47. A hamlet in hiding
The hamlet of De Horst near Groesbeek is just a stone's throw away from the German border. During the airborne landings of 17th September 1944 the hamlet was soon liberated. However, the liberation was short-lived and before long, the German troops had returned. De Horst was caught in the crossfire and almost everyone in the village was forced to hide in the cellars of the convent.
Operation Market Garden
At the time, the hamlet of De Horst consisted of only a few streets, some farms, a couple of shops and four pubs. It had a school, a church and a convent. During Operation Market Garden, on 17th September 1944, thousands of parachutists from the 82nd Airborne Division landed nearby. The people of De Horst thought they had been liberated, but the German troops were not gone for long. By 20th September, the frontline ran between De Horst and Groesbeek. De Horst was caught firmly in the allied line of fire, and the people, were stuck. The part of Groesbeek that had been liberated was close by, yet completely inaccessible.
Shelter and sanctuary
More than 400 people were taken in by the Franciscan nuns of the hamlet's convent. It was the building with the sturdiest cellars, but despite the white flag on the roof, the convent came under regular fire. The sisters tried to take care of the wounded as best they could and every night, Antoon Oomen, the baker, would bake dozens of loaves of bread for the hundreds of villagers sheltering in the convent. He did this free of charge, whilst his house was being shot at. Despite this, he kept on baking.
After a month, the situation in De Horst had become unbearable. The hamlet’s priest managed to negotiate an evacuation with the Germans and the villagers were free to leave: not to the liberated part of the country, but the other way. So off they went, on 20th October 1944, through Kranenburg and Emmerich into the occupied Achterhoek region. When in May 1945, the people of De Horst were finally allowed to return home, they found the hamlet in ruins.
Corner Reestraat – Ketelstraat GPS code: N 51 46.46, E 5 58.201