RAF Escaping Society 40th anniversary of the Liberation of Buchenwald cover signed by resistance heroine Hortense Daman Clews.
As a schoolgirl courier for the Belgian Army of Partisans in Louvain in 1942-43, Hortense Daman daily faced arrest, interrogation and deportation to a German concentration camp. She, her father and mother suffered all of these terrors yet miraculously survived.
The partisans of Louvain had limited support from the local population until in October 1942 the call-up of young men for work in German industry drove many to join them or go on the run.
The following spring the partisans destroyed almost 300 wagons and many thousands of gallons of fuel oil in the Louvain railway marshalling yards. They also kept Soviet Union intelligence abreast of Wehr-macht deployments in Belgium as well as attacking facilities supporting the German war machine.
Hortense Daman, however, acted only from patriotic motives and to support her brother François, a returned prisoner of war, who had begun his work with the partisans by helping British servicemen left behind in Belgium to avoid capture. Hortense proved ideal as a courier as she had a cool head and knew how to use her blonde good looks to advantage when necessary. The situation was exceptionally dangerous; Gestapo vigilance had uncovered a communist spy circuit in Belgium known to them as the Rote Kapelle (Red Orchestra) and had arrested the leaders. François Daman counselled his sister: “No matter how important the message, nothing is more important than being able to walk away free and keeping the message from being captured.”
Using deliveries from her mother’s grocery shop at 130 Pleinstraat just beyond the line of the old city walls as cover, she was able to carry messages, explosives and even grenades beneath the upper layer in her cycle pannier. Returning from an outlying village with a heavy sack of explosive hanging over the rear wheel she met a German patrol and escaped only because of her escort — following a safe distance behind her — wounded one of the patrol with his pistol. When stopped by a road-block while carrying grenades under an upper layer of eggs, she implored the officer not to delay her as her mother would be angry, allowing him to think she had been with a boyfriend. Attracted by her youthful, apparent innocence, he let her through.
On another occasion she was almost caught with a parcel of partisan documents when returning by train from a village in the valley of the Dyle. As the German Field Security Police neared her seat, she walked back to the first-class compartment occupied by German officers and, when questioned, pretended to be feeling sick. Again her youthful charm came to her aid. An officer offered his seat, told the patrol not to bother with her parcel and gave her a lift in his staff car from Louvain station. She was careful to ask him to drop her well away from home. The betrayal of her and her family, together with many others partisans, came through the capture of one of their number who succumbed to torture.
She and her father and mother were arrested on St Valentine’s Day, 1944. For a month all three were subjected to interrogation and vicious beatings by the Belgian SS — working with the occupation forces. She and her mother were held in the Little Prison of Louvain reserved for women. When an Allied air force attack on the marshalling yards damaged the prison severely, she was moved to Louvain’s main prison and from there to Raven-sbröck concentration camp in Germany.
As a terrorist sentenced to death without trial, she was subjected to sterilisation treatment as part of a programme of experiments for the prevention of contamination of pure Aryan stock. She was also injected in the thigh to induce gangrene. Soon afterwards it seemed certain her leg would have to be amputated but the German doctors decided against it and she made a slow and painful recovery. The elder daughter of Jacques and Stephanie Daman, Hortense was born in Louvain and attended school there. Her mother was also sent to Ravensbröck but both survived, as did Jacques Daman in Buchenwald.
WW2 very rare Belgian Resistance heroine signed FDC
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