November 11, 2008


Syberen & Hendrina Potma

My grandparents were remarkable people. I admire their conviction of faith and the courage it took to live it out in dangerous times.

Following is a story from that time.

Food ration coupons, issued by the Nazi occupational forces, were often the only way for Dutch people to get enough to eat during the war years. Jews were excluded from the food ration distribution, and many Jews were starving or hiding in safe houses. The Dutch underground, of which Opa Potma was a part, set out to forge food ration coupons and distribute them to Jewish families in hiding and to the Dutch families who took them in. Those who were caught assisting Jews were sent to the concentration camps or executed.

The coupons were first printed at secret underground presses, and then stamped with a forged Nazi ink stamp. There was one final step to make the forgeries complete: a signature of the Nazi district officer. There were only a few people capable of taking on this job, and one of those few was Syberen Dirk Potma. As an artist and calligrapher, Opa was able to use his gifts to assist the underground movement and save many Jews in the process. Secretly and methodically, Opa signed the forged food coupons and bundled them, ready for delivery. (some of the older children may recall seeing stashes of printed material hidden around the Potma home in Heerenveen, with never a word about their purpose)

Opa was also part of the coupon distribution system, and one day he loaded up his bag with bundles of forged coupons and set off on his bike to distribute them throughout the underground network. Suddenly as he rounded a corner, he was stopped by a Nazi checkpoint. The first Nazi soldier ordered him to get off his bike and to open his bag. Opa knew that if they discovered his cargo, he would certainly be killed or sent to the concentration camp. But just as he was slowly dismounting, a second Nazi soldier said, “No, that’s Mr. Potma – let him through.”
Opa could hardly believe what he had just heard – he didn’t know a single German soldier, and none of them knew him by name! Later as he reflected on this experience, the only conclusion that he could come to was that it was not a Nazi soldier at all, but an angel in disguise, sent by God to save his life and the lives of many more through him


Patti said...

Wow. Thank you, thank you so much for sharing that story. It is deeply impacting.

Joe said...

There were many people who served in the military. Some volunteered and others were conscripted. And thanks to them tyrany was overthrown. Yet you tell your story of two people who were true heroes. They risked their lives for others. There are few monuments to those thousands(?) who risked their lives for their fellow man. Yet they too should be remembered for their selfless acts of courage while living in the midst of danger.

Thank you for telling this story of love.

Don G said...

I can only say " WOW ", what a story. Isn't God great ?

Dougie G said...

I believe it was an angel. What a great story. Your Opa was a brave man. What a great heritage you have. That is a good memory. Thanks for sharing.