Section Five of Six
During 1943, 1944, and 1945, when Dutch men walked outside into the
streets, they were often captured, not just by Germans, but also by people
who were authorized to find them. Once captured, they would be put into
trucks and they would be gone! Every time a man showed his face on the
street, he could be captured by anyone because we didn't know who was "pro"
or "anti." Often the men managed to escape and return home, just
to be captured again.
My father was taken several times. During transport he usually seemed
to get away. It was sort of a cycle -- being captured, escaping, and being
captured again. The Germans didn't want to kill the men. They needed them
to work in the factories. They simply didn't have enough of their own people
to work anymore. All of their own men were on the battlefield and someone
had to make the German military machinery work or do whatever was needed.
On one particular occasion the Germans shut off all of the streets and
they captured all of the men. They went into the houses (some people lay
in bed and had green cards, often fake, that they had T.B. or something
so the Germans didn't touch them!) but they dragged all of the other men
out, put them in truck convoys, and then into ryn aak which were
big ships. Then they transported them up to Germany to work.
Both my father and brother Jan were captured. At the time, my mom wasn't
home. When she returned, she was just furious. She took me by the arm,
dragged me through the hall and out to the street where, on each corner,
the Germans had put machine gun nests. Standing in front of us was an SS
man, rifle in hand. My mother and I walked by him and he said, "You
can't go that way." She told him to "shove off," and we
walked through. He fired at her and the bullet went right over her head
and hit a mirror on the other side of the street (what we call a spionnetje,
a small mirror on the second or third floor that we often looked into to
see the opposite side of the street). She turned around and said, in German,
"You missed, stupid." And we walked on. He was totally, totally
disarmed. That's how much anger she had in her.
We got as far as the ships but the German guard, a man with whom we
felt we could talk because he was older and friendly, stopped us and said,
"Lady, I can't help you. It would cost me my life." We
knew he really couldn't, so we gave up and went away.
Somehow, my dad escaped, he got out of it, but my brother didn't. So
after dad returned, he went back out and got my brother out of a camp in
Again, my brother and father were captured. It was a constant story.
This time they were on a railroad that went over a bridge near the city
Groningen. Dad knew the train had to slow down and showed Jan how to jump
from it into the water below. Dad jumped but my brother chickened, so again
my father had to go in and get him out of there.
Jan started to work at the ship docks, rebuilding ships related to German
use. On his feet, he (as did most everyone by now) wore slats of wood fastened
with straps much like sandals. He found a pair of German boots that fit
and stole them. The Germans caught him and he had to spend six weeks in
a concentration camp.
Later, after my dad had come back, the poor man got so sick he could
hardly talk. This occurred near the end of the war. In desperation, we
took him to a German centrum where men were collected with the idea of
feeding them and making them able to work. Then, he was sent off to Germany
once more. However, he escaped some way and joined the Canadian Army, as
did my brother Jan who had again been picked up.
I don't know exactly how my father did all of that, but he did. The
Germans never really managed to keep him very long. He was just like that,
really clever and nervy, even though his command of the German language
was practically zilch. In normal life, he was quite a gentle man with a
soft-spoken voice and he was emotional. Certainly you never would have
expected any kind of courage like he portrayed in the war.
My other brother Leen was taken earlier, in 1943. We didn't know where
he was until a letter arrived toward the end of the war that he was in
France. He had been captured by the Germans and worked in France but had
escaped to a monastery where he was hidden in a cellar where he helped
make wine or something like that. Sometime during that period he got the
opportunity to join the American Army. From the few things he once told
me years later (when he had had a little bit to drink at a party) he must
have been on the front lines which were very, very ferocious. He had even
shaken hands with General Eisenhower because of his bravery.
I remember Leen's letter because it had been treated with a certain
color to find out if there were any hidden messages in it. All letters
that we received had colors on them. I don't know how it was done, but
they had been opened, of course.