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THE OLD CHURCH TOWER, Zoetermeer, Holland /

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We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us.
                                Winston Churchill (1874 – 1965)

At the meeting point of Zoetermeer and Zegwaart the Old Church has held a central position in the community for generations. With evidence of a religious building on the same site dating as far back as 1295, the Old Church can be seen as the place that physically and socially joined the twin villages of Zegwaart and Zoetermeer long before the official merging of the towns in 1935.

Initially built as a Catholic place of worship, uniting the Sweet Lake fisherman from the twin villages into a single parish, the church was claimed as protestant in 1574 following the liberation of Leiden and the subsequent reformation of the Dutch church.  

Following serious damage during a storm the top half of the tower was completely renovated in 1642, however, the remainder of the church building was allowed to fall into a state of significant disrepair - only being rebuilt in the Protestant style, separate from the tower, in 1787 (finally being joined in the 1960s).

For the Queridos, a Jewish family from Amsterdam, this unusual architectural quirk in Zoetermeer became their saving grace.  

Having fled Amsterdam in 1943, following a remarkable escape from Nazi internment, the young Jewish family found temporary solace in Bleiswijk.  After a second dramatic escape, seeing Mother Querido rescued from the fascists by the local resistance, the family fled to Zoetermeer to be taken in by the custodians of the church, Pieter Wieriks and his wife Sjaan.

While baby Umpie was simply taken into the family as their newest arrival, her parents were forced to be more inventive.  For her father, Joseph, it was decided that the best option was for him to take up the persona of a gravedigger, allowing him to hide in plain sight.   However, the idea of having a woman digging graves in the village would almost certainly have attracted unwanted attention, leaving the mother of Umpie in the position of having to find a more secure hiding place.  

Though accessed from the tower the rafters behind the domed stucco church ceiling provided her with the ideal sanctuary. There she saw out the war safely, hidden out of sight, never being discovered thanks to the separation of church and tower. Her survival is all the more remarkable as the German forces were literally on her doorstep throughout - utilising the Church tower as a strategic lookout throughout the war.

Made in collaboration with producer Andy Brydon from Curated Place, for the Stadsmuseum Zoetermeer.

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