Piller’s in Limburg

Ik had Henk van der Ploeg gevraagd om iets op te schrijven over zijn jeugd en met name ook de periode van de Tweede Wereldoorlog, omdat de connecties van  Herman van der Ploeg essentieel zijn geweest voor het overleven van een deel van de Piller-familie.

Hendrikus Van Der Ploeg, born 27 November 1890 in Leeuwarden.

He left home at the age of 14 (his parents were alcoholics) And lived in Belgium where he became a barber. He was also a member of the SDAP – Social Democratic Labor Party. He was very much influenced then by  Troelstra.

He was in behalf of the party on a visit in Amsterdam where he met Sarah (Lientje) Piller (probably 1918-1920) She was employed by the Telephone company. They married and Herman (that is the name he went by) and Lientje moved to Heerlen in Limburg where he opened a barbershop and started a new branch of the party. Heerlen was the coal-mining center. The small towns and villages were very poor. A daughter, Ans was born 16 June 1922. Henk was born on 10 october 1930.  By the establishment he was not liked very much especially a non-catholic in an archaic catholic society.  97% was RomanCatholic. In the mid-20s he separated from the party (I do not know the reason). He closed the barbershop and opened a clothing store [Magazijn Utrecht]. Not an ordinary store but a store where the miners could buy on credit (it almost created a scandal the notables where against it).    But it worked very well. He had to hire several men who traveled the different areas (on bicycle) to collect the moneys. The business was thriving and Lientje was a very good sales-person, very persuasive, The people were in debt but they only paid one or two guilders a week.  With this prosperity came the birth of a son on 10 October 1930; Hendrikus Leo (Henk).

The business: Magazijn Utrecht was the only store that sold on credit.The family became more prosperous and as in so many instances in Europe when people  attained a certain prosperity, a piano was brought into the house and both children had to take lessons. Ann dropped out after a year, but Lientje did not want to lose more money because this was too much of an investment to ignore and Henk continued his lessons well into the high school years.

In the meantime 5 kilometers to the East was the border with Germany and 10 kilometers further is the city of Aachen. Things started to brew somewhat controversial  at that time. It was now 1933 or there about. The family enjoyed Sundays in different places: Liege, Maastricht, Aachen, even all the way South into Luxembourg and the Ardennes or West to Brussels. Herman’s Graham Paige was a beautiful automobile.

At that time Herman had a family passport, i.e. his picture as head of the household with spouse and two children, no other pictures or names. One has to remember that Jews were not allowed  to leave Germany and not given documents to that effect.

For awhile Herman used to go into Germany through one border-point and return through another border-crossing with a wife and two children.  Sometimes he would hide the husband in the trunk. Also it was a quality car which helped to impress the customs personnel.

One of Herman’s salesmen, who had the territory of Kerkrade, had been caught stealing. He was married to a German and fled to Aachen. There was a day in court where Herman and the Chief of Police of Kerkrade were present. The lawyer of the man was making Herman the guilty one in declaring that he was a capitalist, a communist etc. Herman took the stand himself because he did not need a lawyer. He refuted the accusations and finally said: I am not a Capitalist, a Communist nor a National-Socialist for the simple reason that I hate any form of dictatorship.

He won the case and the judge and several others asked him to come back and join them to go hunting. The police-chief said to him:” if you go hunting with those guys we’ll never see you again.”  It was the end of Herman’s rescue missions into Gemany because as they crossed the border they (the Germans)registered his car.

In Augustus 1939 the family was spending their time in Knokke.  Von Ribbentrop flew that month to Moscow.( as we found out later: to inform Stalin about the pending invasion of Poland which then would be no threat to Russia) The tension in Europe mounted. Herman hurried to Knokke to take the family back. Lots of people in Holland lived under the illusion that, as Germany would perhaps repeat the actions of WW1 go through Belgium to France perhaps and leave Holland alone in its neutrality.)

10 May 1940. – It’s 4 am Henk (age nine) is reading ‘Ferdinand, the bull” (Walt Disney edition) Sounds of what he thought were heavy motor-cycles were heard in the street. All at once Ann is screaming” de moffen zijn hier” (the Germans are here). Everybody in action filling suite cases, Herman getting the car.

Outside the Junkers were flying over en masse. A neighbor-woman from her upstairs window was waving and smiling to the planes. Herman turned to her and said; ’If Hitler dies I will gladly pay for the funeral ‘ where upon they left. Driving West.

Hardly 5 kilometers out they’re stopped by a German blockade who was probably parachuted down.  It is 5am “ Wo fahren sie hin?” (where are you going to) “Nach Hoensbroek, nach Bekanten” (to Hoensbroek to friends)

When one looks at this scene now, one sees how ridiculous it all was. Well they did end up in Hoensbroek where for days on end German troups would march up and down the highway singing, at full force their Nazi songs . Lientje could not stop crying. Finally the family returned home.

In every town some resistance pockets started up. Not much could be done except creating flyers to give hope and tell about action that could be taken but over all everything was at a stand still. One of those pamphlets was “Het Parool” which later became the daily newspaper. An underground network established itself especially to assist people to go into hiding and new places were constantly added.

When the Germans started to send Jews to concentration camps this became even more prevalent. The family lived above the store across from the train station. There was ample room to overnight people. The address: Stationstraat 41 became well known within resistance circles. Herman often held meetings mainly pertaining to how to keep up the spirits and organize the distribution of the flyers. Many young men sought his advice.

One morning in the Spring of 1942 all over the country, in every town, the Gestapo sent out a truck to collect the notables who were then driven to an assembly point, a castle close to Tilburg [St. Michelsgestel PR?] (I forgot the name). Herman was one of them and also the chief Surgeon of St. Joseph Hospital and others. An older man was cold, because the truck was only partially covered and Herman gave him his jacket. Consequently Herman caught double pneumonia. There were 60 physicians in the camp and all they had was aspirin. Herman was put in a hospital in Tilburg which has been repossessed by the Germans. Later he was declared “lager unfaeig” (no good to hold) and sent home.

In the mean time one brother (Emanuel Piller) of Lientje and his wife (Alida Kogel) found a place of hiding in Weert, Their daughter Tiny Piller was taken in by a large well to do family in Heerlen (Kerkrade PR?).  And the traffic: arrival in the evening and proceeding the next day, continued. Sometimes there were 8 to 9 people to spend the night.

We found out later that one of the men who worked for Herman, for the store, whose wife was German, found employment at the Gestapo Headquarters in Maastricht. He became a receptionist and was also in charge of the mail, He intercepted some accusatory correspondence. That is why, we think, the house was never raided and the family, although mixed jewish, had been left alone. However, there were some moments when the family received  an alert. Each one knew where to go: Henk went to his former nanny,  Ans had vrienden, Lientje ook  naar andere vrienden.

Herman became ill again  and this time very serious. He passed away 24 April 1944. His cigar smoking got the best of him and he died of lung cancer.

Heerlen was liberated 17 September 1944. Lientje’s brother and wife (Emanuel Piller en Alida Kogel) moved in the house in Heerlen waiting for the North of Holland to open up.

Ans married Gerard Tillmans in the 50’s(I don’t know the date) and moved to Waukegan Illinois in 1955.

Henk  moved to Le Havre, France in 1950. And then moved to Calilfornia in September 1959 . He married Teri Hansen in 1961, divorced in 1966. Returned to the University of California and obtained a Masters Degree.

Lientje had a car accident followed by a heart- attack in February 1967.

Ans and Gerard moved to California in 1963. Gerard passed away in 1980. Ans moved into retirement home and passed away in 2003. Henk still lives in Newport Beach California, working part time in a Travel Agency as Senior Counselor and also plays piano in the dining room of one of the resort hotels.   


In 2013 was iik in het Mijn-museum in Heerlen. Kledingmagazijn Utrecht konden de (bejaarde) rondleiders zich nog herinneren. Een rondleider kon zich nog herinneren dat hij daar, toen hij nog jong was, een pak had gekocht op afbetaling.