Robert Maistriau (°1921)

 

 

Robert in 1993

 

 

My father was a doctor with the Belgian army during WW I. During that war, he lost all respect for the German people. We, as young people, were also opposed against the Germans, even before WW II. I was particularly annoyed by the rule that obliged young people to work in German factories to keep the German war industry going on.

 

Robert in 1943

I had stopped my studies medicines but I was bored with my office job at the metal factory Fonofer. When I was 22 years old, I decided to join a resistance group. I was living in the vicinity of the school of Ukkel. Youra Livschitz was a schoolmate of me. Together with Youra, I got involved with the attack on the XXth convoy.

 

At a certain moment, I received the order from Youra Livschitz to organise four pairs of tongs and a hurricane lamp. In a store, in the centre of Brussels, not far away from my working place with the company Fonofer, I found the necessary tools. I bought the tongs and also a lamp, from the German brand “Feuerhand”. In another shop, I bought glue and red silk paper. I glued the paper onto the glass of the lamp. From a distance, the hurricane lamp would look like a red signal.

 

We used our bikes to travel to the place of the attack. My bag was filled with the hurricane lamp and those tongs. In fact, we were badly organised and prepared. I felt a mixture of a hunger for adventure and the will to inflict the Germans as much damage as possible. At that stage, nobody could have stopped me.

 

Around 9h45 pm, we took our position besides the railway tracks in-between Haacht and Boortmeerbeek. We heard the whistle of the locomotive. Sounds were ringing in that quiet night … only after a few seconds, the train headed for the hurricane lamp. Because the lamp was on the railway tracks, at the end of a curve, the train driver saw the red signal only at the last moment. The driver slowed down the pace immediately, but the first wagons ran over the lamp. Finally, the train stopped.

 

I completely froze. Then I headed for the first wagon I’d met. In my left-hand, I held a little torch and with my right-hand, I used the tongs. I was very excited and I thought it took ages before I finally succeeded in cutting the wire that was used to secure the sliding door. Finally I could open the heavy door of the cattle wagon. I used my torch to illuminate the carriage. Pale and frightened faces stared at me. “Get out, get out”, I shouted and I urged them “schnell, schnell, fliehen sie!” (quick, quick, get out of here).

 

Then, I tried to open the lock of the second wagon. I put the torch into my pants, so I could use both of my hands. That way, I could manipulate the tongs much better. But time was running out. Someone was shooting. I was an ideal target in the lunar light. I ran for the bushes, where a couple of refugees ware waiting for me. I shouted them that they had to hit the ground.

 

After a while, all became quiet and the train continued his trip. When I saw the red taillights disappear, I got up. I gave seven people a note of 50 francs. I urged them to disperse themselves. One woman embraced me with passion and she said she didn’t know how she could thank me. Somebody else asked me for my name and address, so they could send me a gift, after the war. I thought that was pretty naive. Names and addresses, that was the first lesson you learned as a young member of the resistance, were taboo.

 

Robert Maistriau became a member of the resistance “Group G”, after his ‘baptising’ with the XXth convoy. Later he went into hiding, in the Ardennes. He was arrested during a meeting of Group G and was taken into custody, as a political prisoner, in the camp of Breendonk. After he was deported towards Buchenwald, he did penal servitude in the Dora-camp. He survived the concentration camps. He was freed by the Americans in Bergen-Belsen.

Right now, Robert Maistriau is living in Brussels.

 

Composed of fragments from the book “Quiet rebels” by Marrion Schreiber.

 

 

 

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