File No.: Case File # 16
Title: The Oberdak Case
Subject: Podporucznik Pilot (Second Lieutenant-Pilot) Czesław OBERDAK, born July 20th, 1921 in Krakau (Poland), died March 8th, 1945 in Apeldoorn
(The Netherlands) identified after 64 years.

Investigation made at: Loenen, Municipality of Apeldoorn (The Netherlands)
Period Covered: May 30th, 1944 – December 10th, 2009
Date:  March 30th, 2011
Case Classification: Identification of missing Polish pilot whose remains had been mistaken for those of Nazi retaliation victim in Holland, 1945
Status of Case
: Case Closed
Introduction: On May 30th 1944, Polish pilot Czesław Oberdak escorted a number of Allied bombers, heading for the German city of Magdeburg. Close to the target, Oberdak's P51 Mustang was hit. The Pole managed to land his damaged plane near the Dutch town of Ommen, set fire to it and made contact with local resistance fighters. After months of being moved from hiding place to hiding place, Oberdak was finally caught
by the Nazis on December 24th, 1944. He was found guilty of espionage, due to the civilian clothes he wore when he was arrested. Shot on the 8th of March, 1945 during the infamous "Woeste Hoeve" Nazi retaliation execution, Oberdak's body ended up in a mass grave.
A few weeks later, when World War Two was over almost every body in this grave was identified.
One of the two exceptions was Oberdak. It took another 64 years before Czesław Oberdak could be buried with military honors in his hometown Krakau in Poland.

 


Second Lieutenant-Pilot Czesław OBERDAK

REASON FOR INVESTIGATION:  

Although we did have an active role in the investigation which led to the positive identification of Oberdak, we were able to monitor the development of this case closely.
In our "Miscellaneous Page" we introduced the Dutch police detectives Mosk and Waterman when we described their "Wamel Case"; the last war crimes investigation in The Netherlands. These sleuths were highly instrumental in solving the Oberdak Case. Furthermore, as a member of the Dutch Red Cross Missing Persons of World War Two Work Group, battle detective Tom, was given details of Oberdak's exhumation, the results of the subsequent DNA-analysis and the preparation of the remains for shipment to Poland for the final state burial. In March 2010 we paid our respects at Czesław Oberdak's final resting place in Poland. The story of Second Lieutenant Oberdak also brought back memories of one of the most evil Nazi atrocities during the occupation of Holland.
We consider it important to make this story known to the public.

SYNOPSIS:
The story of Polish pilot Oberdak was featured in a fair amount of publications in The Netherlands. We can therefore confine this Case File to a brief summary of events in a chronological order.

Hiding
After Oberdak's forced landing and contact with local resistance, the pilot was moved to several safe addresses in the Northern provinces of The Netherlands. In September 1944 resistance people took Oberdak to Amsterdam by train. During a typical Dutch celebration of Saint Nicolas on the 5th of December three photographs were taken of Czesław. These images proved crucial in the post-war investigation.

(Click on the thumbnails to enlarge)

(Photo Credit: KLPD, Netherlands' National Police Agency)

On the 10th of December 1944 Oberdak and other Allied pilots were brought to a man-made cave with the intent to wait for the Allies to liberate all of Holland.
 
Arrest
Destiny struck on the 24th of that month when a German military truck broke down next to the cave. The Nazi's saw movement in the underbrush and alarmed the Grüne Polizei (Green Police) who arrested all resistance workers and the Allied airmen they were hiding.
Because of his civilian clothes, Oberdak was sentenced to death for espionage.
The Germans locked our pilot away in a makeshift prison in the town of Doetinchem and waited for a suitable moment to execute Oberdak's death sentence.
 
Ambush in Apeldoorn
Meanwhile, approximately a third of Holland had been liberated by the Allies. The rest of the country suffered from the Nazi policy of removing all valuable goods from Holland and taking them to the Fatherland. Local Dutch resistance organizations grew in numbers and size, but where still scattered across the country and often operating independently.
The cat and mouse game between these groups and the Sicherheitsdienst (the Nazi Intelligence Service, abbreviated as SD) became more intense as the war grew to its end. In March 1945 the resistance in the town of Apeldoorn knew that the SD was closing in on them, as all their motor vehicles had been seized in a night raid. Fortunately none of its members were caught.

Geert Gosens, the leader of an Apeldoorn resistance group, named "GG-Groep", was informed that the Germans were about to transport a large shipment of freshly butchered meat. The group planned to steal this meat from under German noses to distribute it to needy families and people hiding for the German oppressor. The plan was to just take the meat by showing up at the slaughter house with an army truck, wearing Nazi uniforms.
In the night of March 6, 1945 a group of armed men set off on bicycles to the Apeldoorn – Arnhem highway.
There was hardly any traffic but towards midnight they stopped a BMW 326 convertible.
Counter to all expectations, the occupants resisted, drew firearms and attempted to escape. From two sides, Gosens' men opened fire with their automatic British Sten submachine guns.
The car, and the Nazis inside it, were riddled with 9 millimeter (.38 caliber) bullets rendering the vehicle useless for the intended meat theft.

Geert Gosens and his men mounted their bicycles and left the scene in a hurry. They were unaware of the fact that they had just shot Hans Albin Rauter, the supreme chief of all German police, security and intelligence services in The Netherlands or "Höhere SS- und Polizeiführer Nordwest".
 
Nazi investigation

Rauter, feared all over The Netherlands for his tyranny, had sustained several gunshot wounds, but was not dead; unlike
his driver and his aide, Oberleutnant Exner. After the shot-up car was found in the early morning of March 7, the Sicherheitsdienst immediately launched an investigation. Several Nazi detectives from the SD offices in Arnhem, Apeldoorn and Zwolle rushed to the scene.

The site of the ambush was processed like a crime scene.

With crayon the position of Rauter's BMW was indicated on the tarmac road top, as were the spent 9 millimeter casings.
Plaster was poured in tire tracks in the roadside verge and a reconstruction of the shooting was done by SD detectives.
They also ordered Dutch crime scene photographer Jan Muda from the Apeldoorn police to document the location of the ambush. Muda took his photos when the dead bodies of the driver and of Oberleutnant Exner where still in their car seats.

(Click to enlarge)

(Click on the thumbnails to enlarge)

1. Detectives take notes and examine the spot where Rauter's car was caught in a cross fire. Note chalk markings on the road top.
2. Rauter's shot-up BMW 326.
Apeldoorn police photographer took this photograph standing on the roof of a bus.
3. The BMW 326 from another angle.
The dead driver and Rauter's aide are still in the vehicle.
4. The dead driver behind the steering wheel of Rauter's BMW.
Note 9 millimeter bullet holes.
5. Chalk lines indicate where Rauter's BMW halted and was riddled with bullets from British Sten automatic carbines. The circles close to the photographer mark empty shell casings.
6. A detective's plaster kit sits in the road side verge as a cast of a tire track is drying.
7. The highway looking south in the direction of Arnhem.
Rauter's vehicle was moved to the side of the road but not before the original ambush position was indicated in chalk.
8. Sicherheitsdienst detectives act as resistance shooters in a reconstruction of the ambush.

Retaliation
The Nazis struck back hard and ruthless. Rauter's substitute, SS-Brigadeführer Eberhardt Schöngarth ordered that hundreds of Dutchmen were to be shot in reprisal. The official German statement read:
 


"As a result of a cowardly and vicious raid on the passengers of a German car
committed by a group of terrorists in the night of 6 to 7 March 1945,
several hundreds of terrorists and saboteurs
were summary shot in public on the 8th of this month.
"

At first, Schöngarth had instructed that 500 people were to be shot. But this proved to be a problem. The Germans did not have that many prisoners sentenced to death or hostages, incarcerated for exactly the purpose of retaliatory execution. They therefore took most of the political prisoners and arrested resistance fighters from the Apeldoorn area and brought them, 116 men in total, to the site of the ambush. All were shot several hundreds of yards from an inn named "Woeste Hoeve" on March 8, 1945.
Czesław Oberdak was one of them.
 
Mass grave
Shortly after the mass executions, the remains of the men killed at the road side of the Arnhem - Apeldoorn highway were buried in a grave in the Heidehof General Cemetery in the town of Ughelen. A few weeks later World War Two was over.
Dutch authorities immediately started exhuming all the bodies in Heidehof. Police photographer Muda took part in the investigation. This resulted in the positive identification of all but two of the 116 men. All except Oberdak and another victim of Rauter's revenge.
 
Identification
After the war a considerable number of unidentified bodies, known to be victims of the German occupation from all over The Netherlands, had been buried in the Honorary Burial Ground in Loenen. Over the years attempts were made to try and establish the identity of these "Unknown Dutchmen". Because of this, Oberdak was exhumed from his grave in 1982 and in 1995. This however did not lead to his identification.

In the meantime Dutch reporter Richard Schuurman had conducted extensive research into the March 1945 executions. He developed a theory according to which the man in grave 1253 had to be Oberdak.
In 2005 the Polish authorities filed a request to question Schuurman as a witness in the case of the missing Polish pilot Oberdak; an investigation that had never been closed in Poland.
Detectives Mosk and Waterman were assigned to the case which put the investigation in a high gear.
On February 13, 2008 they monitored personnel of the Royal Netherlands Army's Recovery and Identification Unit when they again disinterred the man in grave 1253. They did not only unearth Second Lieutenant Oberdak's remains, but also the wristband of a Premo watch that looked similar to the one Oberdak wore at the Saint Nicolas celebration in December 1944.
On October 24, 2008 the Netherlands Forensic Institute (NFI) reported a positive match between a DNA sample of Oberdak's sister and the remains from the Burial Ground in Loenen. Czesław had been identified.
 

Now
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February 2008; Police detectives look on as
Army Identification personnel unearths
the remains in grave 1253 in Loenen.

Then
(Click to enlarge)

May 1945; disinterment at Heidehof Cemetery in Ughelen.
 

On October 24, 2008 the Netherlands Forensic Institute (NFI) reported a positive match between a DNA sample of Oberdak's sister and the remains from the Burial Ground in Loenen. Czesław had been identified.
 
Burial with military honors
It took some time to meet all bureaucratic requirements before Second Lieutenant Oberdak could be brought back to his hometown Krakau.
In the mean time his body waited for shipment in the laboratory of the Recovery and Identification Unit. It was during that period that the volunteers of the Missing Persons of World War 2 Work Group were given a tour of the Army's identification lab, where this photo was taken:
 

In the background, behind Detective Waterman, a small portion of Oberdak's casket can be seen with a Polish flag draped over it.
 
Finally on December 10, 2009 a memorial church service was held after which a military honor guard carried Second Lieutenant-Pilot Czesław Oberdak to his family grave at the Rakowicki Cemetery in Krakau.
Personnel of the Recovery and Identification Service and Detectives Waterman and Mosk attended the burial ceremonies. The latter presented a copy of the official police case file, bound in hardcover and translated in Polish,
to Czesław's 92 year old sister Ludmila.
 

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(photos courtesy of Netherlands National Police Agency)

Rakowicki Cemetery
On Sunday March 14, 2010 we visited Oberdak’s grave. We knew the plot and row numbers of the grave, but recent snowfall had made it difficult to locate Oberdak’s final resting place. A red, white and blue ribbon of the Dutch Army protruding from the snow finally gave away the headstone for which we had come.
This is where Czesław Oberdak rests today:
 
EXHIBITS:
Second Lieutenant-Pilot Czesław Oberdak's grave at the Rakowicki Cemetery in Krakau today:
 

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23 MAY 2011 UPDATE: Visit to location of Rauter Ambush at the Woeste Hoeve Inn
Combat Scene Investigation

On Saturday May 21st 2011 Battledetectives visited the location where Rauter's BMW was ambushed by Dutch Resistance fighters. It is the original Arnhem-Apeldoorn highway which has become rather quiet after the construction of the huge multiple lane A50 expressway which now runs parallel from it.
From the photographs by Dutch police photographer Muda, we pinpointed the location where Rauter’s stopped and was riddled by almost 300 Sten gun bullets. The distance to the "Woeste Hoeve" inn which is still there is a good clue. A better one would have been a dwelling of some sort visible on the West side of the road in the photographs looking South. The structures is not there anymore but in the thick undergrowth we found what appeared to have been the cellar of the house. Battle detective Ivo also discovered the steel plate used behind old-fashioned stoves to reflect heat into rooms; featuring a hole for the stovepipe.


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We then established the spot where Rauter’s car had stopped and where it was subsequently pushed to the side of the road to give first aid to Router and to forensically process the scene.
We recreated the same markings on the road top in yellow chalk and parked a World War Two era jeep in place of Rauter’s BMW convertible.
We then recreated some of Apeldoorn Detective Muda’s Combat Scene Investigation photographs in our Now&Then format.

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Woeste Hoeve Monument
We then went a few hundred meters in Northern direction to pay a visit to the monument in honor of the victims of the Nazi retaliation for the March 7 1945 ambush. The following day 116 prisoners had been shot near the spot where Rauter’s car was shot at. Czesław Oberdak was one of them. The story has it that a German soldier who refused to take part in the executions, was lined up himself and shot as an example too.

It must have been recently that Oberdak's name has been added to the glass pane with names of the victims of the Woeste Hoeve tragedy.




Honorary Cemetery Loenen
The next stop was the Honorary Cemetery in Loenen.
Approximately four thousand Dutch men and woman, victims of World War Two and later armed conflicts, are buried here.

We found that Oberdak’s grave, number E1253 where he had been buried as an "Unknown Dutchman" for decades, is vanished completely. In between graves E1252 and E1254 of two of Oberdak's fellow victims of the March 8th 1945 killings, is an empty space today. The ground not longer needed now that Czesław finally found his resting place in Polish soil.
 

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