Four Russian Officers
by Martha Janssen-Leyder
(transcribed in her original words)
Many Russians had already been helped to escape from the Prisoners of War camp near Eisden. They had taken refuge in the nearby woods, hiding in underground diggings, waiting for revenge, always ready to do the sabotage work that was required of them.
That night, four Russian officers were to escape. I had been asked to take charge of them as soon as they arrived at a designed place in the woods, not far from the coal mines where they slaved. My orders were: "Bring them to Brussels". It sounds easy enough a job to those who do not know that the trains and street cars were regularly raided by the Gestapo.
Wrapped up in a black coat, rubber shoes on, I went to the appointed place. Motionless, I remained there, watching and listening, every nerve strained. My thoughts were with my comrades who were at work at that moment. I knew their plans were carefully prepared. The German soldier on guard had been drugged - he was very fond of cognac - but, if some of his friends came to chat with him and found him sleeping soundly? It had happened the night before. The alert had been given and Gestapo men with trained dogs soon caught the fugitives. Twenty-seven of us had been caught that way lately, some of them mere boys.
I heard footsteps. A gush of joy went to my heart when I saw my friend Alois and four men approaching silently. Alois came to me and whispered: "Your turn now. I must go back to the mines. Good luck, Mea". I was left alone with my Russians. I stared at them. Two of them were abnormally tall. Goodness, won't those two attract attention. If I could shorten them by a head. One of them, the Commander, came up to me, shook hands and said: "Kak pochiveitchi" (How do you do). I do not speak Russian, so I simply chuckled back. I knew there was no time to loose. I gave them their clothes right away. We had managed to find civilian clothes for three of them. One of them, the shortest, had to do with a raincoat over his dark green prisoners of war uniform. I handed them forged identification papers and a card certifying that they were working in the mines. All this was done in no time and we started off quickly. We walked on and on, for six long hours, through the woods. It was still dark when we reached the little station. We had ten minutes before the first workmen's train started. We all took the same compartment, but sat on different benches. I was relieved to see that the Russians, ill cared as they were, looked very much like workmen going to work. At one stop, several German officers came in. Two of them chatting laughingly, sat next to two of the Russians. One of the Russians was pretending to read a Belgian Newspaper, the other seemed to be sleeping soundly.
There was no control of the train that day. My mind was not at ease yet. I knew that many adventures came to a sad end in the North Station, in Brussels. I was right. Gestapo men, in civilian clothes, came on the train, asking for identification papers. While one of my proteges was fiddling in his pocket to find his, a German officer, who had been staring at him for a while, came brusquely up to him and looked him up. Boris returned a quiet, indifferent gaze. If he was alarmed, nobody knew. Our papers were "in order". The Gestapo went to another compartment.
An hour after, I had taken a train going back to Eisden. I reached my house by night. My family greeted me with anxious and drawn faces. The Gestapo had come, searched the house thoroughly and asked many questions. They had been told I was in Brussels, visiting my sick sister - that was all my family knew.
The house can still be seen in Eisden but, sometime in the last 50 years, 'Dorpstraat' was renamed 'Langstraat' and the house numbers were changed. Walk through the village towards the bridge over the canal, and you will pass by the house on the right. (Click on the house icon for a photograph)
Marthe's True Stories
Copyright © 2001-2005 Tessa Steer (Leyder) / Van Hecke Family - All Rights Reserved Worldwide