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Fourth International, March-April 1950


An Eye-Witness Account

The Last Hours of the Condemned Men


From Fourth International, Vol.11 No.2, March-April 1950, pp.47-48.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


I have just read an article in the October 27th issue of De Vlam entitled In Memoriam to the Victims of the Nazi Terror. Although I do not belong to the De Vlam group [a centrist organization in Holland] and although I come from an Anti-Revolutionary family [the “Anti-Revolutionary” Party is the right wing party in the Netherlands whose most prominent leader is the former Prime Minister Colijn] – and I am not today affiliated to any party – I was in a position during my four years of imprisonment to make many friends among the communists and the socialists, and I have a great deal of admiration for many of them.

After having served 8 months in the Schevingen prison [a well known Nazi prison near The Hague] on April 5, 1942 I was transferred to the cell block at the Amersfoort camp [the concentration camp where Sneevliet and his comrades were executed] .and most of the time there I was kept in solitary confinement. The seven other cells of the cell block were empty. I spent six weeks there, after which they returned me to the camp proper.

The Prisoners Arrive

On Sunday April 12 I was awakened by the sound of SS guards. They were Dutch SS led by German SS. It was about 9 p.m. They opened the doors of all seven cells and set up a strict guard. I heard them shout: “Es kommen jetzt ganz gefährliche Leute.” (Very dangerous people are arriving.) Orders wtere issued and a few moments later, I heard them lock up in each of the cells a comrade-in-misfortune.

Soon I heard one of the prisoners say: “Before the war, the Dutch government was hounding me; after May 15, 1940 it was the German government. If I did not have the bad luck to be sent to the hospital, they would never have found me.” [This, undoubtedly, was comrade Menist who shortly before his arrest was hurt in a street accident and sent to the hospital.] Then I heard Sneevliet’s magnificent voice: “Lads, we are proud to be the first in the Netherlands to be condemned before a tribunal for the cause of the International, and who must therefore die for this cause.”

I should say in passing that the guard was so strict that every 15 minutes they covered the cells (including mine) to look through the peep-hole to see if anyone was trying to commit suicide or escape. Two Dutch SS constantly turned their flashlights on the outside windows even though they were completely boarded up. This continued through the night, a tense troubled night. I quickly grasped who my comrades in the cell block were. Seven (and not eight) condemned to death. [That is correct. One of the eight, after having been horribly tortured, had supplied names and then committed suicide.] They all had the right to sign an appeal for clemency which they actually did.

Himmler Denies Clemency

[At the outset, all, the comrades had refused to sign an appeal for clemency. But their attorney had insisted, saying that the chief justice had admired their courageous defense in which they had clearly voiced their solidarity with the German workers, and he then tried to get clemency for them. In most such cases, Seyss Inquart had the final say, but in this case it was Himmler himself who made the decision. The answer from Berlin was “No.”]

One of the prisoners made the remark that it was nice of the judge to have promised them that this evening their wives (the wives of three of the prisoners, I believe) would be freed. “They are already at horne, my friends,” he said. [This promise was actually made. But once again the Nazis did not keep their word. Comrades Mien Sneevliet-Draayer, Trien de Haan-Zwagerman, Jenny Schiefer and Jel Witteveen were imprisoned in the Ravensbrück concentration camp until the end of the war.] About six a.m. the prisoners were informed that their request for clemency had been turned down (what a farce!) and that the verdict would be executed immediately.

Sneevliet then requested that they all be shot together, hand in hand: This was refused. “Sie werden gefesselt mit den Händen auf dem Rücken.” (Your arms will be tied behind your back.) Then Sneevliet requested that they not be blindfolded. This was granted. Then he demanded to be the last to be shot, being the oldest among them. I heard him say: “It is my right, isn’t it comrades, as the oldest among you? I was your leader, wasn’t I?” He was then permitted to light up a cigar. They commented (oh, morbid humor!): “Yes, charge it to the Netherlands Government,”

“I Kept My Faith ...”

Then Sneevliet began to speak and said something like this:

Last night I went through my Gethsemane. When I joined the movement as a youth my pastor said to me: ‘My boy, you can do what you want if you remain true to your faith.’ Well, last night I struggled with myself and I kept my faith. My faith in the cause of the International. Many struggles and much suffering will still be needed, but the future belongs to us!

That was what he said. Then he told some stories about Indonesia (where he had worked for many years as a revolutionist and where he had been deported from in 1919 for having inspired the masses with the example of the workers and poor peasants of Russia).

“The International Shall Be the Human Race”

Then they put them all in a small cell, 90 centimeters by 2 meters, right opposite mine. Then came the most moving moment: “Shake hands, comrades” – and then with all their heart they sang the Internationale. What a melody and what words! I have attended many concerts but never have I heard anything sung with so much emotion and so much conviction. I am not ashamed to say that I wept. When later, I myself was condemned to death (the sentence was not carried out) I was no more stirred than at this unforgettable moment. Finally one of the prisoners requested silence to say a Catholic prayer. I do not know who he was. [Undoubtedly, he was the printer, not a member of the underground RSAP-MLL-Front – but sentenced to death because of his courageous attitude during the trial.] The silence was complete. The guards let them alone.

They were then led out to the place of execution. The first salvos were fired around nine-twenty. When four weeks later I was transferred from the camp cell block, I learned that all the barracks were locked up on the morning of the execution. No one was able to see who was being taken out of the cell block. Everyone knew that something unusual was happening in the camp. But no one knew just what it was. Later I was to tell my story to the party comrades of the condemned (they will remember Prisoner No.15.) [Many revolutionists were imprisoned in the Amersfoort camp. This was also the camp where Herman Peters, one of the principal leaders of the Dutch section of the Fourth International was murdered six months later.]

I feel I must write that I have the greatest admiration for the way these men died. Fearless and full of confidence in their cause. I cannot resist writing you these details, being the only one who was with these heroes in their last hours.

– Signed, No.15 PDA

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