PIQUA — For a local man, American patriotism runs deep, going back to his youth in the Netherlands during World War II.
The Piqua Rotary Club hosted speaker Al Mulder of Troy on Tuesday at Edison State Community College, where Mulder shared his experiences as a boy in the Netherlands, his experience immigrating to the United States after the war, and his love of the United States, which led him to serve in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War.
Mulder was a child when his parents concealed and protected Jewish citizens in the Netherlands from Nazi soldiers during World War II. Where his family lived, they were under German occupation between May 1940 until the German surrender in 1945. Mulder explained that his parents told him and his two brothers, Jan and Sam, that the Jewish family living with them were his aunt, uncle, and cousin.
Mulder’s father had regular interactions with the Gestapo, the secret police of Nazi Germany and German-occupied Europe, at his barbershop. Mulder said that his father even asked for some extra bread from a Gestapo officer, who brought the family a couple extra loaves of bread on a regular basis.
“We survived by Germans feeding us and taking care of a Jewish family at the same time,” Mulder said.
The Germans also confiscated all radio equipment, but Mulder’s father was able to hide one in the lifting mechanism under the floor at the barbershop, which he used to listen to Dutch-broadcast BBC. Mulder joked that the Gestapo would be getting a haircut and a radio would be underneath them the whole time.
Their town was eventually liberated in April 1945.
“We could hear the footsteps of the soldiers’ boots,” Mulder said.
Mulder said that the Jewish man he knew as his “Uncle Peter” was dancing in the street after they were liberated. “He was having a wonderful time because finally they’re free,” Mulder said. Unfortunately, that man’s son was captured earlier during the war and killed in a concentration camp.
Mulder’s family escaped the Nazis and later immigrated to the United States, first applying in 1955 and getting approval in August 1956. Mulder said that the American consulate told his parents, “You and your three sons will make a perfect American family.”
A few months later, before they left for the United States, they found out that they were being placed in Piqua.
“We had no clue how you pronounced it,” Mulder said.
The Church of the Brethren was the Mulder family’s sponsor.
“The church got us a home on Young Street,” Mulder said. “Dad got a job at Hartzell Propeller.”
Mulder’s brother Jan went with their father to work to help him learn the job, as their father did not know how to speak English yet. Jan then got a job at the Piqua Daily Call. Mulder and his brother Sam both went to school. Mulder graduated with the Piqua class of 1959.
Mulder went on to be a craftsman, meeting his wife in 1963 and getting his draft notice in 1965. When he received his draft notice, he said that his appreciation for the United States’ role in liberating Europe during World War II was so great that there was “no way I’m not going to serve in the American army.”
Mulder’s brother Sam also joined the Air Force after graduating from Piqua High School in the 1960’s, and Sam went on to serve 25 years in the Air Force.
Mulder said that his brother Jan then decided to serve by joining the Piqua Police Department in May 1966.
“He loved his job. He was just wonderful dealing with people,” Mulder said.
Unfortunately, Jan passed away while on duty after being fatally shot on Aug. 11, 1970. He was on foot patrol downtown when he saw a suspicious person entering the Fort Piqua Hotel. Jan stopped him in the lobby, and the man pulled a gun and shot Jan. Before he collapsed, Jan was able to fire one shot at his attacker as he fled. His assailant later died from that wound. Jan had a wife and four children at the time he passed away.
Mulder said that, after Jan’s death, someone asked his father if he regretted coming to the United States. His father said, “I am not sorry one bit … I love this country.”
Mulder’s father worked at Hartzell Propeller until he was 70 years old. In 1982, Mulder’s parents were honored with a Righteous Medal, honoring them as one of the Righteous Among the Nations from the Israeli government for hiding the Jewish family from Nazis during World War II. It was then that Mulder learned that the family living with them during that time was not actually his aunt, uncle, and cousin.
“Mom and Dad never told anybody,” Mulder said.
A woman named Mrs. Al Moch, whom Mulder previously thought was his cousin Lydia, nominated Mulder’s parents to the Israel Holocaust Committee.
In 1988, after his father had passed away, Mulder’s mother visited Israel as an honored guest. During a ceremony, Mulder’s mother received a standing ovation.
“It was wonderful,” Mulder said.
Mulder later asked his parents what it was like hiding the Jewish family from the Gestapo. His mother said, “I was scared to death the whole time.” His father said, “God got us through the whole time.”
In 2015, Mulder’s daughter Julie visited the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, where she saw her grandparents’ names on the Wall of Honor in the Garden of the Righteous at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem along with approximately 5,500 people from the Netherlands and around 26,000 people from all over the world.
Throughout his talk, Mulder expressed great appreciation for and love of the United States, saying, “We served our country, we love our country, and we were willing to die for our country.”
Reach Sam Wildow at [email protected] or (937) 451-3336