Ab(Albert) Nicolaas was born at 6 of June in 1917, in Leyden, the Netherlands.There were 3 children in their family, Ab and his 2 sisters. His father was politically active in the labor movement and made sure his children were well educated. The family had an apartment and office building. Later, that flat became a center for resistance activities.
On May 10th German troops invaded Holland and Ab Nicolaas had been called up for military service. On 15 May the Dutch armed forces capitulated and sergeant Nicolaas was dismissed. Later, the entire family joined the resistance against the German regime. Because of that he was sent to Amersfoort Concentration Camp in the Netherlands.
In 1941 he was brought in Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp in Germany. During his 3-year imprisonment at Sachsenhausen, Ab Nicolaas was assigned to several work details, such as some lighter, some heavier ones. Among other things he was a laborer at the Klinker works and a painter. Once, he had to clean the crematorium ovens and worked on wall-paintings as an artist. Day or night, it was almost impossible to escape the cruel reality of the concentration camp.
Prisoners, among them Ab Nicolaas, tried to find some relief, at least for a while. For example at Christmas or Easter some prisoners organized celebration and remembered their home and family. In December 1994 the Dutch prisoners celebrated Saint Nicholas Day. Ab Nicolaas drew the invitations performed with the „Hibronic’s Swing Trio“. His last name predestined him to also perform Saint Nicolaas. Apart from his performances he drew birthday cards for fellow prisoners.
But the death was present everywhere. Ab Nicolaas witnessed the punishment and death of many other prisoners. In April 1945 an order was issued to evacuate the Sachsenhausen Camp due to the advance of Russian troops from the East. Ab Nicolaas was among the last to be sent on a march towards the Baltic Sea. Many of the emaciated prisoners did not survive the strains of the death march. After ten days, Ab Nicolaas was liberated by US troops near the town of Schwerin.
After the liberation, Ab Nicolaas acted as an interpreter for the US military authorities. They gave him a French car, taken from the Germans who had stolen it in France. Through the bombed out Ruhr industrial region, he drove back to the Netherlands. Ab Nicolaas returned to his family in Leyden.
After a solid rest, he tried to resume his former life which wasn’t easy after years in the camp. In January 1946 he got married. The necessity of coming to terms with the years of imprisonment was recognized fairly early in the Netherlands. The „Foundation 1940-1945“ was set up specifically for former concentration camp inmates to help them to cope with mental and physical problems. Ab Nicolaas, too, received assistance from this organization. After several months of rest, Ab Nicolaas resumed work as an ad man for the daily newspaper, Leidsch Dagbland. Around this time he also created his autobiographical work called the „Ik Boek“.
On 2 November 1950, Ab Nicolaas was awarded a medal for participating in the armed struggle against the German invasion.
Ab Nicolaas returned to work as an ad man, but after less than two years quit. His new career was that of a clown who also made quick drawings on stage. Under the name of Nick Nicholls he performed in Holland and Germany, Austria and Scandinavia for about thirty years.
Later, in his interview he was telling „Becoming a clown, afterwards, really came from this need I had to hide. In the camp I imagined myself back to my childhood. […] But I must say, for me, being a clown has been the best therapy. The memories force themselves on me with everything I do, for example, whenever I drink coffee , I know I didn’t get any coffee for 4 years. I cannot really say what this means, one can only feel it.
Believe me, being an ex-prisoner is something terrible. For everyone who had survived, who lived through the death march and returned home to his family, could hardly get rid of his story. Because, at this time Holland itself was also recovering and everyone had plenty to do.“ (“Sachsenhausen Camp 1936-1945. Events and Developments“ in the former prisener’s kitchen).
He died at 1999 in Noordwyk, the Netherlands.
(Source of the foto: Wikimedia Commons)