his brother Jonas Kan. He also helped other people in hiding with ration cards and identity cards.
In 1944 he joined an armed group of the Personal Identity Center (PBC). The PBC made fake ID cards and other official documents. In the hunger winter of 1944-1945, the armed group of the PBC was involved in various burglaries in food storage places.
Arrest and murder:
On 5 January 1945 the group carried out an armed robbery at the Chocolate and Sugar Products Factory Klene & Co in Amsterdam to obtain a large batch of sugar. Because the wife of Klene’s caretaker suspected that a burglary was taking place, she warned the police.
When they arrived, a gunfight followed in which one of the resistance fighters was killed and Kan and the others were arrested. They were transferred to the House of Detention in Amsterdam and put on the list of Todeskandidaten who were eligible for reprisals.
The next day he was shot dead with four other participants in the resistance act at the Spieghel School in Amsterdam as a reprisal for the fire of that school. The bodies were provisionally buried in the dunes near Overveen by order of the occupying forces.
Kan’s wife survived the war. His father died on 21 May 1943 in the extermination camp Sobibor in Poland.
(Source: https://www.eerebegraafplaatsbloemendaal.eu/edgar-henri-kan, retrieved November 5, 2018)
I also mailed with NIOD (https://niod.nl), and they replied with information which I have mostly brought up already in this article. They added that Edgar was a member in the resistance group of Philip and Blonde Paul and that he was awarded (posthumous) the Verzetsherdenkingskruis. The Verzetsherdenkingskruis, or in English:
The Resistance Memorial Cross or Resistance Commemorative Cross […] is a medal awarded in the Netherlands to members of the Dutch resistance during the Second World War.
The medal was instituted by Royal Decree (No. 104) on 29 December 1980, after the 35th anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands.
(Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Resistance_Memorial_Cross, retrieved November 8, 2018)
We seem to know now more about Edgar, which was our goal.
Although I could, apparently, have saved myself a trip to the archives, since Joodsmonument, and the Bloemendaal cemetery had the background information already. But I don’t consider my visit to have been for naught. That is because I have now seen the important CABR files for myself, I have also seen the original CABR source which is not always the same as derived sources, and I do feel that I have indeed a much better understanding of what happened than would be the case if I only would rely on the Internet. Oh yes, the excitement is not the same as if you would find derived sources and read about main sources instead of seeing the main sources for yourself. You just have to see it, to touch it, that is exciting!
Other files at the Nationaal Archief:
I did find other interesting documents in another file which contains correspondence with the Dutch consul in Israel. The file is available to the public and contains letters with the general public, mainly Dutch nationals, about private affairs. One of those letters contains correspondence with my grandfather and his brother-in-law about the repatriation of personal items of my great-grandfather (Joseph Gerstner) who unexpectedly died of a heart attack during a visit in Haifa. But that is maybe something for another time.