Hendrik (Harry) Johannes Hennekes

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During Jan G. Post's visit to the Rotterdam archive in the early Fall of 1999, a lot of miscellaneous genealogical information was obtained.  From this information, we first learned of a Hendrik Johannes Hennekes, who had lost his Dutch Nationality due to his voluntary enlistment in the United States Army.  A little while later, we further discovered that he had worked for the American Embassy in The Hague.  Quite naturally, questions arose such as why he joined the army of a foreign country and how it came about that he worked for the American Embassy.  On Christmas Eve, Jan emailed me that he now had more information about Hendrik Johannes.  This information came from his acquisition of the family's Personal Cards.  In The Netherlands, Personal Cards can be an important source for genealogy researchers.  The cards for this family detailed their movements within Holland and their movements between Holland and America.   It was also learned that Hendrik Johannes had 2 sons, and that the family had ties to California.  Jan asked me "if it was possible" to do further research regarding the sons of Hendrik Johannes, and so on the day after Christmas, I made a telephone call.  (For quite some time now, I've known that Hennekes were living in California, but I had assumed that they were unrelated.)  As a result of that initial and rather belated telephone call, I found myself talking with Hendrik Johannes' eldest son!  During our conversation, I learned that he had just celebrated his 74th birthday.  He disclosed that his father's story had never before been written down.  When he heard of my research into the Hennekes genealogy, he acknowledged that his father's history should probably be written down and preserved.  Over the next two days, his son developed the following account, which he emailed to me on the 28th of December.  (I have taken the liberty of editing his original letter and omitting personal details.)

"Hendrik Johannes Hennekes was nicknamed Harry and came from a very large family. If all the stillborn were included, the family figured that the total number of children to be over 20. It was no wonder then, like many other youngsters in those days, he had to quit school early and help support the family. Harry quit school in the 5th grade and went out to sea with the herring fishermen. He stayed at sea and went from one ship to another. At age 12, he "over wintered" on Nova Zembla when the ship got stuck in the ice.

Harry was on a ship in New York when the United States was at war with Germany. While on shore, he met an American at a bar in Hoboken, New Jersey, who bought him food and many drinks. After some discussion about the war, they both decided to join. (Holland remained neutral during World War 1.)  When Harry awoke from his drunken stupor, he found himself in the United States Army and aboard a ship to Europe to fight the war. His friend was nowhere to be seen, and it was not until later that Harry learned that his friend was actually a United States government employee, who got paid to find foreigners to join the Service.

Harry fought in France and was in many battles. He was exposed to Mustard Gas and was blinded in his right eye. He was also captured and briefly interned by the Germans. After Liberation, he spent some time in New York and New Jersey area hospitals where he received medical treatment for his wounds and received an artificial eye.

He went back to the Netherlands in 1919 as an American citizen with decorations for valor and a Purple Heart. He also received a generous pension, which helped his family. In 1921, he married Jansje de Graaff, who later bore him 9 children of whom seven were either stillborn or died shortly after birth. Both of the two children that lived were boys. The oldest son was born on December 8, 1925 and the other son was born on September 11, 1932.

Having to return to the United States every 2 years to maintain his citizenship, Harry (most likely in 1921) went back to America. While there, he was offered and accepted a job as a guard with the American Embassy in the Netherlands. However, it was then that Harry and his family became the victims of bureaucratic red tape when he failed to return to the USA in 1923 to renew his citizenship. According to Dutch Law, his wife was married to an American, and therefore, was considered an American citizen. His eldest son, although born in Rotterdam, was considered an American. According to American Law, neither were citizens since his wife had never gone to the United States and because his eldest son was not yet born when Harry became an American. Harry went back to the States in 1927 and renewed his citizenship. His youngest son was considered an American citizen according to both Dutch and American Laws. He worked alternately for the American consulate in The Hague and in Rotterdam until the Depression, during which time many consulates had to lay-off employees.

Just prior to the consulates closing, Harry, along with his youngest son, were offered passage to the United States but would have to leave his wife and eldest son behind, which he refused to do. From the time he left the American Embassy until 1942, Harry held several jobs such as seaman, secondhand dealer and maintenance worker. He worked for the Dutch Government in clearing debris left by the bombardments in Rotterdam. (Though Holland had declared it's neutrality in World War 2, the Germans invaded Holland in May of 1940.)  In the early part of 1942, Harry was taken prisoner by the German Command. He spent several months in a camp near Amersfort, The Netherlands and then was sent to an internment camp in Laufen, Germany until February 1944.

Through the International Red Cross, he was sent to Geneva, Switzerland where he was exchanged for a German prisoner of war. From Geneva, he went to Marseilles, France where he was boarded on the SS Gripsholm, which was a Swedish Red Cross ship during the war. After arriving in New York, he went to Washington, D.C. where he got a job with the State Department as a security guard. In February 1945, Harry's wife, Jansje, and his two sons also arrived in New York as exchanged prisoners of war.

Shortly afterwards, Harry went to work for the State Department in Foynes, Ireland; Prague, Czechoslovakia and The Hague. He returned to the USA somewhere between 1947 and 1948 and took a job at Andrews Air Force Base where in 1953, he got cinders in his good left eye and lost most of the vision in that eye. Being now legally blind, Harry had to retire. He lived his retirement years in Riverdale, Maryland and in 1959, he moved to Long Beach, California. His wife died there in 1960 and Harry continued living in Long Beach until 1962, when he moved back to Rotterdam and lived there until his death in 1965."