Jewish students who escaped Nazis by boat reunited 75 years later

Zeemanshoop (Picture: Twitter/@DavidHenigBIS). (Zeemanshoop (Picture: Twitter/@DavidHenigBIS))

Two Jewish men who fled the Netherlands in a hijacked 75 years ago were reunited at the same, now restored boat on Thursday in Scheveningen. This hijacking happened shortly after the Netherlands surrendered to Germany.

The Zeemanshoop was hijacked by four students in Scheveningen in May 1940. They, along with dozens of other Jewish refugees, used it to sail to England. The small lifeboat is now being restored, and though the restoration is not completely done yet, it could take a selected group for a short sail in Scheveningen on Thursday, NOS reports. Among this select group were Karel Dahmen and Loet Velmans, the last two surviving men who used the boat in their flight to England so long ago.

Dahmen was 20 when he and three other students stole the boat to sail to England. "We were furious about the surrender and we wanted to fight against the Germans from England." he told NOS.

The then 17 year old Velmans, who wasn't a student but lived in Scheveningen, was also on the dock on that day. "It was quite crowded with well dressed people" Velmans said to the broadcaster, "They ale wanted to go to England and were negotiating with the sailors. But they wanted to stay with their families and refused." Velmans and his cousin spotted the four students. "We knew right away that they were planning something. When they jumped aboard the lifeboat, we did so too." Dozens of people followed their example and even threatened to topple the boat, but a soldier fired shots in the air to drive people back and the boat managed to sail away.

Velmans remembers sitting in the bow and looking for mines, "because we were sailing through a minefield". If he saw one, he called out to the students sailing the boat. Dahmen was at the helm and satisfied that they had managed to steal the boat. "But there were people who doubted whether we should go on. There was of course no professional crew. I followed the compass and when someone shouted that we had to sail slightly to the southwest, I did."

The boat eventually came across an English ship, that took the 46 people on board to the English town of Dover. "Secretly I thought it a pity that we had not reached the shore on our own." Dahmen said.