Civilian Story, Merum, Holland, Feb. 45
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Subject: Civilians near Merum, Holland, Feb. 45
Date:     29 Aug 2005
From:     Roy Pfennings , NL

Nine civilians for one month in "Sperrgebiet" (Area out of limit)

The hamlet Aan de Rijksweg in the village Herten is in the last month of war, februari 1945, the place of nine persons in hiding. They are hiding in the basement of a house since Saturday 3 februari. On that day the Germans want to transport the civilians that have escaped on the evacuation of the 25th of januari. It looks like the nine, 4 young men and 5 girls, cannot escape this time. The Germans expect that the British can penetrate the line every moment. This is because of the movement of troops behind the frontline between Echt en Linne. As one of the Germans says "Morgenfrüh ist der Tommy hier" (Tomorow the Tommy will be here). The nine decide, now it's a question of time to liberation, again to hide in the same house that in the meantime was cleared. There they would wait for the British. But the other day it stays quit at the front. The Tommies don't show up. Good advice is expensive. The nine conclude after twenty-four ours of impatient waiting, that it will be better if they don't show up but hide for a while, because the Germans are unpredictable when they find civilians in the "Sperrgebiet" (forbidden zone). As on the 11th of februari when the Germans run in four young men in the center of Herten where they were hiding. With them are the brothers Jan en Jacq Moors who are, suspected of espionage, excecuted that same evening.

Two bread

For the nine at the Rijksweg (National Road) it will be long days and nights. In the house they find some bags of meal and glasses of fruit. With this they stay alive for that time. The basement door gives access to the kitchen where they have a cooker. This is lighted every night with wood to bake two breads. The ration for the next day. Later, after liberation, they realized that the Germans never smelled or saw the smoke that came out of the chimney. Completely unnoticed they wouldn't be for those weeks. When they hear some noise on the upper floor, they know that there are Germans in the house. Once one of them came down the stairs to the basement, but left the hiding ones where they where and didn't report it.

Door to the hallway

The kitchen of the house gave access to the hallway. If the hallway door was completely opened, it covered the door to the basement, and because of this, the nine thanked their lives on the 26th of februari. US stormtroopers, 32 men strong, are heading through the Linner woods (Heide woods) for Merum. The persons in hiding saw how the Germans, who had occupied the factory complex of Natronchemie, are withdrawing in the direction of the Roer (Ruhr river). A couple of hours later they hear some shooting in the neighbourhood of their hiding place.

Not long after that, they hear the US stromtroopers entering the house, looking for a German sniper who shot at them from the upper floor. They don't discover the door to the basement which was covered by the hallway door. The hiding persons take advantage of this and clatter up the stairs. "Dutchmen, Dutchmen!!" they shout and raise their hands. A moment later they stand eye to eye with their liberators, who just would throw some grenades into the basement.

No man's land

The soldiers are settling in the house. When they leave in the evening, they let the persons in hiding know: "Go to sleep. Tomorow there will be regular troops here". But the next day there is no sign of any US troops in the neighbourhood. Empty shells, some cigarette packs and K-rations are all that remains of their presence. For two days, 27 and 28 februari, the nine are in no man's land. On the morning of the 1st of march, they see through the fog the first US tanks on the Rijksweg (National Road). Now they dare to leave their hiding place. US soldiers in Jeeps take care of them on the roadside. They are sent to the south. On foot they walk to Maasbracht-station. In the former milkfactory they got their first pieces of white bread!!. On the day of liberation Herten is disconsolate and abandoned.

These are some pictures of the Natron Chemical Factory in Herten (Merum). I guess this is the complex where your squad was surrounded. The pictures are taken shortly after liberation.

Maybe these are the pictures you already have. They where published with the story above
(which I tried to translate) in a book "D-DAY in Midden-Limburg" that was published by the local newspaper in 1984.

Merum, Holland factory, Feb. 1945
Picture 1

Merum, Holland factory, Feb. 1945
Picture 2

Merum, Holland factory, Feb. 1945
Picture 3

Note: The above story relating events in Merum, Holland in Feb. 1945, was sent to me in an email from Roy Pfennings in Aug, 2005. Mr. Pfennings translated this item and sent it because it may be of interest.
    The second platoon of 58-C, commanded by Lt. Ralph Elias, captured one building in the this factory and then were cut off until the next day. The 'stormtroopers' referred to above were probably the third platoon of 58-C who captured the Heide Woods. 'Stormtroopers'?? I heard there were stormtroopers about but didn't know them was us!!! (OET)

More factory pictures supplied by Mr. J. J. H. van der Steen of the Netherlands:

Aerial view of Merum, Holland factory, Nov. 1944
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Aerial view of Merum, Holland factory, Feb. 1945
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Aerial view of Merum, Holland factory, Feb. 1945
Picture 6

Merum, Holland factory, 1986
Picture 7

Route of 58-C attack on Merum, Holland factory
Picture 8