If you read my novel, Journey to Marseilles, you will be familiar with Rebecca Smit’s family, which includes her first cousin, Martin. These characters were based upon actual people who lived through the hardships and dangers of World War II. But the one true-life character that was not represented in the story and probably should have been was Henri “Han” Gotje, Martin’s brother. They worked together in their dental practice and lab. I translated the big sign above the group photo: “KUNSTTANDEN EN GEBITTEN.” It means “Artificial Teeth and Dentures.” In the photo, Han is the first one in the middle row (seated). Martin is seated second from the right.
Recently, while going through old family photos and documents, Terrie happened on an article that, when translated, turned out to be Han’s obituary. The headline read, “Resistance Hero Han Gotje Died on Texel.” Further research showed that Texel (pronounced “Tessel”) is an island municipality in the Province of North Holland in the Netherlands.
Han was 32 when the war broke out in 1940, and it wasn’t long before he was involved in the publishing of an anti-Nazi magazine called “Rattenkruid,” which translates loosely to “Ratweed.”
Photos: Martin and his son. Martin and wife, Annie.
Here’s a quote from the article, written by Wilko Bergmanns: “His dental clinic in Amsterdam became a hotbed of resistance and agitation. Under the floor of his clinic were weapons, some stolen German uniforms, and TNT. Resistance people . . . regularly met there, and Han Gotje was informed of the plans to burn down the population register in Amsterdam on March 27, 1943. All data about people in hiding and Jews would be wiped out. When the next day the flames flared up, the registry became ashes, Han Gotje with his comrades stood at a safe distance to watch with glorified faces.
“But fate and betrayal struck. The Gestapo quickly arrested the brave arsonists one after another, who were all shot, except for Han Gotje who, by a miracle, escaped by denying complicity.
“The German judges doubted his innocence, but instead of a bullet, Gotje was taken to the Goettingen Concentration Camp in Germany where he was liberated by American troops in April 1945.”
A German rifle butt to his knee had left Han with a lifelong limp. He was able to return to Amsterdam and rebuild his business along with his brothers, Martin and Lou.
Had I discovered this information before I began writing Journey to Marseilles, I doubtless would have had at least one more chapter, but as the renowned American author James Baldwin said: “You never get the book you wanted, you settle for the book you get. I’ve always felt that when a book ended there was something I didn’t see, and usually when I remark the discovery it’s too late to do anything about it.”
Fortunately, I can still post a blog about it.