Rest In Peace Uncle

Some say that there is no such thing as closure when a loved one passes on.  I think it depends on the circumstances surrounding that passing.  In my family’s case, it took sixty-seven years for the truth about my uncle’s passing to reach his family.

This photo of Gerardus Petrus Zegers, my uncle, lives on a bookshelf in my mother’s bedroom.  My mother told me that in this photo he is about sixteen.  The scarf he’s wearing was knit by my grandmother.  She also told me that every time she looks at it she wonders what happened to her brother.

According to my mother, in 1943, in Driebergen-Rijsenburg, the Nazis began rounding up able-bodied boys and men to work in their camps.  Two of my mother’s brothers were taken.  My uncle Henk managed to escape and was hidden by a german family.  Gerardus was not so lucky.  He ended up in a camp called Mittelbau-Dora which was a satelite camp of Buchenwald, in Nordhausen, Germany.  While researching I scoured the available photos, on the internet, of arriving prisoners for the scarf my uncle was wearing in a desperate attempt to verify that he was among the laborers.

When the allies bombed the German manufacturing facilities that were above ground the Nazis opened Dora in an abandoned mine.  Here they manufactured their V2 ballistic missiles.  The same missiles that were the cornerstone of the American space program after the second World War.  Sixty-thousand prisoners from 21 nations passed through Dora.  In Camp Dora and Buchenwald, an estimated 20,000 inmates died; 9000 died from exhaustion and collapse, 350 hanged (including 200 for sabotage), the rest died mainly from disease and starvation. In April of 1945 the  104th Timberwolf Army Infantry  and Third Armored Division liberated the surviving prisoners.  Over 1,200 patients were evacuated, with 15 dying en route to the hospital area and 300 then dying of malnutrition.

When news of the liberation reached my family in Driebergen, my grandmother went to the train station daily to greet her son, Gerard, and welcome him home.  He did not come home.  She followed this routine daily for years with the same result.  We didn’t receive any information about the exact fate of my uncle.  Many years later another uncle and brother of Gerardus, Piet, received special permission to cross the Berlin Wall, in hopes of getting information about his brother from the Communist government.  They were not forthcoming.

In March of this year, after researching the internet, I came across a website called the International Tracing Service.  I filled out their application for information about my uncle.  I waited until May and when I heard nothing from them I forwarded my earlier email again.  Finally in September I received a letter from them with the information that my family had waited sixty-seven years to hear.  My uncle Gerardus Petrus Zegers passed away on the twenty-eighth of April 1945 of tuberculosis.  It isn’t clear if he was among the fifteen that died on route to the hospital or one of the 20,000 souls that passed during his imprisonment.  according to civil records he was buried in Nordhausen Cemetery in Grave No. 2.

My mother said that it was too bad that her mom and dad weren’t still alive to finally hear the news of their son.  I reminded her that he is re-united with his mother, father, and two brothers in Heaven.  This Remembrance Day, I honor my uncle, Gerardus Petrus Zegers.

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3 Comments

  1. November 11, 2012 at 7:29 pm

    What a beautifully written tribute to Uncle! You have richly honored his memory. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. Thank you for the privilege of sharing in such a precious story and life. Bravo! Hugs from here.

    • Prosing On said,

      November 12, 2012 at 8:29 am

      Thank you Alan. I got a tremendous joy out of researching, finding and delivering answers for my mother.

      • November 12, 2012 at 9:02 am

        That is SO sweet! Bless your heart. Hugs from here till next time.


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