Section Four of Six
Danger from the Air
After the English developed their fighter planes to fly greater distances
they came over Holland regularly. Most of the time they flew offensive
bombing missions. I still remember seeing one shot down by the Germans
on a bridge. To this day there is a monument where it crashed.
On another occasion, my mother and I were walking over the Maasbrug
to visit my father's sister, Aunt Sjaan van der Burg. She lived on an island
between the Maas and Rijn Rivers and was very good to us, once in a while-even
giving us a little food. I have no idea where she got it.
The Rivers Maas and Rijn combine to form big harbors, the Maashaven
and the Rijnhaven. Strategically located on all of the bridges were German
machine gun nests to defend ships and railroad bridges from English Spitfires,
which often came over the channel.
While we were traversing the Maasbrug, this indeed happened. A couple
of Spitfires came down, diving at the bridge to destroy German property,
and the Germans retaliated with machine gun fire. The bullets from the
spitfires were so long and wide, about six inches by one inch, that they
would pierce right through the steel girders. All we could do was hover,
behind the girders, and watch bullets fly all over the place. It's a miracle
that we weren't killed.
As the shooting stopped my mother was dancing on the bridge, "Go
get 'em boys, go get 'em!" And right above her head was a little nest
of Germans. She baffled them. Totally baffled them.
Another day, I was out alone in a field cutting grass which we fed to
a rabbit we were raising to eat. (Everyday we looked at him to see if he
had grown big enough.) Overhead, I heard the roar of an engine and when
I looked up I knew it was an English Spitfire. The pilot saw me in the
field and he dropped a whole bag full of Knickerbockers. (I never did know
the true meaning of that term, but for us the Knickerbocker was an underground
newspaper.) Literally hundreds of copies came down. Then the pilot turned
around, came right at me, waved his wings and flew on over. I picked up
a whole bunch and headed for home where my mother proceeded to give me
HELL. "The Germans could have thought you were an agent and they could
have shot you on sight!!"
Another time, an English pilot landed a Spitfire in a large square near
the middle of town, got out and waved to all the people, then climbed aboard
and took off. The Germans were so flabbergasted they hardly had time to
act, let alone shoot at him before he was back in the air.
In order to prevent Allied glider planes from being able to land on
the relatively flat countryside, the Germans cut the forests and erected
slanting poles all over. It ruined the countryside, but we were able to
go out and collect some branches and small trees for a little firewood.
Another time an American bomber came back from a raid in Germany badly
damaged and on fire. Though there were submarines and boats waiting to
pick up fliers who could reach the coast, the pilot just couldn't coax
his aircraft to the shoreline. He could no longer use the rudder, so the
crew jumped and the pilot threw out everything he could while heading for
a church, right smack in the way of my brother's house. Now that the pilot
was all alone, with one great last effort, be pulled up and barely missed
the top of the church. The plane collapsed in flames in the middle of the
street in front of the church. That pilot had sacrificed his life to save
the church. Because of the tremendous impact, my brother's wife was deaf
for a day or two. Outside where my brother's father-in-law was watching,
a bomb exploded. Pieces of stone scattered everywhere.
All during the war years, if there were Allied planes in the air, the
German artillery would fire at them. We could always tell because there
would be big bangs and you could see black little clouds in the sky. That,
in itself, was not dangerous, but a minute or so afterward, when the artillery
shells exploded, particles of shrapnel would rain down that were sharp
as razor blades. And they came down abundantly, on the streets, the
roofs, everywhere. Around Rotterdam there was quite a lot of heavy artillery
and it was aimed nearly straight up because of the high flying planes.
Thus when the shells exploded, the shrapnel would come down directly. We
knew we'd better be careful.
One time, one of my friends was standing next to me when a piece of
shrapnel came down, hit his ear, and cut it like a razor blade. We saw
it fall on the street. Half of his ear was gone. If it had been my friend's
head, it probably would have killed him. But despite the danger, we collected
such objects. In fact, I had a beautiful collection of shrapnel including
one quite large piece with an inscription of a German eagle.
To this day, my experience with planes has been such, so that when anything
goes over, I watch it. I went through too many experiences with the Germans,
and with the English who many times would come down and just mow, left
and right. One time, in a cul de sac on one of the bigger streets, they
mowed down a whole bunch of people. (I have been told that in order to
relax and take the edge off their own fears, ft was not uncommon for fliers
to take a nice shot of booze, or something, before going up.)
Questioned by the SS
Next to where we lived was a Dutch police station. For the preceding
year or so it hadn't been occupied, so it was sort of an empty place. Sometimes
the Dutch underground met there.
Well, one day I was playing outside, and all of a sudden there were
on each corner, German half-track tanks (with wheels in front and tracks
behind). Just before that happened I saw people jumping right though the
window of the police station, running away. There were too many to get
through the door so they went right through the window.
The German officers jumped out of their tanks, leveled their machine
guns and captured everybody, including me. Some of the tattle-tale Germans,
including the stool-pigeon owner of the little tobacco shop across the
street, had reported a meeting of the Dutch underground. The tobacco shop
owner been watching meetings for some time. The Dutch people beat the hell
out of him later.
Well, here I was, captured and carried away by four SS, one on either
side, one in front and one in back with a gun. I was just a kid. All
of the remaining people were made to stand against a wall, then told to
turn and face me.
"Well," the German officers commanded, "which ones escaped
out of there. You tell us or else you've had it."
I guess I had a little of the venom of my mother. I had seen one man
(because he had a little limp, and he limped when we left). I saw the guy
but I didn't tell. When they turned to question me, I said, "No, I
can't see anybody that came out of there."
"Well, o.k.," they said, "you know, this is it. We'll
take you, too." But they didn't. They released me. They put the other
people in trucks and drove off.
I went into our house (my mom had not been aware of anything about this
incident) and then, within about two minutes, an officer knocked on our
door with the butt of his gun. Mom opened the door and immediately there
was a huge draft and the door slammed shut. (Our house had a series of
five doors in a row - the front door, a second door called a tocht to
prevent drafts, a third door between the hall and living room, a fourth
door to the kitchen and finally a door to the yard.) For some reason when
the front door had been opened, the other doors were also open. Thus, with
no draft protection, the door slammed shut right in front of the officer's
face, quite by accident.
Well, he kicked that door down, drew his gun, ran into the house and
saw my mother scrambling to take down a picture of the royal family to
hide it. She knew by then that something was very wrong. She thought, "We've
had it now." But, by chance, he happened to be a Dutch SS man, so
Mom didn't have to speak German. He had come because he wanted to question
me some more, his own countryman. He hadn't trusted the initial interrogation
and he was fairly rude.
"Well," my mother scolded him, "you say one more word
to him and I'll bash your dirty little skull in." And she had a large
wooden laundry stomper (a little more bulky than a baseball bat) in her
hands. She was so full of anger and displayed such an enormous stature
of force that he backed off. He just left.
She did things like this many times. She told me that once you show
the enemy that you are mentally above them, they'll crawl the opposite
way. But if you show that you are submissive, they'll take every inch of
you. It was battle - and battle she did!
Walking to School
I always walked to Juliana Grade School with a girl who came by my house
and picked me up. We continued together for about 10 blocks. She was very
pretty, blond and 13 years of age.
One day, at the corner by the tobacco shop, there were five SS. One
of them shouted something but we didn't pay any attention. We had no idea
what he was saying. The next thing, we heard sort of like 'bang' and nothing
else so we continued. Then, all of a sudden, I saw it first, blood was
running all over her left shoulder and arm. At the onset she hadn't felt
anything but then the pain came, perhaps five or six seconds later. She
had been shot right through the shoulder. The bullet went right through.
The SS didn't do anything else, so we ran to our school. There the school
authorities took her immediately to the appropriate hospital.
Of course, there was nothing filed against the SS. You simply didn't
do that. But why a thirteen year-old, or anybody?
A Laundry Trip
My mother did the laundry for my maternal grandparents. One day, when
we were carrying a basket with clean ironed clothes from our house to theirs,
there was a woman standing by their door. We were very close, maybe 20
seconds away, and at that moment a German soldier on the other side of
the street shot her, right through the head. Her brain just splattered
all over the back of the door.
Within a moment we escaped around a corner. At first, this incident
was so much of a shock that we simply couldn't react. But if we had, we
probably would have gotten the same treatment. The woman had been very
attractive. Our suspicion was that the German obviously had "plans."
She probably told him off and he shot her.
She lay there for a few minutes until some Dutch people came and picked
her up and hauled her off. Nobody did anything to question or molest the
German and nothing was mentioned to the police while we were there. It
might have been done in some instances, but not then. The police simply
wouldn't take any action. The German could always say, "She offended
me," or "she was...whatever." There are many stories like