THE NETHERLANDS DURING THE SECOND WORLDWAR
(as seen through the eyes of a young boy)
Written by Hans de Jong
I shall never forget the total joy i experienced that Tuesday morning in 1945, when we were liberated by Canadian troops; while I was hiding in the province of Leeuwarden in the Netherlands… To help you understand this incredible feeling of happiness that day, I will relate a little of my schoolboy days which I am sure that my children and grandchildren will be astonished to learn of the hardship we had to endure during the German occupation in May 1940, when I was 12 years old.
The noise of the airplanes woke me that morning around 5:30 am and I wrapped a blanket around me and stood on the balcony of the 4th floor apartment, in the Schepen straat in Rotterdam. My father, my mother and six children lived in that apartment. In the distance on my right, I observed maybe hundreds of parachutes descending from the biggest planes I had ever seen, German Heinkels, like giant buses with wings! Later I heard that they had occupied the airport. Most of the Dutch planes that were parked here, had already had their tires slashed by members of the NSB. The NSB were a hated minority group of Dutchmen who then and throughout the war collaborated with the Germans or as we called them “the Moffen”!They were sure like the scum of the earth and they did incredible damage to our underground forces in later years, by infiltrating their ranks.
Our Air force, albeit it is a small one, could play no defense role. This left the Dutch Army and especially the Dutch Marines to put up a tremendous fight in particular near the Maasbrug. This kind of resistance, was not expected by the Moffen, as apparently they had in mind to get to the coastline the same day and get on whatever ship or boat that was available in order to sail to England, as they termed the UK then. So in order to force a capitulation, they bombed the center of Rotterdam for a period of 4hours I think, the 2nd city in world history to be bombed from the air, the first one was Warsaw in Poland some months earlier…
All of us were huddled in the basements of the apartments and feeling and hearing constant shocks and tremors of bombs exploding nearby, as the crow flies may be nearly 2 or 3 kilometers away. Needles to say we were all extremely fearful, fortunately only one large bomb fell nearby, which did not explode we found out later.
The Dutch did capitulate thereafter, having no other alternative. As the darkness came, we could see the sky lit by an enormous glow of flames, which literally jumped from one building to another, caused by a vacuum related phenomena due to the intense heat. The next morning at sunrise, the sun looked large and blood red and many people especially Jews, thought that was a sign meaning the end of the world and some committed suicide right there and then.
I still see vividly in my mind a Jewish boy 18 years old who lived in the bottom apartment with his parents. They had fled from Germany in 1938 and felt safe here. Herman was almost hysterical and the fear was clearly visible on his face. He was standing in the street ready to run, but did not know where to. He pleaded with his parents to flee to London, not realizing that the airport was in German hands. Herman and his parents survived the war after spending some terrible years in a concentration camp. I met Herman 58years later in Melbourne and he related some of his grueling experiences in the various concentration camps. They somehow managed to survive not just by chance, but often by outwitting their guards.
Rotterdam burned for 5 days and the entire Centrum was left in rubble, with historical buildings totally destroyed. Many citizens were maimed or killed..
Hours later the German “Whermacht” with all their might and strength paraded through the streets singing “unt wir fahren gegen Engeland”. They sang on command and it always sounded impressive. At that time they were the mightiest army in the world and also very well disciplined! I can recall 2 instances of that-as a troop of soldiers marched through the streets singing, an almost daily occurrence. The commanding officer ordered a halt, and the heels clattered in the street as if it was one loud click. He then summoned one of the soldiers to come forward, shouted something to him and then he slapped his face 4 times with the palm of his hand and ordered him back again and they continued to march.
Another incident took place at a jewelry shop on the Schiekade. A Mof walked in and demanded to see the best watches available. He chose one and promptly walked out of the shop without paying a cent. In desperation the shop owner phoned the police which in turn phoned the German command post. The following day German police stopped at his shop to verify the story and he was taken to their Head Quarters…There was a lineup of 10 German soldiers waiting for him, could he please point out the man who took the watch. The shopkeeper immediately recognized the fellow, but instead he said that the soldier was not in the group. The following day the guy who committed the offense called on his shop again and paid four times the price of the watch owed, thanking him and adding; “ had you pointed the finger at me, I would be a dead man by now”…
On the other side of the coin was the Waffen SS and the SD, another segment of Hitler’s troops. They were all the lowest of the lowest sadistic criminals that ever walked the face of the earth. A common SS soldier could overrule the commands of a German Whermacht officer and everyone feared the SS greatly.
Allow me to regress a little and go back to the bombardment. You see, I was not allowed to go into the city to look at all the damage, father had told me, which I found unfair. So one morning, with a friend Hans Kooren we decided to look around anyway. We could hardly believe our eyes, for hardly a building was standing. Smoking ruins and lots of deep bomb craters and here and there an unexploded bomb.
One deep crater fascinated us as we could clearly see a tunnel access at the bottom. There was a sign telling to stay out, but that did not deter us to descend and actually walk some distance in this 6 foot high tunnel. We soon surmised that this was an medieval tunnel for the purpose of getting in and out of the city when it was surrounded by a large wall in the middle ages, which was common in those days. We found hundreds of small glass bottles and many round cannon balls. We stuffed our pockets with whatever we could find and between us, using a jacket we decided to take one fairly large cannon ball home, most likely made of lead? We were extremely excited with our discovery and could not wait to get home and tell everyone. But as soon as we walked out back into the crater, our joy was short lived, as we stared in the barrel of a rifle and looking further it was held by an NSB’er, in black uniform. He wanted to know where we came from and when we told him, we were told we were lying and we had to answer a bunch of stupid questions. But at the end of the interrogation we could go home, but regretfully he made us empty our pockets first, assuming he would take our precious find home himself. I never did find out what was done with that tunnel and its contents. It must have been quite a find for some archeologist, does anyone of my readers know perhaps?
The first two years of the occupation was nothing compared the remaining 3years, when the Moffen started to make life for the Jewish population very difficult. They took away all privileges, like the Jews were not allowed to have telephones nor use public transportation or use public facilities even and everywhere there were signs:” prohibited for dogs and Jews”. It was during this period that the resistance or the “ondergrondse” began to emerge. The Jews were compelled to wear a yellow Star, with the letter J in the center. In fact it was the star of David, a religious symbol; so not only an insult, but degrading as well. Any one who was Jewish and caught without this Star would be shot on the spot. This law was introduced at the same time in all German occupied countries.
I learned after the war that in Denmark under the leadership and example of their King this inhumane order was not followed up and on that very day all Jews donned the Star, so did the King and most of the citizens. The King paraded in front of his palace on his horse, the Star clearly visible and the Germans did not dare to arrest him.
Our Royal family had fled to the UK and Canada, so they were of little help to us. Unlike the forefather of the House of Orange who always defended his people against the Spanish forces in history, the so called 80 year war and the time of the Spanish Inquisition. During WW2 the Dutch were left to fend for themselves however..
Daily the situation in Rotterdam became worse. One day on my way to school on a very cold morning, there were 12 dead bodies lying on their backs; al males between 12 and 60 years of age it seemed. They had just been grabbed and shot in the head on the way to work or school and were left to lay there for 48hours to remind us, not to resist “das Reich”! Nobody dared to stop or even linger near the bodies, in case you perhaps would become the next victim…Apparently the night before, a small group of resistance members were on a main road waiting for a truck carrying food ration cards and the plan was to stop the truck, raid it and disappear with the cards. It was all perfectly planned. At the correct time they would see the dimmed headlight of a vehicle and when close enough they opened fire. Unfortunately they realized too late that is was not the truck after all but a car belonging to a German General and his bodyguard. The General was wounded and ordered that 200 Dutchmen should be shot at random to teach our fellow countrymen a lesson. I still shudder at the thought that this could have happened to me if I had been traveling to school a half an hour earlier..
Another terror weapon of the Moffen were the so called “razias” or roundups. All men between 16 and 60 were compelled to go to Germany and many plainly refused and took the risk of being caught rather than submitting to slave labor. They used various methods, at times they would call upon the NSB to cordon off a street and stop anybody. I had just turned 16 and on my way to school on my bicycle (riding on the rim only without tires), I saw that the street was blocked by NSB men in black uniforms and I did not see any weapons. As I approached one of them signaled me to pull over, instead I pedaled furiously right past him. I never dared to look back till several minutes had gone by and when I noticed I was not followed, I went to school that day feeling very happy to remain free.
On another occasion one morning I opened the front door and saw dozens of armed Whermacht troops and SS men.This was more serious; so I dashed back inside and told my parents. My parents told me to go back to bed.. Fortunately a nurse in uniform had just arrived to bring some news about my older brother Bram. He was on their wanted list, but according to the nurse he was safe and well. Then the doorbell rang and a German soldier demanded to search the house. There were a total of 8 rooms and he eventually found me , with the nurse sitting on my bed comforting me as I pretended to be a very ill patient. The soldier, who was not German, but Austrian said to my father: “OK I will leave the boy here, just remember the SS is outside and they do double checks at times. If they find him here not only will he and you be shot, they will shoot me as well.
Yet a few doors further, a man who had been in bed for almost one year with tuberculosis (the only cure known at that time was to lie flat on your back for a long period of time), they forced him to get up and into the street while he hardly could walk any more. He died soon after..While in another home, a man was in shorts and played with a toy train on the floor when they busted in. He looked at the German with his tongue hanging out and said: “hello do you like my train?” The German soldier decided that they had no need for a half-wit.
Another trick we liked to pull was to put a sign on the door with words “measles in this house” or some other contagious disease, this often did the trick to keep the Germans out.
One night we were all in bed, very hungry per usual and awaiting the first air raid sirens, so we had to get up and sit at the bottom of the staircase to wait for the “all clear” signal. This happened almost every night as allied planes flew over to bomb the hell out of Germany. Unfortunately the German defense started in Holland and dozens of very powerful searchlights were beaming skywards and pity the plane that was caught in one of these. I remember distinctly how one large plane was caught in these bright beams and next I saw a very small fighter plane descending inside that beam and shooting its guns, which we could hear but then the light-beams went off and all of us cheered!!! On another occasion lots of searchlight were beaming in the direction of the full moon. The machine guns were working overtime and my baby brother shouted: “Look now the Germans are going to shoot down the moon”!
I also remember the time a Lancaster plane was on fire and spiraled to earth. It crashed in a small canal, close to a prison..In the early morning I got on my bike to have a look. By that time the Germans were retrieving the bodies of the airmen and I noticed one of the victims no longer had a head. The Germans decided to give these airmen a military funeral, complete with the Union Jack draped over the coffins. What they did not expect however was the huge procession of local civilians following these caskets and which was close to a mile long! So from then on they would bury the dead at nighttime only, after curfew.
However I am drifting away from the subject. We were all in bed and heard breaking of glass and 6 SS thugs made their way up 2 flights of stairs. By the time we met at the top one of them pointed his machine gun at us and told us to put our hands up. My brother Wim shouted at one of them not to point that crazy thing at us, but they took no notice of this. They were looking for our eldest brother Bram apparently. Where is he? When was he here last? They rounded all of up in the hallway, while shivered from cold and fear. They demanded to be shown to his bedroom and one of these thugs put his hand inside the bed to see if it was still warm, in the event he had just eluded them. What we did not now at the time that there was already one soldier on the roof and two more on either side of the street for a total of 12 thugs looking for our brother Bram. Thank God he was not home, for it most definitely would have been his end. The Germans searched his room and found nothing. One of the SS men was curious about the ceiling of a built-in wardrobe, he tapped at it and looked for an entrance but then gave up. Just as well really as in the attic were a number of weapons, one of them was a Bazooka and my sister Erna had a revolver in her room, besides some sensitive documents. Still this event had a happy ending for us kids, for when we surveyed the mess the Germans left behind, we also saw on the floor a number of wrapped loaves of toasted bread.. Toasted bread will keep for a very long time. Our dad had bought these loaves on the black market for emergency. Us kids helped ourselves to this bread quickly and were not hungry in the morning!
Well as you will appreciate when I am writing this story, one memory after another comes to mind; so I could ramble on forever, but will save you the ordeal. Here follows an episode we all enjoyed. No one was allowed to have a radio during the war; so we could not listen to the BBC. The penalty for disobeying was very harsh. The head of the household would be shot and the apartment or house would be set on fire. This actually happened not far from where we lived, at least one apartment was set on fire, and after the Germans were tipped off that there was a radio to be found there. So now they were waiting for the owner to come home; so he could be properly dealt with. Later that afternoon he arrived, but he was an NSB’er member complete in his black uniform. We all gloated!
There is one thing I would like you lucky students of today (2000) to know, about my home work. During the later part I attended secondary school or College. Regardless of being hungry all day and cold as well, for heating hardly existed, we still had to study each night. If lucky we studies by candle light, but most often a floating wick in some sort of oil provided some light. All subjects were compulsory namely 4 languages; Dutch French German and English. Irregular verbs and plurals had to be learned by heart. Geography, Dutch history and world history, Arithmetic, Algebra and Physics, Book-keeping as well as Shorthand. Just think about this while dealing with being hungry and cold too and never being sure if you would come back home or even be alive the next day…
Day by day the situation became worse, Jewish people literally herded away on open trucks or cattle trailers, no matter what age they were…The bottom apartment where Herman and his parents used to live was rented to some other Jewish couple and I had to witness when they also were arrested and loaded on an open truck. I still see the beautiful black haired teenager waiving good bye to me, looking me straight in the eye..God only knows what the bastards did to her (and HE allowed this to happen as well! )
The winter of 1944 was abnormally cold, night temperature of minus 20 at times. No heating either. We put newspaper in our shoes and around our bodies. At times we would go into the country with a hand cart or a push bike and try to barter food for exchange of linen, such as sheets and towels as farmers did not want money. (This sounds true to me for my mother used to travel all over the country with my pram to try to get food I was told..) I recall that I managed to secure a load of Brussels sprouts once, which I had to gather myself from the frozen plants. I took the leaves as well for good measure. By the time I came home I had eaten many of the sprouts, still my parents were quite happy with the leaves. On another occasion, I went with a friend nearby his name was Hans Kooren and we managed to obtain two bags of potatoes, a true treasure! At night we were grateful to be allowed to sleep in the hayloft of this farm. He gave us a canvas horse blanket to keep covered up with for some warmth. Halfway during the night the cover slipped down onto ground some 2meters below us. When we tried to recover it; we were greeted by 2 big barking Alsatians with huge teeth. The rest of the night we were too cold to be able to go back to sleep.
The following morning the farmer apologized and explained to us that so many city people abused his hospitality and sometimes stole whatever they could get their hands on. The farmer sent us on the way with a nice packet of ham sandwiches, which we both kept for our parents.
On the way home in the middle of the Maasbrug(bridge), one of our bicycles broke in half; so we had to walk the remaining 10 kilometers with two bags and one bike. Today in the year 2000, I still correspond with Hans Kooren, albeit rarely these days ( He does not use email and I am getting a bit lazy to write letter, but I think I will send him a snail mail copy of this.) We did hear rumors that liberation was close, and in fact this was true. The Southern part of Holland below the Maas River was liberated and so were Belgium and France. We were cold and hungry however…Each morning there were frozen bodies lying in the streets and parks and were collected by workers with handcarts and then hastily buried.
The poor animals suffered as much as we did, and once I saw a cart horse collapse in front of my eyes. The horse had slipped on the icy street and broken its front leg. It was shot by someone to help it is out of its misery. It was immediately loaded on a low cart and taken to a nearby slaughterhouse and a line of people was waiting soon to buy this horse meat.
By our families it was decided that both Wim and myself should leave our home in Rotterdam as we might be forced to be slave laborers soon now. Erna was working for a construction firm called Nederveen. This firm supposedly collaborated with the Germans, but in fact they totally ripped them off! The owners were totally fearless, all brothers looked like giants. They volunteered to transport 50 children to NorthHolland and then to Friesland. Friesland might have some spare food available. The truck was fueled by a coal generator (it kind of had a “steam engine like” look to it) and pulled a 20 meter trailer. The kids were wrapped in blankets and news papers and Wim was among them. Myself and another boy my age had to hide at the front of the trailer. The temperature was well below zero and the travel speed was close 15 mile per hour. The trip would take about 24 hours non stop.
Half way in Zwolle there was a really nasty and strict control point set up by the Germans. We were stopped and I remember that Erna, who was with us for part of the journey, almost sat on top of us then. One Mof felt among the luggage with his hands, felt a warm head and pulled my mate’s cap off. He then shouts: “Der Aus, Der Aus”(get out get out!) We figured that would be the end of us and we were terrified. Then the Nederveens jump into action however. I could only hear this of course. With a very very loud voice he barks and swears at the German in no uncertain terms; “GVD (God Dammit), leave them alone!! Do NOT touch them!! Later I was told that he did offer the German a packet of tobacco and let him have a snort from his precious gin flask. I guess we were extremely lucky our lives were spared, as it was quite common that trespassers were executed right then and there. Soon we were once again traveling North. When we eventually arrived in Leeuwarden, Nederveen told us: “OK from now on you boys are on your own!”
We did have an address of a protestant Minister, but had no idea how to find him. So we knocked on a door and the and we were given directions how to get there, luckily it was not too far away. We presented a letter of introduction and he was very nervous. Did we not know that it was curfew time after 6 pm? No we did not. To cut a long story short, Wim was delegated to a farm in Lekkum and I was given shelter with a grocery man called Mosselman. He was a brave man as if he was caught, he surely would be shot. He did have a special warning system, a small pushbutton under the counter. If a suspicious person would come into the shop, he would ring 3times. The dreaded day came and was partly my fault, for I had gone near the window in the back of the house and come eye to eye with a lady. I could not help notice how how hatefully she looked at me. She must have told the Germans about me.
Mr Mosselman had a special hiding place for me, on top of a built in wardrobe. It was accessible through a small trapdoor from a second story bedroom. Then linoleum would be rolled over it and a bed was placed over it. We had rehearsed this a couple of times. I was in there in not time flat, crouched up like a ball. The Germans were literally walking over me, but luckily they were not using dogs!
A while later, I had another huge scare. Occasionally I would take a walk outside at night, for being cooped up inside is just not any fun I have to tell you. While I was walking, I sensed someone behind me and sure enough a man in black was following me.
Leeuwarden at that time housed the headquarters of the Belgian SS and believe it or not, they were worse than the German SS. In fact they had actually resurrected from a museum some torture devices, which were used in the Spanish Inquisition! Their headquarters were in an insurance company building, I think it was called Buranium House or something like that. The horror stories leaking from that place were blood curdling. Now I visualized I was going to be responsible for having my good host tortured as the man in black obviously was following me to find out where I was living? So I did the only thing that I could think of and I ran like hell from one street into the other. After I had run several blocks, I manage to run into a backstreet alley, which opened up into another small alley and I hid out in the dark corner and dared not to move or look. I heard the guy run right past me too. I must have remained in that dark corner hideaway for close to a half hour or so, before I dared to move on..Eventually I managed to sneak back through the back door and was scared when I saw my own shadow even. I am ashamed to admit, but I never did dare to tell Mr Mosselman about this dumb and dangerous escapade, for he would have been furious for sure! His strict rule was for me never to set foot outside! But guess what? A few weeks later I was suffering another case of cabin fever and could not resist to go outside for another walk about again at day break. This time I was extremely careful however and moved slowly from one corner to the next and kept stairwells that I passed in mind to run into for hiding purposes. (Stairwell=portiek)
The Germans had built a concrete wall all around the city of about 2.5 meter high which was manned by soldiers with machine guns. As I came closer I noticed not even one single German soldier, I just could not believe my eyes..So I found the courage to walk actually through the open gate..Then I was dumbfounded to see all these strange looking vehicles, jeeps and weapon carriers and many soldiers that looked quite relaxed and had big smiles on their faces. The soldiers were dressed in to me foreign looking uniform. These fellows were cooking food, which created the most wonderful aromas I ever did smell in my entire life. I would have to share this good news with Mr Mosselman and others; so I immediately ran back into the city to tell everyone. They looked at me almost angry for they would not believe me. They told me this was not true and to please quit spreading these kind of rumors. I answered: “come with me and will show you!” I was told no way; this is far too dangerous! I mentioned once again that there was not a Mof in sight, but they still refused to believe me. So I had to return and try to get some proof of course. I got a few signatures and addresses and also a shoulder emblem with the words “Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa” which I still have in my possession today. One of the soldiers gave me a piece of bread, the purest white bread I had ever seen I think, it also tasted like the finest cake I ever ate!
By the time I came home again, with my proof, I was finally believed and later on that afternoon the Canadians made their official entrance into the city. They drove their jeeps and other strange looking vehicles through the middle of town. People were allowed to get on these vehicles and it was great fun to see the Friesian young ladies hug and kiss their liberators.. Many people were crying with joy and in the evening there were street dances, it was so unbelievable to be free again and be able to walk the streets without any fear whatsoever. For days on end the dancing went on in the streets and perhaps too in many homes. The Canadians were our heroes indeed! In spite of all this happy excitement, I actually felt quite lonely however, as most of the towns people were really strangers to me. Also i could not help wonder how my family was doing and I missed them very much.
German soldiers were walking towards the German border in mere rags, pushing prams with their belongings, such a contrast to 5years before, when they marched into our country with total arrogance. On reflection, their departure was not at all hindered by the Friesians; but woe to the NSB or other collaborators who were caught. That indeed is another story! For example take the girls who had dated German soldiers, they were taken to the market and openly humiliated by shaving their heads bald. I suppose it is a good thing the Canadians took over and brought all traitors under their protection. It most likely prevented a serious blood bath until Dutch law and order could be restored again.
In the West of the Netherlands, the two provinces North and South Holland were still under German occupation and a living hell for all its Dutch inhabitants. Food was not available and could not even be found in the shops. People were literally starving in the streets, I am not really sure which part of the Allied forces kicked the Moffen out eventually. I do know however that Allied planes parachuted thousands of wooden cases filled with food supplies which showed up all over these Western cities.
The story goes about a family sitting around the dining room table in Amsterdam sharing a extremely meager meal, while they prayed to God for more food. At that very instant one of these food cases crashed through the roof and practically demolished their table; thus their prayer was overheard! You may believe this or not. I think many of the Dutch people owed their lives to those food parcels.
When I think back at these difficult years while growing up as a kid during WW2, my hardship was rather small in comparison with many others youngsters of my age group. I think especially with sadness and heavy heart about all young people who were taken to concentration camps and the many of these who went through living hell on earth and some of them would never return like my pretty dark haired neighbor…
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