Growing Up In Occupied Holland 1940-1945 Personal memories of my father
Posted 17 August 2003 - 04:47 PM
Did you say 24 chapters! I can't wait! :P I think your father's stories would make a terrific book. Looking forward to more stories! :D
Posted 25 August 2003 - 05:09 AM
Part 8 A student in wartime
When I was cycling to Venlo one morning, after a night with lots of planes flying over to Germany, I knew that some of those planes had been shot down by the Germans and crashed nearby. When I was halfway Venlo, I passed some Germans guarding a group of Allied POW's. Pilots. From what I remember, the pilots were all tall men, looking really handsome and incredibly tough in their (leather) jackets and uniforms.
They were smoking cigarettes with the Germans. I couldn't stop staring at them. These strong guys were our friends! I was very well aware of that fact. Me and my friends tried to speak a little English with them, but the Germans quickly put an end to our efforts. Making contact with our heroes was forbidden.
Now, 60 years after this happened, I can still remember every detail of this morning. It was an unforgetable... seeing and meeting the very first allied, I believe Americain, pilots in my life!!!
Of course, I've experienced some scary moments as well. Especially during the time that my schoolclass was moved to a place called "Grote Heide" in Venlo. This was very close to a big German airfield (Fliegerhorst Venlo). The major part of this airfield was situated at our (Dutch) side of the German/Dutch border, but some parts of it even reached the German soil. In the years 1943 and 1944 the airfield was a major target for allied bombing-missions. First only at night... But later on, the airfield was also bombed during daylight. Our class was on a 2 or 3 km's distance from that airfield. The chance of being hit was rather high.
Post war pictures of the airfield can be found on:
For that reason, we were devided in groups. Each group had to flee to a certain house in case of a bombardment and seek shelter in the cellar there.
And we didn't practice for nothing... I don't know how often I had to make a run to 'my' house, but I can still feel the shaking of the grounds under my running feet when the bombs were falling on the airfield. It happened lots of times.
The scarriest 'run' of all, was on a winter day. Because of the clouds, we couldn't see the planes. But we heard them. We never heard thát many... at that day I thought it must have been hundreds of planes, but that's probably not true. It only seemed that way.
When I was running through the snow, I was thinking about the pilots. There were so many clouds, that I was sure that they couldn't see the target. They had to rely on their instruments. And those instruments weren't always that reliable, I soon found out. The bombs where falling everywhere... some on the airfield, but some very close to our school and the houses we were running to. It was scary.
In those same days, the allies tried to destroy the bridge over the Maas, connecting the towns of Blerick and Venlo. Like I mentioned lots of times before, the bombardments weren't as precise as nowadays. Cycling through the outskirts of Venlo, I have seen a lot of destruction caused by those bombardments. In Venlo, a total of 300 people died because of the bombardments.
To be continued
Since 1943 on, Fliegerhorst Venlo was attacked 75 - 100 times by Mosquito's.
Posted 26 August 2003 - 02:14 AM
Some of you offered me some help with the translation.
And that's exactly the kind of help I need.
I am NOT trying to deliver a perfect translation here... that's just not possible, for I am not a native speaker of English.
But if I get the chance to make some improvements, I will make use of it for sure.
So, if you read parts or words that you can hardly understand as a result of 'poor translation'... will you please let me know by sending me a PM?
Posted 29 August 2003 - 05:00 AM
Although my father wasn’t active in the Dutch resistance, he has done some things where he could have been imprissoned, or worse: been executed for. You could get these kinds of punishments if you had information about hidingplaces of jews and resistanceworkers without informing the Germans about it. Supporting jews and resistanceworkings in any way was obviously forbidden too. My father could have been accussed for both “crimes”, because he was well informed and he did occasionally support members of the resistance.
We all knew that my uncle and aunt in “de Weerd”, on the other side of the Maas river, hide a few jewish children on their farm. Their daughter, my older cousin, Truus Jetten was an active member of the resistance, which I didn’t know in those days. I often visited “de Weerd”. Almost every two weeks. Sometimes longer, spending my holidays there. I remember playing with the jewish children. I especially liked one of them, a cute girl named Lieke. She must be at least 65 years now. There were also two other, slightly older, jewish girls named Ton and Riet. Those were NOT their real names. The real name of Riet for instance, was Sonja. But using a jewish name was far too dangerous in those days. That’s why my uncle and aunt gave the girls other names.
My cousin Truus often paid us a visit in return. Most of the times when we didn’t expect her. She was always welcome of course and usually stayed for several days in a row. I liked that very much. She was our favorite cousin and always had funny or interesting stories to tell us. What I didn’t know back then, was that she came to us to hide. To keep a low profile for a while. My parents knew – but didn’t tell us - that she was active in the resistance. She was a woman-courier most of the time, but took part in operations as well.
We were also visited by a doctor from Venlo. My parents often gave him foodcoupons, so that he could buy food for jews and resistanceworkers in hiding-places. We later heard, that he died during one of the many bombardments on Venlo.
There have been more interesting persons who stayed with us for a while. One of them was Henk Tander. He sold Ford-cars before the war and served as an officer in the Dutch army in May 1940. He was an adventurous person and active in the resistance. I know that he escaped from the infamous Camp Amersfoort (Polizeiliches Durchgangslager Amersfoort) and made it all the way to us where he found shelter for a couple of days.
And then there was a mister Pröpper. He was a teacher “German Language” at the Thomas-college (my school) before the war and served as an officer in the Dutch army when war broke out. In 1943 or 1944, I forgot the exact date, the Germans wanted all Dutch ex-officers to report themselves again. They would be taken as POW’s to Germany. Many of those ex-officers tried to hide. Mr. Pröpper did too. My father welcomed him and gave him a place to hide in our home. Later, his whole family came to us after their own house was hit by a bomb in november 1944.
To be continued…
Posted 12 September 2003 - 05:24 AM
The resistance (II)
I also remember some fine examples of anonymous people who had the courage to express their anti-German feelings during the war. They showed their anti-German attitude by making a pro-Dutch royal family statement. Which was forbidden of course.
One morning, I saw a huge “J” and a huge “B” painted on the highest chimney in our village. The “J” stood for Juliana (our princess who was living in exile in the UK and Canada) and the “B” stood for (prince) Bernhard, her husband who took active service in the RAF to bomb his motherland Germany. The painter must have had a lot of courage doing this.
Another way of showing anti-German feelings, was wearing a carnation-flower on your jacket on June 29, the birthday of Prince Bernhard. That flower was is his trademark. He started to wear one - every day - long before the war, and till this day never stopped doing so.
http://www.koninklijkhuis.nl/images/fotos/Z.K.H.Prins-Bernhardkl.jpg Prince Bernhard still wears a fresh carnation every day.
I myself once owned a very small picture of members of the Royal Family during the war. Showing a very young Beatrix (now queen) and her sisters Margriet and Irene. These kinds of pictures were widely spread in those days. Unfortunally, I've lost mine.
This post has been edited by Bart: 21 January 2004 - 05:10 AM
Posted 13 September 2003 - 05:42 PM
I just finished reading parts 8 and 9, and again, what an amazing story! Honestly, I'm glued to it! I commend you on an outstanding job you did translating your father's amazing story. Don't worry about making some grammar or spelling errors, your English is fantastic! Looking forward to more stories!
Posted 14 September 2003 - 07:23 AM
Posted 24 September 2003 - 06:50 AM
The resistance (III)
Populair as well were handmade pins and other "jewellery" / bijou with the head-profile of Queen Wilhelmina, that was sawn out of a coin like this one:
Coin / Dutch guilder 1933 / Queen Wilhelmina
But the most populair bijoux were made of the mica and metals from shot-down allied planes. I think because they symbolized Hope.
I regret that I have never asked my father about the details behind his rather risky sabotage-action. But I remember most of it very well. It must have been somewhere in august or september 1944, in the confusing period around "Dolle Dinsdag" (Crazy Tuesday).
The story of "Dolle Dinsdag": After weeks of heavy fighting Allied forces at last broke through German lines. The Germans were now on the retreat. In lightning speed allied troops took possession of much of France (including Paris), Luxembourg, and steadily made their way through Belgium. German resistance seemed everywhere to be wilting. By September 4th, a Monday, the Allies now had in their hands the strategic city of Antwerp, a city it should be added that is but 20 miles south of the Dutch border. For the Dutch liberation could now be but a few days away. The end had come. At last.
Not all Dutchmen were happy by the prospect of liberation. Among members of the NSB (the Dutch Nazi Party) there was great consternation, even panic. What would happen to them? What sort of revenge what be inflicted upon them by their fellow Dutchmen? Many of them did not want to stick around to find out. On Tuesday, September 5th, a great exodus of NSBers (along with their families) were to be seen, trying desperately to get themselves out of Holland and into Germany. As public transport through Holland was by now largely non-operational, many of these people had no option had to take but to take to foot. Possessions were loaded in carts and baby carriages. It was a pathetic image and one that brought no small satisfaction to many people (source: http://isd.usc.edu/~.../war/dolle.htm)
Back to the story: In those days, my father had to repair some German trucks in his factory. After he had repaired them, they were sent back to the German border without delay. But they didn't come very far. After 4 or 5 km's (2/3 miles), they ran out of petrol. The Germans were outraged and called it "sabotage". One could be shot for sabotage. They went back to my fathers factory for an explanation and from what I've understand, they had plans to shoot both my father as my mother. Fortunally, they didn't. Perhaps it had something to do with the very chaotic times... everyone was uncertain and nervous... especially the Germans who expected the Allies any minut. We were very glad that "the worst" didn't happen. But since that day, German guards were placed in the factory. Day and night... to protect their trucks. But it wasn't for long... my father wasn't offered much repairwork anymore... he didn't mind at all.
This post has been edited by Bart: 24 September 2003 - 07:07 AM
Posted 24 September 2003 - 07:42 AM
The resistance (final part / IV)
I once witnessed the capture of Dutch resistanceworkers from very near. It was in the summer of 1943. I was enjoying the sun on a terras, with some of my cousins. We were sitting only 6 meters (18 ft) from the village road. Suddenly, right in front of us, a German car stops. A few Gestapo agents step out and show the "stop"-sign to a driver from a car that's approaching from the opposite direction. The Dutch driver and his passengers are told to get out of the car... the Gestapo agents point their guns at them. One of them walks to the back of the car and removes the number plate. It's a false one, because underneath there is another number plate.
The Gestapo seperates the group resistanceworkers in two. One group has to step in the German car, the other group has to get back in the Dutch car. Both cars drive away, in the direction of the city Roermond.
My cousins and myself know very well what we have seen. An arrest, most probably made possible by the information of traiters. We feel awful and don't dare to imagine what will happen to the arrested men. It felt really bizar to see a tragedy like this happen right in front of you, while you are "enjoying" a drink on a sunny terras.
A little later I heard that a certain Wiel van Houwen from Helden was one of the resistanceworkers who was arrested that day. He was a local hero... famous because of his resistancework. In 2002 I asked my elder cousin Truus (who was active in the resistance... see previous posts) if she knows what happend to this bloke. She is very old, but still a vital and energetic woman. She confirmed that it indeed was Wiel van Houwen who was arrested that day. He was sent to a concentration camp, survived, but returned home as a 'human wreck'. The group where my cousin Truus belonged to helped to save 1.300 jewish people. It was one of the very few really effective resistance groups in Holland.
With the help of internet, I have also discovered that a certain chaplain Akkermans was very active in the resistance as well. I visited him lots of times on saturdays and in the evenings during the war, but I never knew he had anything to do with the resistance. I helped him with typ- and stencilwork. I had to type names, he said it was to make lists of the local boys who were sent to Germany to work there. But perhaps that isn't true. Because I now know that this chaplain helped Allied pilots escape to Belgium and France... got knows what I have been typing for :D
This post has been edited by Bart: 25 September 2003 - 02:37 AM
Posted 24 September 2003 - 09:16 AM
What an incredible story! I've waited to hear more to comment, but you should feel very lucky your Dad wrote this stuff down. Many people, around the world, have Fathers/Uncles/Grandpa's that had stories, but they didn't talk about them and never wrote them down. My Dad taught Tyrone Power how to fly at Pensacola, but he really didn't talk about his experiences much. Now, he's gone. If your Father is still with you he must be very proud you shared that with so many.
You have a family teasure that you can show your kids someday!
Masterful work. I'm nominating Bart for the BoB-itzer prize for Journalism for this quarter!
Posted 24 September 2003 - 09:32 AM
Survivor, on Sep 24 2003, 03:16 PM, said:
O wow... I never expected that... thank you so much.
I wanna thank my dad of course, after all he's the "man behind the project", I wanna thank my girlfriend too (Melien, if you see this... I'll be home a little later tonight) and last but not least... the people of WBG.com gave me a fantastic international audience. :D
No seriously, thanks for the compliments Dale. I like working on this topic very much, because I haven't read the story myself yet. I read it for the first time while translating. And it's fascinating for me too.
By the way... my father celebrates his birthday TODAY. He has reached the age of 75! That's old, but he doesn't behave like a senior and is very healthy. Perhaps the fact that he waited a little long before getting children (I am 31), kept him young! He's reading this topic too now and then... he loves all the comments (and he also checks if I am translating his story well enough :) ).
15 chapters more to come...
This post has been edited by Bart: 24 September 2003 - 09:35 AM