Scrapbookpages Blog

May 7, 2010

Dutch heroine Coba Pulskens hid downed Allied flyers in World War II

Today I was searching the news on google, as I do every morning, and I came across the remarkable story of Coba Pulskens, a Dutch woman who was part of the Resistance movement in the Netherlands in World War II.  A monument to Coba Pulskens, who died in the gas chamber at Ravensbrück in February 1945, has been erected to her in Tilberg in the Netherlands.

I previously blogged about the Ravensbrück gas chamber here.

Monument to Dutch heroine Coba Pulskens in Tilberg

The photo above and the following quote is from the ww2museums.com web site which you can see here:

The monument for Coba Pulskens in Tilburg, The Netherlands, has been erected in memory of the lady in the resistance movement who perished only a few months before the liberation. Jacoba Pulskens (1884-1945) During the Second World War she offered shelter to Jews, members of the resistance movement and to stranded allied aircrew.

On Sunday 9 July, 1944, a command group of the Gestapo (German Secret State Police) raided the house of Pulskens at the Diepenstraat. Contrary to the rules of engagement, the three hidden airmen were not taken Prisoner of War, but immediately shot in the kitchen and in the backyard. Mrs. Pulskens, 60 years of age, was arrested and deported to Ravensbrück, a concentration camp for women. In February 1945, she died in the gas chamber. According to survivors she voluntarily took the place of a mother with children hoping that to save their lives.

This story got my attention because of this phrase that leaped out at me: “Contrary to the rules of engagement…”

What rules of engagement?  The Geneva Convention and the Hague Convention?  Coba Pulskens was an illegal combatant under the rules of the Geneva Convention, which states that after a country surrenders in a war, the people in that country who take up arms and continue fighting as civilians are illegal combatants who do not have the protection of the Geneva Convention.  By mentioning the “rules of engagement,” whoever wrote this is making a legal case that the killing of the Allied airmen was a war crime; it gives a signal that there might be another side to the story.

I did a little research on this story and the first thing that I learned was that the airmen were wearing civilian clothes when they were found by the German Sicherheitsdienst (Security police) from the town of Den Bosch.  The Netherlands had surrendered and was under German occupation at this point in World War II. If these airmen had turned themselves in, instead of hiding with the Dutch resistance, they would have been treated as POWs and sent to a POW camp where they would have been treated according to the rules of the Geneva Convention.

Michael Rotschopf, the man who shot the airmen at Coba Pulsken’s house on July 9, 1944, was prosecuted by a  British Military Court in Essen, Germany in June 1946, along with nine other Sicherheitsdienst men who were included under the “common design” principle used by the Allies in war crimes trials. Rotschopf, along with three others, was convicted and sentenced to be hanged.

The following quote is from the Law Reports of Trials of War Criminals. Selected and Prepared by the United Nations War Crimes Commission. Volume XI, London: HMSO, 1949:

Mr. Nico Pulskens, whose house was opposite that of Aunt Coba, stated that on the morning of 9th July, 1944, at about 11.0 to 11.15 a.m. he had called on Aunt Coba and seen three English pilots. The latter were carrying no arms and were dressed in civilians clothes. Shortly afterwards he returned to his own house and heard shots and groans from the direction of Aunt Coba’s house. Looking in that direction from his own house, he saw a man in a blue raincoat “threatening with a sten gun,” the shooting continued until the groaning of the victims ceased. He identified Rotschopf as the man who performed the shooting.

[…]

Rotschopf claimed that his orders were to arrest persons of a Resistance group but of whom he had received no description. His instructions from Hardegan at Tilburg were to pass through the house and secure the back of it. According to his evidence, while passing through the living room with his sten gun under his overcoat, he saw three persons in civilian clothes at a table. When he reached the yard behind the house, he saw three men running towards him. When they ignored his shouts of  “Halt. Hands up,” he shot at them and they fell immediately. Cremer then came over the wall from the right, Hardegan and possibly Roesener from the left.

Rotschopf admitted that, in his view, the three men died as a result of his firing. He said that he did not know that the three men were members of the Allied Forces and that “ We did not go there to murder them.” He denied backing the men into the yard and there shooting them in accordance with a concerted plan. He admitted that his gun was loaded when he entered the house but he denied that the three pilots surrendered. Rotschopf said : “ I saw no other way out, and I considered myself under pressure.” Hardegan had told him that if he was attacked he should use his gun, as the persons to be arrested might be armed. He said he did not think that if he had merely pointed the gun at the men it would have stopped them. He said that the events all happened suddenly, and his act was done in self-defence.

[…]

The Defence argued that no plan to commit murder had been proved. The Prosecution, on the other hand, maintained that “ this was a concerted action to murder three British pilots, three people who were known to be British pilots and that they, having surrendered to the accused Rotschopf, were in fact murdered in accordance with the plan.”

Much of the argument of Counsel concerned the inferences to be drawn from circumstantial evidence. Thus, the Defence pointed out that Rotschopf was a war-wounded person who was subject to fits, and who had been posted to the DienststelIe to perform office work. Schwanz also was primarily an office worker. The Defence drew the conclusion that neither could have been chosen for the task had it been intended to involve killing people. The Prosecution, on the other hand, emphasised that Rotschopf had had considerable experience of street fighting in Russia which would make him a suitable person to send on a killing mission, and that since Schwanz spoke fluent Dutch he could make enquiries without arousing suspicion. Again, the Prosecution produced evidence to show that Rotschopf’s firing had been divided into two bursts, with a short period intervening. This would tend to show that the killing was intended, but the Defence claimed that it was due to spasmodic muscular movements to which Rotschopf was alleged to be subject.

The Defence maintained that it was most unlikely that the victims would be led outside into the open air if the intention were to shoot them, and the Prosecution on their part used the fact that the victims were later cremated as a significant fact.

The complete text about the trial can be read here.

I previously wrote about Allied flyers being sent to Buchenwald which you can read here.