Thursday, January 29, 2015

WW2 | 6. Armed Resistance: Jan Canada and Sons (Updated Feb. 9, 2016)

Jan "Canada" Boissevain.
Thanks to Mick de Groot for
 permission to use. 
Jan 29, 2015 — The Dutch Army fought as long as it could, but after the bombing of Rotterdam it became clear that there was no other option but formal surrender.

However, a Resistance effort started immediately. The riskiest activity was armed attacks on Nazi bureaus and individuals. This unit destroyed records that could be used to deport people, or seized documents that could help create fake IDs, or retaliated against individuals who had showed extraordinary brutality.

The family of Jan "Canada" Boissevain was at the center of one of the most renowned of these armed groups, known as CS6, after its address, CorelliStraat 6. In Amsterdam in February, I visited their famed house with Charles Boissevain. It is a private residence, so we did not try to go inside.

In this house, the father and two sons and several cousins were deeply involved in the most dangerous work of the Dutch Resistance - armed responses. The three leaders were Jan "Canada" and his two eldest sons Janka and Gi.

Jan "Canada" Boissevain

Jan "Canada" Boissevain. Thanks to his
grandson Mick de Groot for permission to
use this rare family photo.
Jan "Canada" Boissevain (1895-1945) (NP p. 55) provided a basement workshop and storage for the CS6 group in his Amsterdam house.

Jan's Resistance work was discovered before that of his sons and he was deported via Westerbork to the Buchenwald death camp, where he died on January 30, 1945.

Jan was born in Westmount, Montreal on May 14, 1895, son of Charles Daniel Walrave Boissevain (1866-1944) (NP p. 55), who spent the years 1895-1901 in Montreal as the Dutch Consul-General and died in Geneva, Switzerland.

Because of the Canadian connection and because of the large number of people called "Jan" in the family, he was called Jan "Canada" by his relatives. Jan Canada's father Charles Boissevain was the son of Jan Boissevain (1836-1904) (NP p. 52), a ship-owner, son of Gideon (1796-1875) (p. 48) and brother of Charles Boissevain the Handelsblad editor.

Mies van Lennep Boissevain

Mies van Lennep Boissevain, c. 1980.
Jan's wife Adrienne Minette ("Mies") van Lennep Boissevain (1896-1965) (NP p. 56) had already been active in fighting the Nazis in 1933-1940, before Hitler invaded Holland, when she and her sister Hester van Lennep brought large groups of Jewish children from Germany to the Netherlands.

Until 1939, she and Jan lived at Keizersgracht 484 where she welcomed a Jewish boy in this larger home. When they moved to a smaller house on Corellistraat, there was no room for Theo Olof any more. When the Nazis started on their Blitzkrieg,  young Theo tried to escape to Switzerland. Instead, he spent the war years in Belgium. Theo's mother stayed in Holland and was deported and killed. Theo came back to Holland after the war and became a well-known violinist and conductor.

Mies's whole family, says her second cousin once removed Hester Boissevain Grinberg, put on a brave face against the Nazi occupiers, calling them with the abusive term "Moffen" (equivalent in English to "Krauts").

Jan and Mies's basement had forging equipment to create fake identification for Jewish children. The family of the photographer Chris van Dijk has recently provided negatives to the Amsterdam Stadsarchief showing photos used by CS6 to prepare documents. The Goldberg family sheltered by Bob Boissevain, cousin of Jan "Canada", is among these photos.

When the CS6 was betrayed, the Nazis searched the Corellistraat house and found a large cache of ammunition and verboten supplies used by the Resistance, such as the forgery equipment.

Because she was active with the reception of Jewish children and giving help and food to prisoners, Mies herself became a prisoner in the Vught and Ravensbrück camps. Her health was very poor, but she still had the optimism to be everyone's support, in her family and in the camps, where she was given the nickname "Mammie".

Janka and Gi Boissevain

Jan Karel (Janka) Boissevain
Jan and Mies's two eldest children were very brave young men - Jan Karel (Janka) Boissevain (1920-1943) and Gideon (Gi) Boissevain (1921-1943). They founded CS6. Both are included in the List of the Fallen in the Resistance.

They were in 1943 their Resistance group CS6 (named after their parents' address) was betrayed by Matthijs Ridderhoff. Janka and Gi were arrested and shot by a Nazi firing-squad.

Janka scratched the family motto (Ni regret du passé, ni peur de l'avenir - "No regret for the past, nor fear of the future") on the wall of the prison where they were held. It is on his tombstone at the Heroes' Cemetery at Overveen, the Netherlands.

The message was discovered later. It reassured the family that the two boys went to their death bravely and with intent to communicate with their family.

These two young Boissevains took seriously the Roman principle: Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori. - Sweet and right it is to die for one's country. (Horace, Odes, III.2.13.)

My sister Sheila advised me in May 2015 that Janka and Gi tried to escape from Holland in a boat made out of barrels. The next month I received confirmation of the story from Charles Boissevain, youngest son of Bob Boissevain. He translated for me from Theo Olof's memoir as follows, with his own comments in square brackets:
Gideon (Gi) Boissevain
Janka and Gi make plans to escape to England. In summer 1940, two months after the [Dutch] capitulation, they build a small boat to bring them to the UK. They construct the boat, which they call "Diogenes", out of two big oak wine barrels, in the basement of CorelliStreet 6. With the help of the municipal cleansing service the boat is put into the water next to the nearby Van Ruysdael Quay. After making needed adaptations they make the long journey to the Waddensea [in the North, a rather difficult trip!] to reach the Terschelling Island [to go from there to England]. On the Waddensea, a German patrol boat spots and catches them. The Germans take the boat to Terschelling. The boat and their passports are confiscated. Miraculous decision: Janka and Gi are set free and get permission to return home. A visit from the director of the North- and South-Holland Life Saving Society (Noord- Zuid-Hollandse Redding Maatschappij), Thomas de Booy, may have played an important role. [Charles Boissevain says: Uncle Tom doubtless told the Germans that they were only silly students who were deluded that they could reach the Terschelling resort island in such a primitive boat, or maybe it was the result of a students' bet. Enough to convince, with a laughing smile, the Germans!]
[Need more stories about the childhood of Janka and Gi!]

Letter from Pauline van Till
Den Haag, July 2, 2015
Hi Charles Boissevain, Hi John,
John, I am writing a book about the Engelandvaarders [England-bound travelers] who tried to cross the North Sea [from Holland]. It will be published by the end of this month. So Thank You for sending details [about Janka and Gi's attempt to go to England via wine barrel].
In total just over 1700 Engelandvaarders reached England.
- 528 went to Stockholm
- 172 made it crossing the North Sea (about 330 failed); Gi & Janka were arrested but released, they were very lucky.
- The others went over land (most went to Switzerland or Spain). ...
After Gi, Janka, Louis Boissevain and several other of the CS-6 group were executed in the dunes near Overveen they were buried in a mass grave. Their present graves are at the Erebegraafplaats Bloemendaal.
One detail I still miss, is the exact date they left and the date they were arrested. Do you know?
Best regards,
Pauline van Till
What Happened to the Family Members During the War

Jan "Canada" Boissevain (1895-1945) was sent to concentration camps in Vught, Holland and Buchenwald, Germany, where he died. His wife Mies (Adrienne Minette) Van Lennep Boissevain (1896-1965) was with her husband at Vught, and was then sent to Ravensbrück in Germany, where she barely survived. Their two eldest sons Jan-Karel (Janka, 1920-1943), and Gideon (Gi, 1921-1943), were shot by the Nazis at Overveen on October 1, 1943.

The other three children - who were involved in Resistance activities, but less intensively - were Francois (Frans, 1922 - 1981), who survived Vught but was very sick when he came home; Anna Maria (Annemie, later Van Asbeck) and Sylvia (later De Groot), who were hiding with friends in Amsterdam and survived.

A cousin, Louis Daniël Boissevain (1922-1943), also belonged to the CS6 Resistance group and was shot by the Germans with Janka and Gi Boissevein on October 1, 1943.

Louis' sister Thea (Margaretha) Boissevain (1917-2001), survived the concentration camp Vught.

Mies's sister Hester van Lennep Baračs, as mentioned, was also involved. She hid Jewish children including a 10-day-old baby who grew up to become the Israeli painter Benny Peleg. He came up from Rehovot to attend the opening night of the exhibit in Haifa, Israel about the Boissevain family's World War II story.

Letter from Jan Canada to his Daughter Annemie

In May 2015 I recently received from Charles Boissevain the following letter from Jan Canada Boissevain, translated from the Dutch by the writer's grandson, Jan van Asbeck.

Jan Canada was then in the Vught Concentration Camp in Holland. He was incarcerated there with his wife Mies ("Mum" in this letter) Boissevain and their son Frans. Jan Canada wrote two-page letter in ink that was smuggled by the Dutch Underground from him to his daughter Annemie, who was secretly staying with family friends in Amsterdam.
To: Miss A.M. Boissevain
Hacquartstraat 14
Amsterdam (South)

Dear Annemie,
I just spoke to Mum [Mies]. It was not so easy to meet her but everybody was helpful. She is coping bravely and I managed to get her a job as massage nurse in the hospital. Could you let Fri Hall [???] know that her brother-in-law will be supervising Mum there.

Frans is much easier for me to meet with. Each evening he stands waiting for me with like a hungry seal with his shaven head, when I can give him some bread. Yesterday directly after the ending of the parcel blockade [Paketsperre] I got a standard parcel from Kath. S. [Katherine Sillem, daughter of Theo(dora J.) Boissevain Sillem, NP p. 79, who lived near Jan's home in CorelliStraat 6 that gave the name CS6 to the armed Resistance group led by Janka and Gi]. Could you tell her that this arrived in good order and thank her very sincerely for that. I’m trying to arrange that Frans, when the quarantine has ended next week, will be relocated to my barracks. That should be possible. So in the meantime, only send parcels to me.

I’m still using the box with your message "Hi Papsje [Daddy], kisses from Pipsje" [nickname for Annemie] and I get those each morning and evening. 
They hadn’t told Mum anything in Amsterdam and she heard the terrible news from Frans in the train [October 6, 1943 from Amsterdam to Vught]. Frans was allowed to say goodbye to his brothers [September 30, 1943; they were allowed five minutes together and had to speak in German]. 
Jan-Karel [Janka] told Frans - "Till now you were the youngest son, now you are the oldest. Look after Mum."  He was fully prepared and faced his death with open eyes. I spoke to the man who shared his cell, and to another who shared Gideon’s cell, and they totally agreed on that point. They died with dignity for a just cause and I am trying to see that we are worthy of them. [Jan-Karel and Gideon were shot on the Overveen dunes on the morning of October 1, 1943 and are buried in the Heroes' Cemetery; their graves are shown in the photo].

I also spoke to Fr. v H. [Frits van Hall (1899-1945), a sculptor and Resistance fighter, first cousin of Gijs and Wally van Hall; he was killed by the Nazis. Frits' sister Suzy van Hall (1907-1978), a dancer, was the lover and partner of sculptor and Resistance hero Gerrit van der Veen.  He was killed by the Nazis; she died in 1978, with his picture on her heart. As an orphan at the age of 4 she was brought up in the house of Aat and Nella Boissevain van Hall.], Pl, and Dr H, who also arrived here, with his wife. Fr. would be very grateful for a pair of warm socks; would you be able to find a pair of those? He walks barefoot in his clogs now and that is very painful. 
I just received your letters from October 2 [1943], which are very comforting to me...  comforting that we all see this in the same way, none of us denying their heroic  death. You all have understood my feelings completely, but my deepest feeling is that they haven’t wasted their lives. 
I didn’t see Wies [Gideon’s girlfriend], she wasn’t there (when they were arrested), but I did see Jeanne [Nanny] and Madeleine. 
I can so easily imagine how Gideon confronted them, with his sharp tongue, telling them everything that we would never have dared. 
There was no trial. After the preliminary investigation, an officer arrived from Berlin who after reading the transcriptions of the interrogation decided alone who should be executed. At first there were 20, but that Friday morning they sent back the last one, who had shared Gideon’s cell, and already stood in the line-up. The remaining 19 were taken away. Mum is brave. This morning she gave her 33 fellow-prisoners fitness training and she will be able to cope better here in the prison camp than in jail. 
She was very pale but her spirit was strong. When the doctor asked about her health and said, "How are your teeth?" she answered with the classic but untranslatable Dutch expression: "My teeth are fine and they actually have hair", which indicates her intention to fight off any attackers. This expression spread through the camp like wild fire and was whispered to me a few hours later when we were lined up for inspection. 
So her spirit hasn’t been broken in these two months. Her hair is much greyer. You can’t imagine the support I receive from the tact and friendship of my fellow prisoners. 
Everyone helped me in their own way to overcome my feelings of devastation, confusion and deep grief. 
Yesterday when I had to crawl under the wire fence to reach Mum it was just like the Hans Christian Andersen fable where the maids of honor make a circle around the princess when she had to kiss the swineherd. There are many other people here who have lost a son or brother for the good cause and who know what I am going through.
Will you also thank Sylvia for her loving words. You can only so deeply understand someone’s ideas and emotions when you really love them. I was following precisely those ideas and now I trust that God has a place for our young heroes and that we have to accept this terrible loss. 
We have rich memories and the comfort that that there was never disagreement or lack of unity in our small family. We wanted the same and will achieve that, and we will benefit from their sacrifice. The freedom they died for will be ours, I’m sure of that. Be careful darlings. We will all three of us be with you again soon. Courage and trust. Greetings for Oene and N.
Loving hugs from your
Dad and Frans

Mies Boissevain: Mentioned several times by Dr. Louis (Loe) de Jong (1914-2005) in his official history of Holland in World War II (pp. 1-489, 6-338, 8-871, 8-924 and 9-529).

Explosives under Corellistraat 6Charles Boissevain, email, Feb. 8, 2015.

Tribute to Mies by Bob Boissevain: Boissevain Family website.

Story of Janka and Gi going to sea in barrels: Charles Boissevain, email, June 2015.   (This story may be the basis for the drawing by Hilda van Stockum, niece of Tom de Booy and Hilda Boissevain de Booy, of Kersti, in Kersti and St. Nicholas, floating in a barrel.)

Letter from Jan Canada: Found and translated by Jan Canada's grandson Jan van Asbeck and published here by his kind permission.

Other Chapters of the Story

The above post is a draft of a chapter of a forthcoming book.  To see the chapter outline go to The Boissevain Family in the Dutch Resistance. If you find any broken links, the author would appreciate knowing - send email to john (at)