The History Place - Personal Histories

A Boy's Life in Holland

Tragedy and Humor

Section Two of Six

At the beginning of the war, food supplies began to deteriorate almost immediately (especially by 1942) and, in school, we were required to learn the German language. But at first, really not a whole lot of other things changed. Life continued somewhat in the same vein.

However, for Jewish people, things were very different. Before the war, Jews were treated just like everybody else. They made it or they didn't make it, so we had no idea about the overarching hatred of them by the Germans. We had learned, however, that before the war broke out there were a great many rallies against the Jews in Germany. For example, windows were broken out of their homes and stores (Kristallnacht). But many escaped before being captured, including Albert Einstein and many other scientists.

Once the Germans occupied Holland, people who were Jewish had to register at once and wear yellow stars that said "Jew." That was mandatory. Furthermore, the Germans apparently went back through everybody's birth registrations looking for any Jewish blood. I have some genealogy books with pages of Huts born in Holland. The Nazi stamp, "o.k.," appears on the registrations of many.

There were Jewish sections throughout Holland that we never went into during the war. They were dangerous. The Germans lacked respect for everyone living there. They shot first, asked second. Later, we learned that by October 7, 1942, the Germans had gathered 13,000 Jews from Holland and sent them to the distribution camp, Westerbork. The following is a direct quote from Heir Rauter, the German officer in charge of collecting Jews in Holland, sent to Himmler, head of the SS and right-hand of Hitler: "Ich habe in den letzten tagen 13,000 Juden in Holland zusammengefangen und sie in das lager Westerbork schaffen lassen." (I have in the last days captured together 13,000 Jews in Holland and brought them to Camp Westerbork to be distributed.)

About three blocks from our home there was a little store and homemade bakery shop owned by a Jewish family who worked very hard. We always went there to get pastries because they were wonderful. Everybody did. One Sunday morning in 1943, I was walking by myself at the corner of Zwaanshals (Swan Neck) and Zaagmolenstraat (Saw Mill Street) near the pastry shop. I was alert because there were some Germans and a truck. As I watched, one German battered in the closed door of the Jewish store with the butt of his rifle. Then, in a matter of minutes, he appeared with the parents' youngest child, picked him up by the arm and foot and just threw him into the truck like a log, right through the air. The second two children followed. I heard the parents scream and saw them with their hands on their heads. The Germans shoved them into the truck, too, and that's the last we ever saw of them. That was a common sight in our city. We assumed that they were killed in a concentration camp.


When the war began, I had already graduated from Kleuter School (which was for children from three to seven years old and was educational in nature, not just a "pre-school") and was now in Lagere School, meaning lower grade school. It went through the eighth or ninth grade and emphasized vocational-technical skills. It was the final school for all students, except those selected to advance to a university or the Conservatory.

With the Nazi occupation, changes occurred. Students were immediately required to learn the German language. In fact, German in the broadest sense became the definite emphasis. Our textbook also changed from ordinary reading texts to being politically oriented. We learned more about Germany, its power, what the Germans were doing -- and most especially that they were saving the world -- to the great dismay of most of our teachers.

Most of our original teachers remained, thus they were of Dutch origin and were not pro-German. However, they were under strict guidance and they were observed. If they got out of line, it cost them their jobs, or they suffered other very serious consequences such as being sent to work camps.

Interruptions at school were constant. Almost daily, we experienced Lucht Alarm (the alert for air attacks). Allied bombers heading toward Germany came over with regularity and our sirens would go off, so we had to go to the basement. We had no way of knowing whether we would be bombed or not. Allied planes, sometimes bombed and strafed in Allied territory such as Holland and France to disrupt or destroy German military efforts. To take a train was to take your life in your hands.

In 1944, we were each given little bottles of Vitamin C. The bottles had corks on them and were under high pressure. Somehow, if you moved those things, the corks would just fly up into the air. We had a lot of fun deliberately popping them! I remember that.

There were no rituals introduced or any other particular changes beside those of the textbooks and things of that nature, but school was more or less chaotic. You never knew what was going to happen. Toward the end of the war years there were so many people sick and hungry and dead, including our teachers, that it was a miserable period.

Humorous Events

Although many tragic things occurred during the war, there were also humorous events and examples of kindness and humanity on the part of both the occupiers and the occupied. The Dutch were, of course, basically anti-German but accommodations were necessary and sometimes the Germans even had our sympathies.

My mother was bitterly anti-Nazi! She enjoyed causing them discomfort, but she could also appreciate that many German soldiers were victims of circumstance just as we were. My mother was a person of exceedingly strong convictions and forthright actions.

In 1941, my mother and I were in a tram and there was a German soldier. He asked my mother where he could go to the bathroom. "Ya," he said in German, "I really need to go to the bathroom." And my mother, wicked as she could be, sent him to a whore house. It's the truth! (Awful, isn't it.) She told him exactly where to go and he was very polite: "Danke Schön." I think he was made fun of and ridiculed once he went. But that was just the way she did it.

Sometime around 1942, my mother and I were walking on the beach and we noticed a couple of very arrogant German officers' wives, who obviously had just arrived to visit their husbands. Now on the beach there were a lot of jelly fish and you don't touch those things. But the two German ladies had obviously never seen them before and were kind of probing a little bit. I can still hear my mother saying in German, "Aren't they comical, these little things!" So the ladies put their hands on them, and kicked them around with their feet. My mother didn't say one word.

Later, she admonished me, "Don't ever touch those things because within half an hour you will think you're on fire. The poison from them is really drastic." But she let them do it. She didn't care. "They don't belong here," she said. So that's another element she had. She was just that vindictive. I think if you had given her a machine gun she would have mowed right into them. I really think she would have.

Hans and Willie

Then, on the other hand, my mother had a very mellow heart. There were two sailors, Hans and Willie, from the Kriegsmarine (German War Marines) whom she met through Jaap, a man who worked as a supplier for German boats. Jaap said to my mom, "Anna, these boys are so sick and so lonely from the war, and so upset. They have no friends and they're being ridiculed by their own soldiers. Could I bring them sometimes and you just prepare a meal for them? They will supply the food." (Of course from the Dutch perspective, most anything to obtain food and benefit the family needed to be given serious consideration. There were definitely two sides to this coin.)

"Sure, let's do it."

So they came to visit us, Hans and Willie, and we prepared something to eat for them. How warm my mother could be to those German soldiers. She knew the other side of the coin, the humane element.

Well, the next day of course the whole neighborhood was just in an uproar because they'd seen two German Kreigsmarines going into our house. So it was, for a long time, a feud in which my mother defended her position greatly by saying, "These, these are just young boys. They don't even know where "behind" is. You know, they can hardly wipe themselves, so don't give me that."

In retrospect I find this an extremely good side of my mother. She could realize that there were Germans who were barbarians but not everyone could be called a barbarian, not every German. She was really quite a lady.

Copyright © 1997 by Lucien Hut All Rights Reserved
Excerpted from "No Longer Silent" - World-Wide Memories of the Children of World War II.

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