Moolenaar, Erik (636th)

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Biography:  Erik Moolenaar was born on August 6, 1922 in The Hague, Netherlands. He was the son of Frederik Nicolaas Moolenaar and Justina Frederika van Lunteren.  He attended primary school in The Hague and continued his education at Geurt Volkers college, also in The Hague, graduating in 1938. 

He was a member of the Boy Scouts and as early as 1938, he became aware of the seriousness of the developing political situation in Europe. He didn’t realize at the time that this not only concerned Europe, but that the same actions were taking place in Eastern Asia. The full realization of the world’s problems came when Japan attacked Pearl harbor in 1941. In 1939, Erik was serving as a volunteer member of the Civil Guard group in The Hague.

In the photo below left, you can see Erik standing second from left while serving with the Civil Guard.

Erik Moolenaar 6He then went to work as an analyst in a paint factory in his home town. When the Germans occupied the Netherlands, they forced the Dutch men into compulsory work for the German war industry. Erik was able to avoid this for quite some time but on July 28, 1943, he also was forced to work in the Ruhr-area. In Mannheim, during a bombardment, he escaped the train and travelled to Strasbourg, which he believed to be a safer area.

In Strasbough he had to work in the Comessa steel factory but since he and the others with him did not have metal working skills, they were assigned handyman duties moving material and clearing blockages on conveyor belts. They used their positions to carefully commit sabotage, particularly during the night shift to slow the progress of their captors.

When, in autumn 1944, their factory was bombed, Erik and his work-friend Jan van Gemert escaped and were able to reach U.S. forces of the 36th Infantry. He was quick to show the Americans how to get to the factory, which was taken without damage.

Service Time: Erik would serve with the 636th Tank Destroyer Battalion from December 1944 until March 1945, with an M10 crew. During this time he took part in the defense against operation ‘Nordwind’ in the vicinity of Haguenau. He also provided translation services since he was fluent in Dutch, German, French and English. Both Erik and Jan’s expertise became known in the Headquarters of the 36th Infantry Division and they were assigned to the AMG (Allied Military Government) Section of the Division, which was under the command of Lt. Col. Grady C. Durham. Erik was specifically assigned to Captain Philip Broadhead and Jan was assigned to Captain Norman Cohen. Both Erik and Jan were involved in the liberation of one of the concentration camps near Landsberg.

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Since many normal government tasks could no longer be trusted to Germans, as an interpreter, Erik dealt with many important issues including the many thousands of forced laborers and displaced persons that wanted to go home. Erik was particularly proud of his part in the arrest of Hans Frank, who was the Nazi Governor of Poland. Being the interpreter of the 3-men AMG team that arrested Frank, he translated the first interrogation by the arresting officer, Captain Broadhead. His translation work was a crucial part in the taking down of this war criminal.

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Both Erik and Jan were anxious to get home and were permitted to do so on August 4, 1945 from Geislingen in Southern Germany. They were given a German Mercedes 170 to use for the trip and three days later they were on the Dutch border. They had to leave the car there but were able to continue, reaching home on the 8th. Thankfully their homes and families had survived.

Although Erik was considered a civilian in uniform, he did serve with the 636th and with the 36th Infantry Division and received the EAME (European-African-Middle Eastern) Campaign Medal with two campaign stars. He should have also been awarded the WWII Victory Medal and the Purple Heart but left the army before he could receive them.

Commendation letter from 36th Inf. Division

After the war, he returned home and worked as an export manager for a paint factory. On July 21, 1948, he married the former Helena Maria Petronella de Vos who was also born in The Hague and was the daughter of Albert de Vos and Elisabeth Cornelia van der Kruk. The new couple would have two sons, Donald “Guy” Elmer, born in 1950, and Terence Patric Richard born in 1955. In his spare time, Erik enjoyed scouting, collecting stamps and coins and also genealogy research. 

In addition to his awards from WWII, he was also the bearer of the gold medal of honor of the Order of Oranje-Nassau and the silver and gold Jacobs Staff of the Dutch Scout Association in both 1962 and 1968.

Erik passed away on October 15, 2005, and his ashes were scattered at the ‘Heegermeer’ in the Netherlands. I want to thank Erik’s son, Guy, for providing the information and photos used in this tribute. In addition to the materials shown above, Guy has done extensive research into his father’s life and has provided a copy of a portion of this research to us. You can read more about Erik’s very interesting life at the following link:

The Life Story of Erik Moolenaar