In the 1930s, in the Catholic town of Weeze in the predominantly Protestant province of Friesland, a young unmarried girl, Maria, became pregnant. In those days, this was a disgrace, and the scandal was covered up. Maria moved to Limburg, a mostly Catholic province, while her young son stayed behind with relatives.
In Limburg Maria lived with the Habets. farmer’s family in Retersbeek, a small rural village, and worked on the farm. She married the farmer’s son and before the war they had three daughters, Mia, Mieke, and Jopie. Mia was about twelve when in 1945, Maria gave birth to her fourth daughter, Trudy, whose story started after the American Military Old Hickory division liberated the area where Maria lived. Years later Trudy told her story after she read an article in the daily Limburg newspaper about other liberation children.
That’s when it must have happened
Trudy did not know how the family fared at the farm during wartime. At that time, Maria and her husband were not on good terms. He had a girlfriend and had fathered a son, Jantje. They too were living on the farm. American soldiers were billeted in the area close to the farm and the local population treated the GIs very hospitably. The Black soldiers in Retersbeek organized their own liberation parties, since they were not welcome at the frequent dance evenings for white liberators.
One evening, Maria went to such a party with her sister-in-law Truus. ‘That’s when it must have happened,’ said Trudy. Neither Maria nor Truus ever talked about it, but Trudy is most likely the result of a one-night-stand. The baby, Gertruda – Truusje for short– was born at home and added to Maria’s and her husband's marriage booklet. Shortly after she was born, Truusje was placed in Vinckennest children’s home. After two weeks her stepfather’s mother, took her out of there. In 1948, Maria and Johan Habets got a divorce. Maria left for Roermond to work and the three eldest daughters stayed with their father. Truusje’s stepgrandparents lovingly took her into their home.
Truusje’s recollections of a care-free childhood with grandpa and grandma include an unhappy occurrence when she was a young girl. She was usually a cheerful and talkative child. One day, a car drove up and Truusje noticed that her grandmother was looking worried ‘As if it happened yesterday,’ Trudy says, ‘I can just see that car driving up the property again. Two men in dark suits got out, one of them grabbed me and dragged me into the car.’ She can still see the image of her grandma running after the car. Truusje was scared and angry and yelled: ‘I want to get out! I want to go to oma!’
The men were from Child Protection Services and had tried for some time to take her away from her step-grandparents and place her under guardianship. They told her that it was for her own well-being. Now Trudy understands why at times she had to play hide-and-seek in the hayloft, and could not come outside until she was called.
The Child Services men delivered her at the Catholic Institute for Girls in Simpelveld, run by the Sisters of the Poor Child Jesus, originally a German order. Upon her arrival, the nuns made her take a bath and gave her an institute uniform. There were about five hundred other girls living there and Truusje was the only 'mission child', as the nuns called her. She hated it when they would touch her curly hair, and she hated the mission piggy-bank in the institute entry hall.
Other children called her 'Negro' behind her back. She felt oppressed by the gloomy building, the lack of space, and the brick playground. The farm had been paradise with trees, the quiet, the chickens. She missed the baby goats too. In the home she became withdrawn and stopped talking. 'Why would I say anything? I never got any answers to all the questions I had.' But she remembers speaking up once after a reprimand. 'Well, when I grow up I will show you who I am.' Later when her half-sisters were also placed in the home, she felt comforted.
During school vacations, Truusje sometimes went to a childless couple from Geleen and she became fond of them and thought of them as aunt and uncle. She loved to stay in their house and to wake them up in their big bed. One morning she was having a bit of a romp with uncle when her aunt came in. The woman became angry and Truusje was sent back to the home and never stayed with them again.
In biology class, there was limited sex education and one of the nuns told that Black girls in particular had to be very careful, because they got into trouble quicker than white girls. That made her anxious about her own behavior. One day a nun prepared Truusje for a meeting with her mother, Truusje was twelve and was not interested in meeting a woman she hardly knew. In spite of all the punishments, she felt that the school was her home.
After she finished elementary school, Truusje attended home economics school. When she was sixteen, she received vocational guidance. The psychologist told her that she was not smart enough to continue education. She got a position as a maid at GP Lamer’s house. In the evenings, she took classes at the fashion design school. For more than four years she lived happily with the family in Schaesberg. Mrs. Lamers changed the name from Truusje to Trudy. She knew that she was officially under Child Services' supervision until she was twenty-one. Dr. and Mrs. Lamers also helped her to be released from Child Services. Mrs. Lamers would make up excuses when someone from this organization called for an appointment with Trudy. During this time Trudy became more independent and she has always kept in touch with the family.
Trudy left the fashion design school in Heerlen after she and a couple of friends were spotted talking to some boys from the police academy a few times during recess. This was not acceptable.
She met Joep in 1963 at a country fair in Simpelveld. Joep was from Vaals and his father too was an African American soldier. His mother was from Belgium and Joep was born in March 1945. In Vaals, Joep was called, 'the black one'. Joep told Trudy there was a rumor going around that Black girls were much more willing than white girls. That made Trudy think of her education back at the institute: 'Black girls have to be extra careful.' That old-time prejudice still angered Trudy. Trudy and Joep got married when Trudy was twenty-one but the marriage failed. Later on, Trudy lived in Germany for a few years, together with a friend with whom she had a son, Alex, in 1973.
Black girls have to be extra careful
In 1979, Trudy and Alex moved to Weert where her mother, Maria, was living. Maria worked in the kitchen of the former Juliana Hotel but she was not too well. Trudy had hoped to bond with her mother, which happened partially. One day in 1980, Maria became unwell and three days later she passed away. Trudy was there with her.
Things were not easy for Trudy in her new home town. She felt isolated. Some people would yell at her such as: 'Go back where you came from.' Trudy can laugh about it now: 'They must have meant Surinam* or something.' She got in touch with the small Dutch Antilles community and quickly made friends. She still has many friends from the Antilles and has spent many vacations in Aruba.
In 1984, Trudy started studying part time at a school for social work. It was the time of positive discrimination (confirmative action in the US), and after graduating, Trudy was hired by the Minorities Agency of the Zymose Foundation in Heerlen.
During her career, she has experienced discrimination and humiliation. Jobs for women at that time in Limburg were not plentiful. Once she applied for a job in Rotterdam and when she was called in for the interview was told that they were expecting a white woman. The questioned her about her background and about how she got the name Habets. 'I never felt more black,' Trudy said tearfully.
'When applying for jobs in social work for minorities, I was always either too black or too white. Usually, I was relegated to the 'black' category.' In the end, she got a job as a teacher at a college for social work.
In 1985 Trudy received a call from an acquaintance who worked at city hall in Weert, who told her that a man from Friesland was looking for his mother. For the first time Trudy and her sisters learned about their Frisian half-brother. Trudy: 'When I saw him for the first time, I had no doubts. He resembled my mother.' The sisters and their half-brother met one another several times.
Trudy has been living together for 36 years with Jan Janssen, a veteran of the Limburg Rifles Regiment and they got married. Together they have four children, five grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
Up until 2015, every year on May 5th, Trudy asked herself: Why are the Black liberators never portrayed anywhere? That changed when she got in touch with people in the same circumstances in 2014. On January 18, 2016, Trudy attended the memorial service for Huub Schepers, and on May 29 of that year, she and a number of other children of Black liberators were invited guests at the Memorial Day Service at the American cemetery in Margraten.
By the late 1980s, a friend pointed out an ad to Trudy in women's weekly magazine Libelle. A former teacher wrote she had preserved a poetry scrapbook of one of the girls at the institute where she used to teach. Trudy immediately recognized the name: Miss Mia Wisman. Since Truusje had suddenly disappeared from the home, Miss Wisman had not been able to give back the scrapbook. Now she could. The drawing was made by another teacher, Miss Ria Mausen.
In the late 1980s, Trudy became a member of the Emancipation Committee of the Weert municipality. In 2014, she received a knighthood from the hands of Mayor Jos Heijmans for her commitment.
To this day, she teaches Dutch classes for refugees
* Surinam – a former Dutch colony