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In Search of Homosexuality and Resistance, Part 1

by Judith Schuyf in History & Politics , 26 juni 2018

Dit artikel is ook in het Nederlands beschikbaar


“That he (= the homosexual), out of love for the fatherland and for his fellow man was no less involved in bygone war years is more than clearly evident. There are, among other things, numerous accounts of persons in hiding being taken in and helped on by homosexuals. I know of numerous examples, one of which involves no less than eight Jewish countrymen being taken in by a homosexual couple, hidden and cared for, while putting their own lives at risk."


"But more than this, homosexuals were prominent in actively participating in the resistance movement, whereby many of them sacrificed their lives with such bravery that they even demanded the respect of the enemy.”

These words were written by the founder of the Dutch Emancipation Movement, Jacob Schorer, in 1946 in the epilogue of his brochure “Gelijkheid van Recht – ook hier!” (Equality of Justice - Also Here!) in which he, not for the first time, made an urgent appeal to the Dutch government to abolish article 248bis. He was thinking, no doubt, of Willem Arondéus, Sjoerd Bakker and Carel Peekelharing. And he was almost certainly thinking of Han Stijkel and a few members of his group.

This he wrote in April 1953 to his good friend and companion Jaap van Leeuwen: “Yes he certainly was one of us, and there were more in the Stijkel Group. I thought you knew that. I pointed it out in my ‘Equality of Justice”, though I didn’t mention any names, I would have thought it was obvious. He was a good friend of mine, and, together with François, he faithfully helped me in May 1940 to destroy the complete W.H.K. archive. He was always very diligent for our case. Requiescat in pace.”

Stijkel’s Background

Han StijkelIn the past few years, Arondéus, but also Bakker and Peekelharing, have received a great deal of attention; but the same cannot be said of Han Stijkel. If Schorer’s letter hadn’t been kept in Van Leeuwen’s archive, we may never have known that Stijkel was a homosexual. But what does that really matter?
Why should we need to know?
And at the same time: why don’t we know?

I pose this question not because I am trying to win new souls for the LGBT community as such, but because I think that the story of resistance in the Second World War is still relevant today, because history is not just black and white. History does not only consist of one dimensional heroes and villains. Reality was much more complicated, and so were reasons for joining the resistance.

What we now see as individual characteristics, such as gender, faith, sexual orientation, also play a part that, unfortunately, often remains underexposed. It can do no harm to repeat here what women history’s chroniclers have always known: what is personal is political, and political decisions matter. Because the question why people joined the resistance is even today still very relevant, maybe even more relevant than at any other time during the past decade.

Johan Aaldrik Stijken must have been a very complex person. His life is full of contradictions. He was very religious, which wasn’t uncommon in the Netherlands in the 1930s and 1940s. He was also a Freemason, and a homosexual. But above all Stijkel was extremely ambitious and it appears that he saw himself, even at a young age, as a leader of men.

Stijkel was born on October 8, 1911 into a Protestant family in Rotterdam. His father was a tailor who, by all accounts, had a very successful business that continued operating during the war years. The young Han attended a Christian school and had to take additional state exams to be allowed to attend university. He studied English language and literature at the University of Amsterdam, as this was not offered at the Christian university (Vrije Universiteit) at that time.

Schorer (right) According to a number of articles published in a Dutch newspaper he also studied Pedagogy and Sexology. That he studied Sexology is remarkable as this was not a course offered by universities at the time. Dutch sexologists were, at the time together with their German colleagues, mostly interested in homosexuality.

Schorer was the most important contact with German Sexologists such as Magnus Hirschfield. Both were of the opinion that science and knowledge were important factors in combating prejudice and legal inequality towards homosexuality.

The year that Stijkel started university his family moved to The Hague. Schorer, who also lived in the Hague, sent copies of annual report from the NWHK (The Dutch Scientific Humanitarian Society) to students. This is probably how Schorer and Strijkel met in 1932.

After Stijkel obtained his Bachelor Degree in 1937, he suddenly turns ups in Portugal so as to, in his own words, be able to contribute from there to the Spanish Civil War. It is still not entirely clear what he did there, although he apparently received a medal for his efforts from Portugal in 1938. This accolade of neutral Portugal in that period is also somewhat of a contradiction. On whose side was he on there? Certainly not the communists as he once told a fellow prisoner that he was the first communist he had ever met. He referred to himself as anti-revolutionary.

Triumvirates

During his time in Portugal, Stijkel allegedly developed a resistance strategy which he called the “triumvirates” strategy: If the Germans were to invade, and after what he had seen in Spain he had no doubt that they would, he would develop small cell units in different locations, each under the leadership of a triumvirate, formed by a representative of the military; the civil administration and the police.



Immediately after the German invasion of The Netherlands, Stijkel got to work. As mentioned, he helped, together with Schorer, in destroying the NWHK archives. Although the actual destruction was carried out by the domestic servant who used the paper to fuel the stove. Shortly hereafter he contacted a large number of prominent Dutchmen, starting with the Dutch Prime Minister Colijn, to who he presented his network plans. How could a young man from a relatively simple background successfully manage to achieve all this? Did his membership of the Freemasons open doors for him?

Colijn only received him due to the work he had done as a Christian, but thought it was too soon. He was afraid of German reprisals and preferred to wait for news from Britain, but he listened attentively nonetheless. In any case things were moving and Stijkel gathered evermore supporters as a direct result of the triumvirate system that he developed. Whether these were introduced by Colijn, as Dutch newspaper articles suggest, or whether they came through his network of young Christians we don’t know, but in 1940 contact had already been made with such prominent people as Mayor Ritmeester, the anti-revolutionary youth leader Schuerer and high placed military officers as Hasselman and Bolten.

Rotterdam May 14, 1940

Hasselman was the army’s director of Materials, and Bolten worked for the Navy’s Secret Service. These men clearly formed the nucleus of the Stijkel Group, precisely according to the principle of the triumvirate. The ambitious Stijkel saw himself as the most suitable leader of the national network, which brought him into conflict with Major General Hasselman, but even Hasselman had to agree that a young man would be much less likely to draw attention than an old general who had also had to promise to abstain from hostilities.

And so started Han Stijkel’s journey through the Netherlands under the assumed name of Dr. Eerland de Vries, expanding his network and collecting information. No doubt the title of doctor betrayed some secret ambition, and Eerland was the maiden name of his mother who died at a young age.

Diversity

There was no well-defined group as such. The Germans, for propaganda reasons, would later present it as a single group of around 150 people under the leadership of one man: Stijkel, to make it appear as if an enormous subversive network was at work. In reality there were numerous smaller groups at work who were all connected to each other through one or two contacts.

One of the headquarters was Stijkel’s home in The Hague, with a second headquarters in the Zaan area close to Amsterdam that had close contact with a few members of the recently founded “Ordedienst,” another resistance group.

We are able to reconstruct in reasonable detail who became involved in the resistance through whom, to make the whole seem larger than it really was, although that is going too far in this context.

The members of the various networks came from diverse backgrounds. There were connections with the Dutch East Indies through students studying East Indies’ Law; people from the military and the police, but also industrialists, merchants, and local government administrators. There was a Jewish layer and a Jewish representative. People from all walks of life.  Almost half the members were under thirty.

What started out as a Protestant movement soon involved people from all religions. The ultimate aim was to eventually develop these cells into groups that could maintain order once the Germans had been defeated, but as long as this wasn’t the case they were used to accumulate as much information as possible to help defeat the enemy. In other words: espionage.

The magnitude and the fragmented nature of this network also made it vulnerable to betrayal; and that is exactly what happened.


Betrayal and Arrest

All this happened soon after the war broke out and they were probably all brimming over with idealism, but they were also inexperienced and naïve. What they also didn’t take into account was that the spy game can be played from two sides. The network was swiftly infiltrated by the German Security Service, de “Sicherheitsdienst” (SD), who had agents everywhere including the Police Force in The Hague. Stijkel and his companions were being “played” by the SD through various channels. How exactly is still not clear. Each report on the matter names another culprit, but in any case, Stijkel walked into the SD’s trap while attempting to escape to Britain with espionage material he had collected.

SS MarchingAt first Stijker thought it too dangerous, but was pressured to go. He was led to believe that contact had been made through a police radio with the government in London. He was told that London insisted he bring the information to them as soon as possible in person. Two fishermen from the village of Katwijk were enlisted to facilitate his escape. In April 1941 Stijker set sail from Scheveningen Harbour, accompanied by two colleagues, a policeman and the infiltrator Van Wessel, who had presented himself as a rich half-blood Jew who urgently needed to get to Britain. Before they even left the harbour, they knew they had been betrayed; the harbour was cut off by the Germans.

The cutter they were sailing on quickly returned to the quay. Two of the men dressed as fishermen jumped over board as soon as they saw that things were going wrong. But Stijkel and Kees Gude were dressed in their best clothes in the assumption they were going to meet the queen and were immediately arrested. It later turned out that the government in London had never had radio contact with the group.

Within a two-month period around 150 people were arrested on charges of espionage. A few told what they knew, which led to even more people being arrested. Only after Stijkel’s house was searched did it become apparent how much had been collected. Under the floor of the house there was a storage room containing weapons, addresses and even a diary describing all their activities. Much information had been collected on coastal defence, maps of airfields, building plans for ship and mine components as well as various new military technical gadgets. A lot of the material had been collected by the Zaans branch of the group by, among others, Dick de Vries. Stijkel’s father was totally unaware of any of this. Only the housekeeper knew anything about Han’s involvement in the resistance.


Scheveningen Prison
Oranje Hotel
In the end forty-seven of those arrested were sent to Scheveningen prison; forty-three men and four women. There are various sources that tell how some of them fared there and also later when they were imprisoned in Berlin. It would appear they were treated relatively well under the circumstances. An important topic in all these reports is the poor quality of the food, as in all totalitarian institutions.

There is even a report written by Stijkel’s cellmate, the communist Wilhelm Harthoorn. Unfortunately, the report is more about Harthoorn and communism itself and much less about Stijkel. When Harthoorn meets Stijkel he is emaciated, but still in high spirits. “In front of him stands a young man of his own age, with a two-week-old beard. His clothes hang loosely off his body, which indicate that he has lost weight while being in prison.” Stijkel spends his days reading the Bible; sometimes he reads other books or plays cards. When he is in a good mood Stijkel sings songs by his favourite composer, the Austrian Hugo Wolf.

Also in prison Stijkel proves himself to be an organizer. He keeps count of the days by scratching marks on the wall with a rusty nail. He communicates with other inmates by ticking on the walls, first by using as many ticks as each letter in the alphabet, later by Morse Code. He also writes notes with a pencil stump that is kept hidden in the thick layer of dust on the electricity cable. He writes on brown paper sugar bags.

The notes are intended for confidants and are delivered by runners and bin emptiers. He tried in vain to get the much-desired job of runner. The prison director is said to have told Stijkel’s father that he denied him this job as he was afraid that Stijkel would accumulate so much power that he could take over the entire prison.


Transport to Berlin

At the end of March 1942, the forty-seven prisoners were suddenly told to pack their belongings. They were being taken to Berlin. There they will be placed in various prisons. They were hardly able to communicate with each other, and because they were imprisoned day and night, there was also no contact with the outside world. That they were being moved to Berlin had apparently been leaked, but apart from this people knew nothing. Schorer writes around this time to Van Leeuwen that he and Stijkel’s father are extremely worried about his fate. It is not clear why the trial was held in Germany.

Wehrmachtsuntersuchungsgefängnis, Berlin
The trial took place behind closed doors and was, according to the women who survived it, a show trial. In five groups the forty-seven members were tried before the “Reichskriegsgericht,” the highest German Military Court. All were charged with espionage, which was punishable by death. The members of the military who had sworn not to engage in subversive actions when they were released from prisoner of war camps, were further charged with breach of promise.

Of the forty-seven, forty-one were condemned to death. The others were placed in correctional institutions or sent to concentration camps. The Dutch government tried to organize an exchange between the prisoners and German prisoners who had fallen into the hand of the allies and were also condemned to death, but it turned out that in reality these did not exist.


Execution

On June 3, 1943, they received the announcement that they had to prepare themselves: the executions would be carried out the following morning. The thirty-two prisoners to be executed - the others having received clemency - were given some paper to write a farewell letter. Pastor Poelchau, who in the prison had been extremely concerned about the fate of the prisoners, feared that these letters would be destroyed by the National Socialists directly after the executions, and secretly provided them with a second piece of paper which he would look after. This is how in any case Stijkel’s farewell letter to his father (“Dear Pipa”) has survived.

Monument for the Strijker groupIn his farewell letter Stijkel presents himself as collected and full of confidence in what he calls “the Eternal Empire of the Logos,” which could be a reference to either his Christian convictions or the Freemasons. The following are two crucial sentences from his letter: “Released of my material body, which I always regarded as a hindrance, I am where God wants me. And let not sadness, but above allnot hatred or vengeance disturb the mood. I did what I felt I had to do.”

The next morning all thirty-two men were loaded into a truck and taken to the shooting range at Berlin-Tegel. There they were executed one by one at five-minute intervals; Han Stijkel being the first at eight o’clock. Poelchau attended and noted that they all refused the blindfold and proceeded to sing the Dutch National Anthem.

Five people, the four women and one young man, survived the war; the others who were pardoned perished in prison camps during the war.

And with that Han Stijkel vanishes as an active participant from history. Has he also gotten any closer to us now?

(To be continued)



 







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