“Onderduiker” was the word used in the Netherlands to describe people who went into hiding, trying to escape the German occupier. Bartele Bijma was 20 years old when he went into hiding – he wanted to avoid compulsory work which meant being recruited to perform forced labor in the German armament industry. Eleven months later he died in the Neuengamme concentration camp.
When his brother and his nephew visited the Neuengamme Concentration Clamp Memorial, they brought the results of their decades-long research: Numerous photos and writings which tell the story of Bartele Bijma and his persecution. Only in October 1945, Roelof Bijma found out that his older brother Bartele had died in the Neuengamme concentration camp in January 1945. Until then, the family had still been hoping for his return home. Together with his son Rens, Roelof has since then collected various pieces of memorabilia.
In 2010 they visited the place where Bartele Bijma went into hiding in 1944. It was his uncle's house. Bartele's uncle Sjouke Bijma and his wife Minke Bijma-Postma took the young man into their home even though it meant putting their own lives in danger. But Bartele could not bear the notion of having to stay in hiding all the time. While he was taking a walk in Eastermar, he stopped by a neighbor's house to drink water from the pump in front of the house. That is where he was discovered and arrested by a member of the Landwacht, a Dutch paramilitary police formation.
After his arrest on June 19, 1944, Bartele Bijma was brought to the Amersfoort police transit camp over Bergum and Leeuwarden. There he got the chance to send his family a letter in which he wrote:
“I have been here in Amersfoort for four and a half weeks now and I am still healthy, thank God. […] I don't know how long I have to stay here, we will see. How are uncle Sjouke and aunt Minke? Thank them for their generous help. I will never forget that. Please give everyone my regards and have faith in God.”
This letter was the last sign of life Bartele's family received from him. On September 8, 1944, he was deported to the Neuengamme concentration camp for refusing to work. He died there on January 2, 1945 at the age of 21.