Ries Jansen — A War Criminal Converted
The following story comes from a collection compiled and translated by Gilbert Zekveld. He was a dairy farmer from Lindsay, Ontario. In his later retirement years, this godly widower spent most of his time translating edifying literature from Dutch into English. I was privileged to know him as a friend and helped him with a bit of editing. This story comes from “A Collection of True Life Stories,” most of which were taken from a Dutch book, Honingdroppels (Drops of Honey). It’s a story of God’s grace for a wicked man, a Nazi collaborator whom many Dutch at one time feared and yes, even hated.
The name of Ries [Marinus] Jansen was well-known in the Veluwe [a forested region in the middle of the Netherlands] during the winter of 1944-1945. It was a name that inspired hate. He was a hunter of men par excellence.
He was wounded in a shoot-out with the underground in Rotterdam. However, he recovered and continued his lurid business on the Veluwe.
After the liberation of the Netherlands, he faced judgment in a criminal court. His misdeeds were so heinous that he received the death sentence. A subsequent request for pardon was refused.
One of his victims was a leader of the underground in the Alblasserwaard polder [in the province of South Holland]. When the mother of that victim read about Jansen’s sentence, she sent him a Bible and admonished him in a letter to seek refuge with the Lord. What compassion when a mother whose son fell into the hands of that man can do such a thing. It was an act richly blessed by the Lord.
Ries Jansen repented, not to escape punishment, but to be a witness of God’s love before the firing squad. He repented to be a witness for the God who took this murderer home.
A certain Mr. Bomhof was an evangelist from Enschede and he was called upon to assist Ries Jansen in his final hours. He tells the rest of the story:
“Sir, there is a telephone call for you from Arnhem.” It was the director of the chapel. He reported that Jansen would be executed next Friday, because his request for pardon was refused. However, the man wanted to speak with me.
I did not sleep much that night. The next day was difficult for me too. Apart from two letters from the condemned man, he was absolutely unknown to me. And what do you say to a man who only has one more day to live? It did not appeal to me in any way. But I had long known the words: in the hour what you need to speak will be given to you.
After a while, I met Jansen in the waiting room. He was small and now skinny, but still muscular and had dark hair. His white face betrayed four years of waiting with no hope of respite. But his step was sure and he looked me steadfastly in the eye. He did not in any way look like a man about to be executed.
His hands rested on the table folded. He looked me deep in the eye and I reciprocated. Then I took both his hands, pulled towards me and said, “Early tomorrow you will travel to great glory. I envy you. Think of it, tomorrow you will be home with Jesus.”
Then he became glad also, and with a happy face he said, “Yes, sir, I also long much for the time they will lead me to the post. Then, even though I am so unworthy, then I may see him. I experienced that he forgave all my sins, that is now the faith I live by. I have already made my peace with the post. Jesus made it well.”
But then he wept and said, “O, my sins make such a terrible separation between God and my soul. My guilt is great, but I know that the Lord goes a way of justice with me. The punishment is just, I deserve all of it.” It became silent for a while. Then he sighed and said, “Sir…”
I interrupted and said, “Call me brother, for we are one in Jesus.”
“Brother,” he continued, grateful, “but there is one more heavy load that burdens me. I did not do a thing for Jesus, nothing…” and again he wept — “I go to him with empty hands.” I told him, “Brother, take courage. You don’t come with empty hands. Your first letter was a great blessing in the place where I live. Remember the thief on the cross. After almost two thousand years he still speaks. He has been a blessing to many.”
Then, suddenly, he was very happy. His face literally shone. The truth of the Bible verse, “Death, where is your sting? Hell, where is your victory?” was sitting across from me on the other side of the table. I had never before seen such a victory in the face of death.
When his wife arrived, he was composed. He stood calmly. He said, “My wife, be strong. I am not afraid. I am ready. There is no more pain for me. Yes, you will remain behind with the child, but the Lord will be with you.”
That afternoon we spoke some more. His warm meal was getting cold. I told him not to let his food get cold. He ate like a hungry man. Suddenly he said, “But did you eat? Come on, let us share.”
Together we finished the meal of potatoes and beans. Then we discussed Romans 8, his favourite Bible chapter. “Yes,” he said, “the Bible from which you read was given me by a mother whose son I arrested. When she read in the paper that I was sentenced to death, she bought a Bible and a hymnal. She wrote and admonished me to take refuge in Jesus. Her act brought me to Jesus’ feet.” He presented this Bible (with an inscription) and the hymnal to his little daughter.
Later in the afternoon, his family were all there. There were fifteen people meeting with him in the visitors room. He asked me then to accompany him to the execution post. It was no more a place of terror for us. Together we meditated on Hebrews 12:1-15. The family made a tearful farewell. He accompanied them to the door. Then he called out, “Wife, family, look back once more. Look at me. See how calm I am. Remember this. Listen! My hope is in the Lord Jesus. He is my all. I go with him tomorrow morning to the place I will be executed. There he will receive me into his everlasting arms. Farewell wife, farewell family, look to Jesus. Until we meet…at home!”
Then we continued our discussion on that blessed passage of Romans 8. The hours passed by without our noticing. However, at 1:00 AM, he was very tired. I saw it and ask him if he wanted to rest. He did. That’s how we parted.
At 3:30 AM, there was a knock at the door which woke me up. Jansen did not sleep, but he was visibly rested. He spoke with his brother, who was also a Nazi collaborator. His brother had come from the mines to say his farewell. Ries admonished him to repent and the brother wept when we left.
The rest of the time we discussed Psalm 23, where it deals with the valley of the shadow of death and where it speaks of not fearing any evil, and God’s nearness in all this.
Peace was visible in this man’s heart. But around 6:00 AM this peace retreated into the background. A little later he called out, “O, that post, that post, that post!”
I said, “Brother, you must learn another lesson. That post is the devil. He shows you that post. Don’t look at it, but in faith look only to Jesus.” And with my arm pointing up to the sky, I said, “Jesus’ sacrificial death is all my hope and rest.”
In the meantime, my soul was at prayer. Thanks be to God, the brightness of heaven could once again be seen on his face. A moment later, he called out, “O brother, the post is gone. Jesus’ sacrificial death is my hope and all my rest. There is victory, victory in the blood of the Lamb.” Everyone cried, but me. I could not cry, for my soul was jubilant.
In the dawn we prayed together. After the “Amen,” I asked him to pray. He prayed in silence. When I asked him to do it out loud, he hesitated for a moment because he was not used to that. But after a moment, he prayed. I heard him pray for his parents, his wife, his child, his family, the prison warden, the guards and himself. Finally he asked the Lord to receive him into his open arms.
They called us. We saw many authorities in the hallway. The guards came to shake hands with Jansen. In a closed jeep we sat down, facing each other, flanked by four police officers.
The jeep stopped at an open spot in the forest. Silence reigned all around. A fog hung between the trees. After we walked around the jeep, we saw twenty young men with red berets, military police. They stood there in a semi-circle.
Altogether I counted forty people present. Together we went to the post. He was very calm. A police officer tied a thin rope around his waist. We stood there, hand in hand, and I said, “Brother, until we meet in glory with Jesus.”
I then stepped backward, looked at him, and stopped beside the firing squad. He looked up to heaven and his arm pointed upward. Slowly, for everyone to hear, he called out, “Jezus, uw verzoenend sterven, blijft het rustpunt van mijn hart” (“Jesus, thy propitiating death is the resting place of my heart”).
They blindfolded him.
His hand pointed forward and he said, “Men, you are all my friends. You are not my enemies, but my friends.” He thanked me for the support I gave him in his last hours. Again he pointed to heaven and everyone heard his jubilant cry, “Lord Jesus, through the blindfold I see you, nailed to the cross for my sins.” And still louder, he cried out triumphantly, “Yes, Lord Jesus, I come!”
Shots were heard, echoing through the forest. The angels carried him into paradise.
The Inspector of Police was beside me. He said, “I’m amazed about what that man said. I don’t know him like this. He was always as hard as a stone. Did he really mean what he said? I used to know him. He was terrible. What he was, and now this. I don’t understand.” I said, “Did you not hear his last words? No one is a comedian in the face of death. I have his last letter here. Do you want to hear it?” I read the letter to him. He answered, “Sir, I say nothing. My mouth is closed.”
Some people came and shook hands with me. It made a deep impression on everyone who was there. May the Lord give his blessing to all who read this story.