Congressman Ted Poe (TX-02)
Most of you are probably familiar with Tony Geldens from his role in fighting the annexation of Kingwood during the mid ‘90s. During that time, Tony and numerous Kingwood residents opposed the annexation and started a campaign to “Free Kingwood.” Locally Tony is known for his work on behalf of the community, but he has a much more heroic story to tell and I’m honored to share his courageous account of resistance under Nazi Germany’s control with you.
Throughout World War II, Tony courageously fought Hitler’s soldiers as a member of the Dutch Underground. He helped to feed, hide, and protect Dutch Jews.
Born in the 1920s, Tony grew up in Hertogenbosch, Netherlands where his dad owned a brick factory. Like most of the world in the 1930s, the Netherlands, suffered from a Depression. Tony grew up belonging to the Boy Scouts, like most Dutch teenagers, camping with fellow Scouts, riding bicycles along canals and by old brick buildings. Tony remembers a close circle of friends consisting of both Christians and Jews. After school, like most young boys, they all enjoyed hanging out together.
On May 10, 1940, most of Tony’s world changed. Sixteen-year-old Tony was camping in the woods, close to his dad’s factory, when, without warning, the German Army invaded the Netherlands. His dad came and retrieved Tony from his camping site, and the family quickly evacuated to their home ahead of the invading forces. The Dutch resistance held out for three days before surrendering, marking the beginning of Nazi Germany’s occupation of the Netherlands.
The Nazi occupiers soon imposed anti-Jewish measures on all Dutch Jews. Just as it was throughout Nazi Germany, Dutch Jews were required to wear a yellow Star of David at all times. Strict curfews were enforced. Jews could not own businesses, and students were forced to transfer to segregated Jewish schools. In January 1941, Hitler required all Jews to register themselves. A total of nearly 160,000 Jews in the Netherlands registered.
They were issued ID cards stamped with the letter “J” for Jew.
Unlike many, Tony remained in the Netherlands during World War II, even after having the opportunity to leave. He says he remained because he felt compelled to stay and fight against the injustices occurring in his home country. After Germany invaded, Tony withdrew from high school. As time went on, the harshness of the Nazi occupation grew. Notice was sent to all Dutch Jews that they had to go to work in Germany—forced labor. Outraged towards the Germans’ treatment of Jews, Tony and his fellow Scouts joined the Dutch Resistance effort. Although, the Germans had immediately disbanded the Boy Scouts, Tony and his friends would always remember the Scout promise: to do their best and to do their duty to God, Country and to other people.
Under Nazi control, resistance was forbidden and often quite dangerous. All resistance happened illegally and the Germans were ruthless. Captured members of The Dutch Underground were usually shot, imprisoned, or sent to concentration camps. Nonetheless, Tony and his loyal band of Scouts were not deterred from joining the resistance movement. Without an organized leader, Tony began a covert four year fight against the Nazis, saving Jews from starvation, torture, imprisonment, and death.
Like a wartime Robin Hood, Tony fed hundreds of Jews by holding up German food stamp offices to obtaining food ration books. Drawing from his hobby building radios, he also operated a radio transmitter which transmitted to England information about downed British pilots and Nazi movements. He would also help downed allied pilots by moving them among different homes of Dutch citizens until they were able to reach safety in France.
As a result of his actions, he was arrested and imprisoned numerous times. When imprisoned, the Nazis beat and tortured him for information concerning the Dutch resistance cells, or Dutch Jews. Several times they administered “truth serum,” but it never worked! Sometimes they let him go; sometimes he escaped.
The last few days before the War ended were the hardest for Tony. On one particular day, Tony came home and discovered an empty house. He ran next door to his priest to find answers. After investigating, the priest informed Tony that the Germans were holding his family captive, and in return for their release, the Germans wanted Tony to turn himself in. The Germans threatened that after the third day, they would shoot his mother first, then his sisters and then his father.
Wanted posters with Tony’s picture began to be circulated on trees around Hertogenbosch. In order to save his family, Tony resolved to turn himself into the authorities. He said his goodbyes to his priest, friends and family. He hid at a bombed out rail road station; sleeping between the railroad ties. On his way to turn himself in, Tony saw the Canadian Red Cross working the area. According to Tony, the hardest moment throughout everything, was to see his liberators but know that he was on his way to meet his end.
Halfway during his trial, shooting broke out between the Canadian soldiers and the Nazi police. Once again, Tony was able to escape. However, while Tony was at trial, German Nazis had evacuated his family along with hundreds of Dutch Resistance citizens thirty miles away. With the intentions of murdering the resistance fighters, the Nazis put them in five different buildings and subsequently blew up the buildings, including city hall.
Miraculously, his family was at the end of the line going into the building and, unbeknownst to the Nazis, they hadn’t entered the building before it was demolished. Unlike so many others, Tony’s family survived. Soon after, the Netherlands was liberated. At this point however, Tony’s family feared that he was dead. Imagine the Geldens reunion when they learned that they all had survived.
During World War II, the Germans deported 107,000 Dutch Jews to concentration camps. Only 5,200 survived. The Dutch Underground helped hide 25,000 to 30,000 Jews. Two-thirds of Dutch Jews in hiding survived the war. Less than 25 percent of Dutch Jews survived the Holocaust.
Tony and thousands like him put his life on the line for freedom. He saw the concentration camps and the victims of the Nazis. He saw friends murdered. He saw incredible numbers of new graves throughout Holland. But like so many of his generation, he never discusses the details. He does not see himself as a hero; oftentimes the greatest acts of heroism and courage are the ones that go most unnoticed.
After the liberation of the Netherlands, Tony attended Architecture school in Tilburg, Netherlands where he met his wife, Anna. Tony stayed in the Netherlands to help rebuild his hometown and country. Eventually, in 1967, he found his way to Texas, and became a United States citizen in 2000. He and his wife, Anna, raised five children in their home in Kingwood. Tony loves his adopted country, and he loves Texas. He is a true patriot, and at 86 years old, he continues the good fight.
It is with great pleasure that I recognize and honor my friend, Tony Geldens, for his part in saving Dutch Jews during World War II. He is a person of great courage, dignity and compassion and his actions were truly heroic and whether he wants the title or not, he is our hometown hero.
And that’s just the way it is.