Utrecht students in the resistance: Frits Iordens and Anne Maclaine Pont

Anne Maclaine Pont en Frits Iordens
Anne Maclaine Pont and Frits Iordens, source: OudOmmen.nl

Recently, much attention has been paid to the Utrecht law student and resistance woman Truus van Lier. A book, a statue and a play in the Dom church: her long unknown story is now told extensively. Another law student who would not survive the war because of his acts of resistance is Frits Iordens. We also like to remember him at this time.

At the official 4 May commemoration of Utrecht University, Prof. Leen Dorsman, professor with a specialised remit in University History at Utrecht University, will give a brief lecture. In it, he will discuss the activities of Frits Iordens and Anne Maclaine Pont and the circumstances in which they lived, during the war. In September, the two Utrecht students were awarded the Yad Vashem distinction by the Israeli ambassador, which was accepted by their surviving relatives.

Grafsteen Frits Iordens
Remembrance stone for Frits Iordens, source: OudOmmen.nl

"In the darkest hours"

Frits and Anne were two of the five arsonists in the famous fire in the Academy Building. They were also active in the Utrecht Children's Committee, a group of students that managed to keep about 360 Jewish children from the Germans by hiding them all over the country. Together, Anne and Frits also helped bring Allied pilots to safety. Passionate, fearless deeds of heroism. Anne survived the war, Frits did not. He was 24 years old when he was fatally shot during a pilot rescue in Belgian Limburg. Anne loved him so much that two and a half years after his death she had him reburied in an estate in Overijssel, they had fond memories of together.

Verzetsmonument Academiegebouw. Bron: comité 4 en 5 mei
Resistance monument at Utrecht University Hall.

Their names are on a small monument in the Academy Hall (het Academiegebouw), along with 3 other student names. It is a small statue of Hermes, partly melted by the fire, with a plaque below it with the sentence "In the darkest hours we kept knowing that there are eternal principles." In the night from Saturday 12 to Sunday 13 December 1942, five students successfully set fire to the student administration to prevent students from being removed by the German occupier through the “arbeitseinsatz”, forced labour.

The five were: Frits Iordens, law student and member of the Utrecht Student Corps (USC), Rutger Mathijsen, Geert Lubberhuizen (later director of publishing house De Bezige Bij), Gijs den Besten and art history student Anne Maclaine Pont. The five managed to get away unseen and they were never arrested for their illustrious act. Four of the students survived the Second World War, only Frits Iordens was killed, two years later, in 1944.

Fire at University Hall

How did the five students managed to do it? In his book ‘Heb je Kafka lezen? - Het Utrechtse universitaire verzet `1940-1945’ Frits Broeyer writes that it started with Anne. She hid in a work closet around 6 o'clock in the evening on Saturday, December 12. She sat there until midnight, when the curfew began. She opened the front door on Domplein to let the others in. Two of the five studied chemistry (Lubberhuizen and Matthijsen). They knew the most convenient way to have the cardboard cards with personal data digested completely and smoothly by the fire. The cards had to be crumpled so that oxygen could easily flow into the fire. They also stashed thin copy paper from typewriters in strategic places in the mountain. The five spent hours crumpling. After lighting the fire, they fled in one direction through the front door on Domplein. At 4:30 a.m. a sentry on the Dom Tower discovered the fire. He alerted the fire brigade, who managed to contain the fire. The registration office did burn out completely and most of the furniture of the above faculty room of Mathematics and Physics was lost. There was also the Hermes statue, which is now part of the monument.

In his book, Broeyer writes that a few years after the liberation, professor of criminal law Willem Pompe organised a practice trial for his students against the so-called suspects. They were acquitted by Pompe in his role as judge on the basis of the value of the arson in the context of the circumstances of the time. The perpetrators had taken a responsible risk.

During the investigation shortly after the fire, the Germans did find 'ein blauer Damenmantel' between the ashes and the rubbish. In a report by Geert Lubberhuizen about the fire, Anne Maclaine Pont's coat turned out to be missing and probably under the pile of paper. In the aftermath of the fire, the Sicherheitsdienst arrested thirteen students for the fire and for posting protest pamphlets against Mussert and the arbeitseinsatz. They have all been released and the arsonists themselves have never been traced.

Saving Jewish children

Enkele leden van het Kindercomité. Frits en Anne staan hier hier niet bij. In het midden wel Rutger Matthijsen (zwarte jas, bril, geen hoed). En Anne's nicht Ankie Stork, vierde van rechts. Bron: wikipedia
Some members of the Children's Committee. Frits and Anne are not listed here. In the middle Rutger Matthijsen (black coat, glasses, no hat). And Anne's cousin Ankie Stork, fourth from the right.

During the first months of 1943, Broeyer writes, there was a student with a Jewish child on the train from Amsterdam to Utrecht almost every day. Frits Iordens and Anne Maclaine Pont pulled an even more gutsy stunt. Frits, dressed in an SS uniform, and Anne reclaimed three children who had been brought back to Amsterdam and rescued them again. Their "colleague" arsonists Geert Lubberhuizen and Rutger Mathijsen were founders of the Utrecht Children's Committee. There was a core group of about fifteen students, often members of the Utrecht Student Corps, such as Frits, or of the UVSV, the Utrecht Female Students Association. They placed the children with foster families and if that was not possible, temporarily in the Kindjeshaven crèche.

Trui van Lier (links)
Trui van Lier (left) at the creche Kindjeshaven.

The latter was founded by law student Trui van Lier (a niece of the now much-discussed Truus) and her friend Jet Berdenis van Berlekom, in 1940. A photo of Trui, with caption, hangs in the Administration Building of Utrecht University and there is a Van Lier en Eggink hall named after her and Truus (and Wim Eggink).  Kindjeshaven was an ordinary crèche to the outside world, but deliberately set up by Trui and Jet. Jet was a trained childcare provider, to hide Jewish children. It was located at 4 Prins Hendriklaan, near the Wilhelmina Park.

The secret administration of Jewish children was hidden by Archbishop (later Cardinal) De Jong, in the Archbishop's Palace on Maliebaan. De Jong also secretly gave money to the Utrecht Children's Committee to find foster families and to cover other costs. Foster families received money to support the hidden children. Frits's hiding places were mainly in the vicinity of Arnhem, his birthplace. He also had addresses in and around Utrecht. All went well until November 1943, when three members of the children's committee were arrested. They did survive the war and Ravensbrück concentration camp.


Frits Iordens
Frits Iordens, bron: RTV Utrecht

Smuggling allied pilots

Frits and Anne had meanwhile also become active in the smuggling of adults, for example on the Dutch-Paris line. The idea was to get Jewish people and Allied pilots who had landed or crashed through shortcuts along the border to Brussels and finally to Paris. Broeyer writes in his book: on March 2, 1944, the pilot assistance cost Frits Iordens his life. He tried to flee after being captured during a check in Hasselt, Belgium. When he suddenly ran away, he was shot dead during the chase. Frits' mother kept a diary. On April 5, 1944, she wrote in it: “Now it has been a month since the great sorrow came into our lives. I haven't been able to write about it. It's like a deep wound that keeps bleeding and inside me everything hurts all the time."

Happy hours in the woods by the river

Frits and Anne were not officially married, but their resistance friend Geert Lubberhuizen had forged their identity cards in such a way that they were spouses. Their bond must have been very strong. Two and a half years after his death, Iordens was reburied at Anne's request at the Eerde estate, on the river Regge, in Ommen, Overijssel. Harry Woertink writes on the Oudommen.nl site: “Both had spent happy hours in the woods along the river.” Anne had family in this part of the country, including her niece Ankie Stork. Ankie was also a student in Utrecht and active in the Children's Committee, she hid children in Overijssel. Anne lived until 1969, when she was 52. Woertink writes: "Where the grave now lies, they often sat together dreaming about their life after the war." On Frits' tombstone are lines from the poem “Le dormeur du val” (The sleeper in the valley) by Arthur Rimbaud. A famous poem about a dead soldier in a lovely nature.

“Il dort dans le soleil, la main sur sa poitrine, tranquille; il a deux trous rouges au côté droit”. Loosely translated: “He sleeps peacefully in the sun, with his hand on his chest; he has two red holes in his right side.”

Awarded by the Israeli Ambassador

Last September, Frits Iordens and Anne Maclaine Pont were posthumously awarded the Yad Vashem award at Eerde Castle in Ommen. The mayor of Ommen had made that request. Family members received the medal from the Israeli ambassador to the Netherlands. The Yad Vashem award 'Righteous Among the Nations' goes to those who, at the risk of their own lives, saved the lives of Jewish fellow citizens in World War II.