The History Place - Personal Histories

A Boy's Life in Holland

Daily Dangers

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 that.

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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