Science

Farmer & mayor in wartime

The collaborator history forgot

Just before the start of the Second World War, Pé Tammens was an ordinary Groningen farmer. A few years later, he was made mayor of the city of Groningen and started a blacklist for the SD.

Door Christien Boomsma

4 March om 11:02 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 22 November 2020
om 16:15 uur.

By Christien Boomsma

March 4 at 11:02 AM.
Last modified on November 22, 2020
at 16:15 PM.

Christien Boomsma

Achtergrondcoördinator en wetenschapsredacteur Volledig bio » Background coordinator and science editor Full bio »

What if Petrus, aka Pé, Tammens, hadn’t owned a car? What if he hadn’t driven a group of Groningen farmers to meet German grain tycoon Alfred Toepfer in 1936? Would he still have become a Nazi? Would he still have become the mayor of Groningen during the war? And finally, would he still have written lists with ‘suspect’ people in Groningen for the German Sicherheitsdienst to use, killing people?

Historian Chris Gevers, who will receive his PhD for his biography on Tammens in May, wonders sometimes. Before the war, Tammens wasn’t much interested in the NSB (National Socialist Movement). He didn’t hate Jews; he had no issue with Jewish physician Daniël Polak treating his sickly wife. He didn’t join the NSB until 1941. In fact, his brother Peterus Jan Tammens used to hide fugitives in his barn. Who was the rich Groningen farmer who succeeded the monarchist mayor Cort van der Linden?

Even one of his victims said he was a nice man.

Tammens, Gevers says, has kind of been forgotten by history. ‘People who dealt with him even said he was a nice man’, he says. ‘Even Johannes Amerika, a teacher from Groningen who nearly died in an assassination and had to go into hiding after Tammens reported him, liked him.’

His name was hardly mentioned after the war, and he was even left out of the work En tóch staat de Martini, about Groningen during the war, which was published in 1945. But Tammens was responsible for the arrest of countless hostages and he did utmost to change the Netherlands in accordance with National Socialist ideals.

Tammens among the soldiers supporting the queen after Pieter Jelles Troelstra’s failed revolution in 1918.
Tammens among the soldiers supporting the queen after Pieter Jelles Troelstra’s failed revolution in 1918.

Monarchist

‘Funnily enough, he used to be a real monarchist’, says Gevers. He held speeches during the festivities for princess Juliana and prince Bernhard’s wedding. He was one of the first members of a foundation that stood for ‘spiritual and moral rearmament’, which had been founded in 1939 at Juliana’s behest. 

Tammens was even among the soldiers who personally pulled the carriage for princess Juliana and queen Wilhelmina, after Pieter Jelles Troelstra’s revolution failed in 1918. ‘I read his name in a newspaper clipping from back then’, says Gevers. ‘I’d had that clipping for years, and never noticed him.’

The Germans were good to the farmers, that must have appealed

But Tammens also was ‘what you’d call a real farmer’. And farmers did not have an easy time of it during the Depression, as grain prices fell and the farmers lost money. To get the prices back up, the government bought whole batches of grain and made them unsuitable for consumption, which was abhorrent to a man who worked so hard to create a good product. People didn’t like the farmers for getting help. But the worst part was that the support limited their freedom.

So it was under those circumstances that Tammens drove the farmers to Toepfer’s giant estate, where he saw how his company was thriving under the National Socialists’ politics. ‘This must have appealed to him’, says Gevers. ‘The Germans were good to the farmers.’

Anti-communist

Tammens still didn’t become a Nazi, though; he still didn’t join the NSB. ‘More than anything, he was anti-communist. He heard how the kulaks were murdered in Russia and how Stalin’s agricultural policies caused famine. The non-aggression treaty between Germany and the Soviet Union really bothered him’, says Gevers. 

When Hitler attacked the Soviet Union a year later, his final objections to the Germans disappeared. Tammens joined the NSB and his star was rising fast. Tammens was smart. ‘In agricultural school, he was awarded a gold medal for being the best student’, says Gevers. He also was held in high esteem. ‘He was part of the Groningen “nobility”.’ 

He started taking on multiple jobs. Like serving on executive boards as a representative under German occupation, as well as several others. ‘The Germans had no choice’, says Gevers. ‘There was a shortage of good, capable NSB members.’

Tammens in the mayoral office.
Tammens in the mayoral office

Mayor

When it turned out to be practically impossible to find a replacement for deposed mayor Cort van der Linden in late 1942, Tammens, who’d joined the NSB less than a year ago, was offered the job. ‘But he passed on it. He felt his work on the executive board was taking up too much of his time already.’

In the end, Gevers thinks, it was Anton Mussert himself who told Tammens to accept the job. He has no proof for this, but he thinks it’s interesting that Tammens changed his tune after he’d met the NSB leader in 1943 after a speech at the Groningen Harmonie. ‘True NSB members never go against the leader’s wishes.’

Suddenly, there was a countryman ruling the city. Neither the Stadjers nor Tammens himself were very happy with it, though. ‘I don’t think he was comfortable at all’, says Gevers. What he wanted was to run his farm; instead he started making lists of enemies of the regime. The Sicherheitsdienst, which was stationed in the Scholtenshuis at the Grote Markt, then monitored, captured, or even murdered them. 

Crime

Johannes Amerika ended up on one of these lists. He was a teacher who was openly anti-German and who refused to change his opinion even after Tammens talked to him. Not long after, three SD officers showed up on the teacher’s doorstep. He barely escaped the attempt on his life and went into hiding. But Tammens also wrote down the names of the concierges at city hall, as well as lawyers with whom he regularly worked together. ‘He would look people straight in the eye and then put their names on the list.’

True NSB members never go against the leader’s wishes

When the war ended, this was considered Tammens’ biggest crime. Sure, he said he regretted what he’d done, in a collective letter signed by a total of twenty-five NSB members that was published in several newspapers, but Gevers doesn’t really believe him. ‘That’s not a proper mea culpa’, he says. ‘He kept denying that he’d been in contact with Robert Lehnhoff, the SD officer who reigned in the Scholtenshuis. But his calendar clearly shows appointments with him.’ 

In the end, Tammens was convicted to seven years in prison and a fine of ten thousand guilders, a lot of money for the time, although Tammens was rich enough to afford it. After he was released from prison, he moved in with his wife and daughter-in-law at the Kraneweg. 

Family

Gevers had a difficult time finding out details about Tammens. Matters were complicated by the fact that Tammens’ family barely cooperated. ‘He wrote letters to his family from prison’, says Gevers. ‘But they wouldn’t let me read them.’ 

He once had coffee with Tammens’ granddaughter, but that’s all the contact he had with a family member. ‘They don’t like to admit that he was with the NSB. They think he only joined them all the way at the end of the war, if at all. They just think he was a good person and won’t hear a bad word about him.’

Gevers says it’s a shame he wasn’t allowed to use the information the family has. It could have helped him with his work; his other sources were scarce. Perhaps the family had hoped that he wouldn’t be able to write his book without their help. But Gevers thinks it was important to write the account of Tammens’ life anyway. ‘I think it gives insight into the daily administration during the war’, he says. ‘And especially when you see how all these aspects came together in one person.’

Translation by Sarah van Steenderen

Nederlands

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