Belle of Liberty

Letting Freedom Ring

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Maria Augusta Albers-van der Laan - A Tribute to a Courageous Woman

Although it was Gen. Montgomery who liberated Holland, our good friend Marie Albers told us that when the Americans came through Laandgraaf, the Hollanders cheered the American soldiers on.

“Jah, God Bless America!” she beamed. “We loved the Americans!”

Marie Albers, born in Brunssum, Holland on 16 December 1923, was a courier with the Dutch underground during World War II. What’s more, her mother and father took two Jews into hiding. Mia, as she was known to her family and Hollander friends, would often ride her bicycle on errands, delivering messages and gathering food for the Jews.

Mercifully, the van der Laans never suffered the fate of many other families who took the risky step of harboring Jews from the Nazis. Mr. van der Laan built a hiding place in the chimney of the house. Inside, he built a bench for the Jews, a young boy and a dentist, to hide during searches and raids. The brick chimney was seamlessly hinged. During safe periods, the man and boy could walk about the house in slippers, being careful to avoid windows.

One day while riding her bike, Mia encountered an American tank convoy. They were headed straight for the barrel of the German Panzer guns. Mia stopped them. She and the butcher’s son told the troops there was another route that would bring the Americans up behind the Panzer tanks. The troops took Mia and the boy up into the lead tank to show them the way. When the Americans saw the way clear, they dropped Mia and the butcher’s son off and told them to get home and went on to blow away the Panzer division.

The Jewish dentist was wealthy and married to a Christian wife. The Nazis took over their manor house, but allowed the wife to live in the gardener’s cottage. Knowing the Nazis were coming, she buried all their gold, silver and other treasures in the garden. With all their wealth planted in the ground, the wife couldn’t leave.

Occasionally, Mia would bring the husband to visit his wife in a covered hay wagon. When the dentist died, long after the war, he left a good portion of his treasure to the van der Laans for their courage and kindness.

Mia went to college to study to be a nurse. She was spirited and unafraid of the Nazis, even when a particular Nazi, boarding a bus and spotting her watch, ripped right off her wrist. She made contact with the Dutch Underground Resistance. They provided her with a very special handbag that was actually a radio set. She would take her pocketbook out into the fields at night, open up the radio and signal the Nazi positions to the Allies. Even as she was packing up, she’d hear the inevitable drone of the American bombers.

Mrs. van der Laan was non-plussed by the bombings. Her family urged her to go to the shelter. People would talk and become suspicious. Mrs. van der Laan was firm, though. “I will not leave my Jews,” she insisted. “Whatever happens to them, happens to me.”

The Nazis caught on to Mia and her magic pocketbook but never caught her. She had a death sentence on her head and had to live in the Nursing School dormitory under an assumed name. The Nazis interrogated her mother, who insisted that Mia was dead; that she was killed in one of the bombings.

Mia married a Dutch soldier who also had a penchant for hiding in gardens – Queen Wilhelmina’s gardens, no less. After the war, they married and moved to America where he took a job as an engineer with DuPont. Marie, as she called herself here, tended her house and garden. The Albers never had children.

Marie was jolly and good-humored. She was quite a tall, stout woman who frequently slapped us on the back and sent us reeling. She had a wonderful, Mrs. Santa Clause laugh. If ever two people could have posed as Santa and Mrs. Santa, it was the Albers. They would entertain us with their singing, a hobby common in the European countries in the early 20th Century. Their singing was so charming.

They moved to our town in 1960, lured by the inexpensive housing. Marie dolled up her house in Dutch-style, the house a sky blue with yellow shutters and a windmill collection in the window. What they hadn’t realized was they’d moved into a German enclave neighborhood with American Nazi tendencies. They brought a holocaust survivor to a neighborhood party, where a dispute broke out over the survivor’s account. The Albers and their guest left in a huff, and we left right behind him.

Jack Albers retired in the early 1990s and in 1994, they returned to Holland. My mother saw her good friend once on a trip to Holland not too long after. The remainder of their years of friendship was spent in correspondence. In the last year or two, we didn’t hear much from Marie. It seems she was suffering from some wasting disease – probably cancer – and didn’t correspond much after that. She wrote one last letter that my mother neglected to answer until it was too late. She died on Dec. 5, 2012 at the age of 87, about two weeks shy of her 88th birthday.

A Hollander friend (Marie insisted that they didn’t not like to go by the name of Dutch, which simply meant Deutsch, or German. “We are Hollanders, not Germans,” she told us) translated the funeral notice Mom received from Marie’s brother-in-law informing us of the date of her death and her cremation. Maria (my friend) says that funerals in Holland are different. The deceased is kept in a back room. You can ask permission to see the casket privately, but the casket isn’t the centerpiece of the main room, where the family receives visitors. Even the envelope the notice came in is special. The Holland post office has special envelopes for obituary notices with a black stripe. The stripe notifies the post office that the notice should be given special priority.

We will miss Marie’s hearty, booming laugh, her accent, and her whole cheerful demeanor. We were privileged to know this courageous woman willing to put her young (at the time) life on the line for the cause of freedom. How many people can say they personally knew a Dutch Underground Resistance Fighter.

Rest in peace, Marie.


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