Did you know that the city of Bath, England and Alkmaar, the Netherlands are connected? In fact, the cities have been officially twinned since WWII because of an Alkmaarder man called Elias (Eli) Prins.
Eli Prins was a remarkable person. As a Jewish citizen living in the Netherlands prior to the second World War, he saw what was going on in neighbouring Germany. He was vocally anti-Nazi and was a secret helper to Jews who wanted to flee Nazi Germany.
Four days after Rotterdam was bombed, Eli literally jumped onto a small fishing boat headed for the UK and thus escaped the fate of many of the Dutch Jews. He travelled to Bath where his sister lived with her English husband. His parents, however, were not so lucky. They chose to take their chances and stay in Alkmaar, but they were deported in March 1942 and sent to the Sobibor concentration camp.
A stone on the former Prins house reads: 'This house was occupied by Mr. I. Prins and his wife Mrs. R. Prins-Vlessing, honoured citizens of Alkmaar. Deported by the German occupier on the 5th of March of 1942. They perished in the Sobibor concentration camp’. ‘Don't forget’.
While in Bath, Eli joined the Air Raid Precaution wardens, looking for German aircraft and fires caused by incendiary bombs. During the long nights, Eli would tell Jimmie Wills (Head Warden and Secretary of the Rotary Club) of Alkmaar and he shared the latest news which he got from friends in the Dutch military and the exiled government about what was happening in Nazi occupied Netherlands. When Jimmie learned of the Dutch ‘Hunger Winter’ in 1944, he rallied his fellow Rotarians to organise fund raising activities to help the citizens of Alkmaar as soon as they were liberated.
The twinning of Bath and Alkmaar was because of Jimmie’s determination. He and Eli wrote to Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands who was in exile in England asking for the cities to be linked. She gave her blessing and an official Bath – Alkmaar Adoption Appeal committee was formed.
The fundraising was an enormous success. Within a few weeks, the residents of Bath and the surrounding area donated more than 45 000 articles of clothing which were packed into 250 old tea chests and sent to Alkmaar. Money was also donated and £7 500 (the equivalent of £250 000/€290 000 today) was collected in cash.
After this initial fundraising, the bond became stronger. The mayor of Alkmaar travelled to Bath and then Jimmie Wills travelled to Alkmaar. The arrival of Jimmie Wills in Alkmaar was a momentous occasion. One of the bridges in the centre of Alkmaar was renamed the Bathbrug (Bath Bridge) and there was a procession of Alkmaar’s 5000 children past the City Hall. Many of the children were barefoot and wearing their parent’s clothes. Jimmie realised how necessary the fundraising was and how important it was to continue the effort. As food was still scarce, arrangements were made for 50 Alkmaar children to travel to Bath for a holiday. Alkmaar reciprocated and a group of children from Bath travelled to Alkmaar!
Over the years, the friendship has grown and we are now celebrating 70 years of friendship between Bath and Alkmaar. For more detailed information and to see the events calendar for the celebration, please visit the Bath – Alkmaar Twinning Association website at www.bath-alkmaar.eu
For those of you in Alkmaar, The Bath City Jubilee Waits & the Lake Singers will be at Gunnery’s Irish Pub in Alkmaar on Monday, 22nd May 2017. You can get more information on Gunnery’s website www.gunnerys.nl
This post has been adapted from the original story on the Bath – Alkmaar Twinning Association website.
Alkmaar Tours offers top rated Private and Small Group Tours of Alkmaar’s medieval centre and the famous Alkmaar Cheese Market! For more information on the different tours, please visit the Alkmaar Tours Website.