On 13 December 1944, Keesje was shot dead while looking for coals on the Rietlanden. As a reminder, soon after the war, a cross was constructed on the spot where Keesje fell by loving local residents, accompanied by his name and a touching poem.
The commemoration begins with stories, poems and music.
2 minutes of silence, preceded by the Last Post. This will be followed by the laying of wreaths and flowers and a silent procession past the monument.
Afterwards, there will be an opportunity for all attendees to chat with a cup of coffee, tea and/or lemonade.
The plain wooden cross in Keesje Brijdeplantsoen, on the Sporenburg in the Oostelijk Havengebied, is perhaps the simplest war memorial in Amsterdam. This memorial keeps alive the memory of Keesje Brijde, who was shot dead when he was only 13 years old.
During the German occupation, a Dutch Railways shunting yard was in operation on what was then called the Rietlanden. The Germans used this area to offload supplies for their troops. It was therefore forbidden territory (‘Sperrgebiet’) and strictly guarded. Residents in the area knew only too well that fuel for a fire could be found here, such as coal that had fallen from old steam locomotives or left there from past coal shipments. Especially at the end of the war, when fuel was scarce and there was a “winter of hunger”, neighbourhood children would go there to search. This is exactly what Keesje Brijde did. He was the ninth child in a large family of 12 children, living in the Indian neighbourhood on the corner of Javastraat, At home, the stove had to burn to keep the house at least a little warm and to cook the scarce food that was left. On 13th December, Keesje and his friend Floris Goulooze took a trip to the Rietlanden to see what they could source. Keesje knew the dangers, but trusted himself to find the right hidden paths. Sadly however, the venture turned out to be fatal for him. Out of nowhere, he was shot at by an unidentified German from the Grüne Polizei or possibly an NSB officer serving with the dreaded Landwacht. A bullet struck Keesje in the neck. He was taken to the Onze Lieve Vrouwe Gasthuis, but doctors there could do nothing more for him. A few days later, his body was taken by horse and cart to De Nieuwe Ooster cemetery.
After the war, local residents spontaneously placed a wooden cross on the spot where Keesje was shot. Today this is near the western entrance to the Piet Hein tunnel. Bakker J. Schagen from Javastraat, under the name ‘Rijmelaar’, wrote the poem that still hangs near the cross.
Keesje is a little boy,
Barely 13 years old.
Keesje wants to help his mother!
Can’t bear to see her drudgery any longer.
Mother needs coal now
To stoke the little stove.
Keesje wants to be helpful,
Wants to make the chimney smoke again.
In the morning in the chilly darkness
He gets sprightly out of bed.
‘Bye mother,” he whispers,
“I’ll be back before you know it”.
The last stanza reads:
He with his cursed weapon
Little children did not spare
And for the sake of a few coals gathered
Sent to a chilly grave
Staff members of the Dutch Railways (NS) started caring for the monument. After the NS left the Oostelijk Havengebied, pupils of the 8th Montessori School Zeeburg adopted the monument and took over this task. With the rezoning of the Eastern Docklands area in the late 1970s, the old harbour became a residential area and new buildings were constructed. The little monument known as ‘Keesje’s grave’, was preserved, but it needed a new location. In 2000, it was given a permanent home in a place named after the boy – the Keesje Brijdeplantsoen, on the Sporenburg.
An annual gathering is held at the monument on 4th May. Pupils from primary schools in the Oostelijk Havengebied (Eastern Harbour area) lay flowers. Inspired by the poem on the monument’s text board, children recite poems that they have written themselves.