Jozef Jacob van der Laan Journalist and outspoken critic of Nazi Germany
Lis Drew-Wynberg kick-started my research into the voyage of the Zeemanshoop
and the lives of its passengers by sending me a translation of the well
known account of the voyage written by the Secretary to the Dutch
Lifeboat Association, the Noord-en Zuid-Hollandsche Redding Maatschappij (NZHRM) and published in 1947 as Tusschen Mijnen en GrondzeeŽn.
Her grandfather, Jozef Jacob van der Laan (known as Joop) escaped on the Zeemanshoop and she wrote this outline of his life:
"Jozef Jacob (Joop) van der Laan (my maternal grandfather) was born at
Assen in the Netherlands on the 11 July 1886. Assen was a small town in
the north east of the country a few miles south of Groningen and not
far from the German border. His father, Marcus van der Laan,
and his father before him were both butchers. Joop's parents were
Jewish. He was the sixth child in a family of nine and there were also four half brothers
and sisters from his father's first marriage.
Joop chose journalism as his career and after completing his high
school exams began work on 15 May 1905, initially as a volunteer, at his local newspaper, the Asser Courant.
He was an adventurous young man and after a few years at the newspaper
he left to travel the world, including a sea
voyage to New York as an apprentice cook. He kept a diary of his
travels and used this as the basis for a number of newspaper articles.
When he returned to the Netherlands he resumed work at the Asser Courant but in 1911 travelled to Medan on the island of Sumatra in the Dutch East Indies (modern day Indonesia) to take up
a position as Editor in Chief with the Deli Courant,
a position he held
for over twenty years. Joop met his future wife Maria Lydia Frey in
1917 while returning to Sumatra from leave on the SS Nikon Maru,
and they married in Tokyo,
Japan. The seaboard romance and marriage of the young Dutch journalist
and his Swiss bride was reported in gushing terms by an English
language paper in Tokyo. His wife was born in Chile and, significantly
for their future life together, was not Jewish.
daughters were born in Sumatra: my mother Elizabeth Amalia, known as Malie, on 27
January 1919 and my aunt Flora Marie-Louise on 24 August
1922. Joop van der Laan
celebrated his silver jubilee as a journalist in Medan, Sumatra in
1930. In a speech to honour his work as Editor-in-Chief, Mr W. J. van
den Bergh (the first Editor) highlighted the growth of the Deli Courant,
under Joop’s leadership, from “a more or less unsightly small newspaper
to a vigorous paper...that has the largest circulation in the Outer
Regions, with a circle of readers that has increased nine to ten times
in size.” Joop returned to the Netherlands with his family in October 1930 but went back three years later to
give advice and leadership to the newspaper which had been doing badly since
From 1936 Joop lived in the Netherlands with his wife, Lydia, and two
daughters but continued his work as a journalist and warned
unceasingly of the danger from Nazi Germany. He campaigned for the Eenheid door Democratie
(Unity through Democracy) party which rejected both communism and
fascism and in his speeches described what was happening in Germany."
As a Jew and an outspoken critic of Germany he was worried about
under German occupation and on the day the government ordered the surrender of Dutch forces he decided to try to leave
Holland. His wife and two daughters would be safer without him. He
left their home in The Hague on his bicycle, overcoat over his arm, to cycle to the
harbour at Scheveningen where he boarded the Dutch lifeboat,
Zeemanshoop. He gave this brief description of the voyage in an article he
wrote in 1980 for Schakel, the
magazine of the Stichting Genootschap Engelandvaarders (Society of Engelandvaarders):
“It started on May 14 1940, the day the Netherlands had to surrender its
defence to Hitler’s Germany and to find new ways to support ‘England’s
Resistance’. About thirty Dutchmen [in fact, forty six] left their homes and looked for a
way out in the direction of Scheveningen. Lying there were many craft
whose owners did not want to relinquish them. There was also the Zeemanshoop belonging to the North-South Holland Lifeboat Society, a
vessel which had already saved may lives at sea.
Some, willing to try anything, broke the Zeemanshoop off its chain.
It was anything but easy to start but four persistent students managed
to activate one of the two engines and so the ship left port. It was
only at daybreak that the numbers on board became apparent. Towards the
afternoon we were spotted by an English warship which took us on board
and delivered us safely to an English port. Much later these people
(the refugees on board the Zeemanshoop) were recognised as true
His daughter, Malie Wynberg-van der Laan, described what happened next in an e-mail from her home in Australia:
before the war my parents decided that my father should leave
immediately if Germany occupied the Netherlands. He had spoken
regularly at meetings warning about the dangers of a Nazi invasion and
found out later that he was No 70 on a list of those to be imprisoned.
A few days after he left a good friend of ours came to fetch my mother
as somebody wanted to talk to her. It was a young communist who had
boarded the Zeemanshoop with my father and the others
but decided to give up his place to someone in greater need. He brought
back my father’s bicycle, and we now knew that my father had been
able to get away. A couple of days later my school headmaster came to
tell us that he had heard my father speak on the Free Dutch Radio from
London and we knew that he was alive."
Jozef Jacob van der Laan (left) and the editorial board of Vrij Nederland Van der Lann is fifth from the left in this photograph from the Dutch National Archives
In London Joop van der Laan worked for the Netherlands National News
Agency (ANP), spoke regularly on Free Dutch Radio, wrote articles for the London based weekly newspaper Vrij Nederland
(Free Netherlands) - not to be confused with the first and best known of the underground
newspapers in occupied Holland which had the same name.
He travelled all over England giving lectures on the invasion and
occupation of the Netherlands and he also joined the Home Guard.
Joop described in Schakel how his family fared after he left:
"The author of this article left his wife and two daughters in the care
of friends in the Netherlands. His wife was of Swiss parentage, born in
Chile, and had access to three different passports but this
notwithstanding, she did not get an Ausweiss (exit permit) to return to
the country of her birth. However she kept persevering and, with the
assistance of Chilean representatives in the Netherlands, finally
received a permit from the Germans to return, with her two daughters,
to the country where she was born.”
Malie Wynberg described their adventures and how they were able to join their father in London:
one was allowed to leave Holland but as my Swiss mother was born
in Santiago, Chile, we were able to obtain Chilean passports to travel
to Chile. I still have mine. At the end of January 1941 we left
Holland by train. After a short stay in Bilbao we managed to get to the
Spanish-Portuguese border where we met my father who had come from
London to see us.
On the 13 February 1942 we boarded the Cabo de Hornos from Lisbon for Buenos Aires where my mother’s sister lived. In April 1943 my sister and I boarded the Port Victor
at Buenos Aires as volunteers for the UK. On the evening of the 30
April the ship was hit by four torpedoes 400 miles south of Ireland.
Captain Higgs and the passengers and crew got away in five lifeboats
and three sliding rafts. We
were so lucky that the message sent by the telegraphist, who went
down with ship, was received. Ten crew members, two gunners and five
passengers died. A Lancaster found us and dropped food parcels. Twenty
hours later we were taken aboard HMS Wren
which picked up 149 survivors and landed us at London. After four days
in a reception centre where they checked up on us we met up with my
father. My mother came later, by chance sailing with the same Captain
Left: Joop van der Laan and his two daughters, Marie Louise (left) and Elizabeth (right), London 1943
Right: Ted Wynberg and Elizabeth Wynberg van der Laan, London 1944
Malie and her sister
Marie-Louise (known as Pien) volunteered for the (Dutch) Women’s Help
Corps. Malie also worked as a nurse at St Thomas' Hospital. In March
1944 Joop's wife Lydia joined the family in London, having travelled
from Buenos Aires on the Port Jackson also sailing with Captain W G
World War II had a devastating impact on Joop and his family. Over twenty
of his brothers and sisters, their spouses and children were
incarcerated in concentration camps; only one nephew survived. In
addition, a very large number of his extended family was also killed.
Joop’s escape on the Zeemanshoop saved his life.
In 1946 Joop and his wife left England to return to the
Netherlands but in May 1947 they travelled to Australia where Joop took
a position as a press officer at the Dutch Embassy in Melbourne. In 1951
he was appointed as an officer for Press and Cultural affairs with the Dutch Consular Service in Sydney.
Many people in postwar Europe were keen to create a new life for
themselves in Australia and Joop was invited to write a book about the
country in which he had settled which was published in 1950.
In October 1951 they returned to
the Netherlands and Joop became the Managing Director of the Dutch
publishing house Koch & Knuttel in Gouda. The
success of his book on Australia encouraged him to write a book a book
about Canada. In July 1952 he travelled to Argentina where his wife's
sister lived and from there to the USA and
Canada. They returned in mid November and his book on Canada was
published in 1954. He retired in
about 1964. In addition to his books on Australia and Canada he had co-authored with Johannes Marinus a book on
economic conditions in Deli, Sumatra, which was published in 1929. Joop van der Laan was also a
recipient of the Order of Oranje-Nassau.
Joop van der Laan with his daughter, Elizabeth, and his grand children
John (in his mother's arms), Theodore (Ted) and Lis, Botanic Garden
Sydney, August 1951
Right: Joop van der Laan and his wife moved to a Masonic
retirement home at Bilthoven in May 1967 and he died on 11
Malie Wynberg described how she met her husband:
"I met my
husband, Theodore (Ted) Wynberg in London in 1944. He had also escaped
from Holland in August 1943 with a friend using false papers via
Belgium, France the Pyrenees on foot to Spain, two prisons and then
Madrid. With a group of hockey players they finally came to London via
Gibraltar on the Dempo, a
17,000 ton Rotterdam Lloyd liner which had been converted into a troop
carrier. To this day I am so grateful to the four students who stole
the Zeemanshoop and saved so many people's lives."
Lis Drew-Wynberg explains how the family came to live in Australia:
"Both my parents were born in Indonesia to Dutch parents. My mother’s
family lived in Sumatra, my father’s family in Java. My father, with a
couple of friends, escaped from occupied Holland in August 1943 via
Belgium, France and Spain. My parents met in London and were married in
1944. I was born in England (1945) and went with my parents to Holland
in 1946. We emigrated to Australia in 1951."