Hans Deeg joined the Dutch resistance against the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands shortly after the country was invaded in 1940. “Their activities include helping Jews to hide and otherwise avoid arrest and deportation to prisons and death camps, helping downed Allied pilots escape capture and return to their bases in Britain, and generally make life as difficult as possible for the Nazis’, says his son Frank Deeg. “This was dangerous work and Hans, like many others, had to go underground, not only to avoid arrest, but also to protect his family from arrest and likely execution.”
Born Johan Frans Deeg in Deventer in the province of Overijssel, the Netherlands, Hans was the second child of Johann Deeg, a representative for the Koninklijke Nederlandse Tapijtfabriek, one of the oldest and largest carpet manufacturers in the Netherlands, and his wife Jacoba Neidig, a volunteer with numerous charities. From an early age Hans loved music and played the violin.
Hans attended primary and secondary school in Deventer and had just gone to Delft University of Technology to study chemical engineering when the war broke out.
Hans, along with older sister Betty and her husband, worked for the Resistance until the end of the war in 1945. Although he never said he was afraid, “that part of Hans’s life after the war was put ‘in storage’ and was effectively hidden,” says Frank. “He was reluctant to talk about those lost years, but never let the memories of those dangerous times negatively affect his life.”
After the war, Hans resumed his studies in Delft, where he graduated cum laude in 1948 his wife Elly van Zonneveld and son Frank, Hans emigrated to Indonesia, Elly’s birthplace. There, he got his first job as a chemical engineer and he and Elly had a second son, Bart. “However, the Second World War has resulted in Indonesia becoming an independent country, making the lives of Dutch citizens who live and work there difficult,” says Frank. “Canada, with an emerging and rapidly growing oil industry, beckoned brightly.”
Together with thousands of Dutch immigrants who came to Canada, the family settled in Sarnia in 1952, where Hans worked for the Canadian Oil Company. Next came a job at the Los Angeles-based Fluor Corporation, which designed and built chemical and processing plants and refineries. The family’s time in the US was short-lived, as Hans and Elly preferred the Canadian education system for their sons. The family returned to Sarnia in 1959 and Hans went back to work for Canadian Oil.
In 1963, when Shell Canada bought Canadian Oil, Hans was transferred to Shell’s Toronto headquarters, where the family lived for the next 51 years.
Hans was a devoted family man and was married to Elly for 73 years. “Elly, who was born and raised in Indonesia, had arrived in the Netherlands with her parents after the war, after having spent almost four years in Japanese prison camps during the Japanese occupation of what was then still the Dutch East Indies,” says Frank. “Both Hans and Elly had experienced the horror, pain and loss of war, and this may have helped fuel their lifelong love.” In the 1980s, they became grandparents to Christina and Philip, and more recently great-grandparents to “Little” Elly and Daisy.
“Dad was always a devoted father who introduced us to all kinds of activities, such as scouting and skiing,” Bart says.
After their sons left home, Hans and Elly started sponsoring children in developing countries in Africa, South America and Asia. “A lot of time was spent not only maintaining contact with these children and their families,” Frank says, “but also making clothes and toys for them and sending them frequent care packages.” In 1979, when Canada accepted tens of thousands of Vietnamese refugees after the end of the Vietnam War, Hans was involved in the campaign to help the immigrants who arrived in Toronto, help them find housing and work and children in schools. “Hans and Elly found their efforts very rewarding and formed friendships of more than 40 years with various Vietnamese families who settled in Islington,” says Frank.
Hans retired from Shell in 1987 as a senior process engineer, but briefly returned as a consultant before concluding his 40-year career.
In his retirement Hans enjoyed music (a lifelong fan of jazz, he was a member of the Toronto branch of the Duke Ellington Society) and traveled the world with Elly: to Egypt, Tunisia, Turkey, Switzerland, Portugal, the Canary Islands Islands and Ecuador, among many other destinations. Although the couple returned to the Netherlands every few years to visit family and sightsee, Hans and Elly (who became Canadian citizens in the early 1970s) “considered as the country has changed since they first left in 1948,” Frank says. †
While living in California, Hans heard about a self-awareness learning technique called Science of Mind, Bart says. He later became a practitioner and organized group discussions related to the teachings of the spiritual and philosophical religious movement.
But the most important lessons he passed on to his sons, Frank says, were “his always evident thoughtfulness and helpful nature. He was very self-reliant and always approached life with a positive, can-do attitude.”