Herman J. Good VC
Branch # 18
Bathurst, New-Brunswick Canada
A Veterans' Story
My name is: Wilhelmus (Bill ) Bongers
Born : the 9th of May, 1933
Birthplace : Hoorn, N-H., the Netherlands (approximately 39 km north of Amsterdam )
Population : 13500 in 1945 approx. 85000 in 2005
Significations : Hoorn is the capitol city of West-Friesland.
Hoorn is the birthplace of Willem Schouten ( born in 1580 ) who in 1616 sailed and rounded the Southern tip of South
America and named it “Kaap Hoorn” after his home town. It’s now known as “Cape Horn”.
Hoorn is also the birthplace of Jan Pieterszoon Coen (born in 1587 ) who in 1618 founded the Dutch colonial Empire
“The East Indies” now known as “Indonesia” and established the city of Batavia now known as Jakarta.
Hoorn was first mentioned in the year 1203
Hoorn received its city rights in 1356.
Hoorn prospered in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Hoorn is presently a highly Technical, Industrial city and a haven for tourists, specially Yachtsmen and lovers of middle aged architectures :
De Noorderkerk (Northchurch ) build in 1426.
De Oosterkerk ( Eastchurch ) build in 1616.
De Mariatoren ( Mariatower ) build in 1508. De Hoofdtoren ( Harbourtower ) build in 1532.
De Oosterpoort ( Eastgate ) build in 1578.
De Waag ( Cheese Weigh House ) build in 1609.
De Statencollege ( now known as the West-Frisian Museum ) build in 1613.
De Statenlogement (City Hall ) build in 1613.
Het St. Jan’s Gasthuis (Saint John’s Guesthouse ) build in 1563.
Many private homes and warehouses dating back from 1533 onwards.
The house where I was born : Pieterseliesteeg No 7, was build in 1666. I left Hoorn on July 31, 1952 and arrived in Canada on August 9, 1952. I sailed on the Cunard Liner “Samaria”, landed in Quebec City as a “Landed Immigrant”. I worked in Toronto and Montreal and retired in Bathurst, New Brunswick. My wife and I have lived in Bathurst since 1991. Every year around November 11, “Remembrance Day,” Veterans of WW2 are asked and welcomed into the classrooms of the Bathurst schools to tell their war time stories. As I also have a story to tell about my time during these years, I also get an opportunity to stand in front of a classroom full of students around that time of the year. I feel very privileged to be able to do so and hope that the children will learn from it.
The following is my story:
1940-1945 May 10, 1940 : German troupes invade the Low Countries. I turned 7 years old on May the 9th. My first encounter with the invaders was the early morning on the 10th of May while waiting on the stoop of our school for the Sister’s arrival. (We were taught by nuns). My friend Piet all of a sudden shouted “look at that”, he pointed in the direction of the street’s crossing “What is that?” We all looked at the funny vehicle with caterpillar tires and a pipe sticking out of a round dome at the top. No one appeared to be steering this strange thing, green in color with dark blotches, though we could hear the sound of a motor inside. It had difficulties going through the narrow street and more so when rounding corners. (The school was on de Ramen close to de Nieuwsteeg).
Soon we heard the city tower clock strike the 9 o’clock hour, school should be starting but the Sister had not yet arrived.We waited another 15 or 20 minutes when one of the Mothers from other kids said “ better go home, maybe there is no school today”. So Piet and I started to walk home. At the church square we encountered more of those strange vehicles and uniformed soldiers sitting around or standing with duffel bags and rifles, some with strings of bullets around their necks or on their shoulders, others with, what we learned later, hand grenades hanging from their belt buckles. They also talked a strange language we could not understand.
Still not knowing what was going on we got home. I entered the house via the usual backway, the rear-port on the Warmoesstraat. Excitedly I walked into the kitchen where Dad and my older brothers were gathered around the radio listening to some broadcast about the bombing of Rotterdam and
the destruction of several bridges crossing the Rhine and Maas rivers. Many citizens of Rotterdam had already perished. I wanted to tell what I had seen but was quickly told to “Shut up and don’t open y’r mouth”. This was all new to me. Here I was on my 7th birthday, supposedly the age of reasoning,
but I could not understand what was going on !!
Via the radio we learned the valiant attempts of the Dutch army to try and ward off the invaders, but the battle was over in a matter of 4 days, many brave Dutch boys were killed. Holland was under siege and inundated with German soldiers :
Der Wehrmacht, Die Gestapo, Der SS, Der Grune Polizei, Der Luftwaffe and der Marine. Der Grune Polizei took over from the city police, Der Wehrmacht took over the duties from the city hall. Der SS took over all the major buildings and hotels.
We, the citizens had to follow their orders, though not a great deal happened in town during the first occupation years. It more or less started in 1942-43, my memory fails me before these years. I do remember that soon after the invasion, resistance by the Dutch people was very prominent and became a great factor for survival.
It already started on the 15th of May 1940 by a well known resistance fighter with the name Bernard Yzerdraad from the city of Haarlem. He “ taught “ others to do their part in resisting and annoying the enemy invaders by cutting their telephone wires, making their vehicles useless by cutting their tires or putting sand or sugar in the gas tanks.
Another favorite was the rotating or changing of the roadsigns used frequently by the Germans. Bernard Yzerdraad had many followers, all first scrutinized for honesty. Most likely one of these was dishonest because Bernard was caught and rounded up by the Nazis together with 14 other resistance fighters
and executed in the dunes near Scheveningen on February 23 in 1941, two of the 14 were women.
Note: 76000 persons were in the resistance movement in Holland from 1940 to 1945. 22500 of these were arrested by the Gestapo, many of them died in prisons or concentration camps, 2800 died by firingsquads, executed in cities, villages or in general country areas.
Many also returned from concentration camps after the liberation, of these brave men and women many were physically spent and mentally exhausted, never to become healthy again.
It was the beginning of “the Holocaust”, wholesale destruction, sacrifice and slaughter of humanity. If you were Jewish another new word came into being :
“Persecution”. I remember people I had known all my life in my hometown, suddenly walking around with a yellow star on their chest with the word “Jood” in dark ,black letters in its center. Nobody knew that we had so many Joden ( Jews ) in Hoorn . We were Roman Catholics, had our animosities with the Protestant kids and knew pretty
well who they were but those of the Jewish faith were generally not in the picture.
The first “roundup” of Jews took place in Amsterdam’s Jewish district called “de Jordaan” in February 1941. Hundreds of young Jewish men were arrested and trucked in so called “Black Marias” to concentration camp “Mauthausen” in Austria. Here they were executed two weeks later.
I remember this very distinctly because one of these men was the son of a Hoorn jeweler who happened to be visiting a cousin in Amsterdam at that time. He definitely was “in the wrong place at the wrong time.” From that time on, Jewish people lived in fear , removed and discarded their yellow stars and went into hiding where ever a hiding place could be found.
Most found places with helpful citizens, others hid in churches (Catholic or Protestant ). Some went on boats, into barns, empty houses, attics, cellars, windmills, what ever was available.
Though my Parents had 7 children and we were far from rich, their heart went out to these people and (via the underground organization ) we suddenly had 3 more people in our household. A Jewish Mother named Carla and her two young daughters Marja and Rodie The Mother was a nurse in an Amsterdam Hospital and we found out soon after that she would
be away very frequently for long periods as she was helping other Jews of Amsterdam finding “underground” places.
Carla did not look very Jewish, she was not a born Jew, she had married a Jew who had already been picked up by the Gestapo and brought to one of the concentration camps. Marja had the same features as her Dad, she looked Jewish with her dark hair,
brown eyes and her prominent nose, a definite give away. Rodie looked more like her Mom. She had light blond hair and blue eyes..Carla was picked up and questioned by the Gestapo many times but was always released again. She knew how to talk herself out of dangerous situations. However as lucky as she was, sometime in early 1944 she again went on a mission which was her last, she never returned again.
At the time when these three Jewish people came to our house , certain house rules were changed and added. We were told and warned by our Parents as well as our older brothers and sisters never te tell our friends or others about the three Jews in our house, not even our best friends. The two girls were told to remain strictly in the confinement of the house and backyard.
Never to get closer than one meter from a window and never to answer or go near one of the street doors. When playing in the backyard they were not to yell out loudly nor to laugh or giggle. The backyard was closed in with a high stone wall, equipped with big doors as a gate which were sealed close with a boom.
The doors opened up to the Warmoesstraat. In the meantime as time progressed, the Dutch population became thinner as food became scarcer. We were put on ration coupons for not only food but also such items as clothing, shoes, tobacco products, soap items, you name it, generally everything. Jews of course were off the list, they did not get ration cards.
A new department in the underground organization became eminent, it was known as the “ Ration-card–coupon-Forgery dept.” My Dad became slightly involved with this new department, in the distribution of these false coupons. By now German factories making the war machinery were running out of manpower because all able bodied German men were forced to join the armed forces, some wanted to of course.
So they started to round up Dutch men, first those who were seeking employment via the unemployment office, later anyone between the ages of 18 to 45. My oldest brother Joep was 21 years old, he was laid off from his work as a black-smith helper and was seeking new employment. He was send to Kassel in the centre of Germany to work in an airplane-ballbearing-factory.
While working there he gradually developed his own way of sabotage. The bearings they manufactured in his department were mainly roller types rather than the ball types. Rollers as well as balls were made very precisely to 1/10 of a thousand of an inch. By deviating away from this high tolerance and
making one roller 2/10 of a thousand larger in diameter than the others in that same bearing, this bearing would still pass inspection but its life expectancy was very limited, causing the motor or machine where the bearing was installed to break down at unexpected, maybe fatal, times. As an example: An airplane motor with one of these bogus bearing could suddenly conk out, cease, causing the plane to crash.
In 1943 the factory was bombed by the allays, they used naphtha and phosphor bombs. Several workers, including Joep, were burned. He also lost half his nose. He was brought to the hospital where he was treated for the burn wounds and by removing a small section from his hip they managed to reconstruct a new nose. My parents received notification of his condition from the Red Cross with the urgent request for clothing,
mainly under wear and sweaters. None of these items were available from the stores so my Mom and 2 sisters started knitting these from discarded yarn pieces and by taking apart old sweaters from the family members. One of the neighbour women owned a spinning wheel, she came over with it and respun some of the yarn. An other neighbour had an Angora cat with a long white thick hairy coat.
The coat was sheared off and transformed in beautiful white “yarn” with the spinning wheel. One of the girls knitted a pair of gloves from it, my Mom dyed them black. In the meantime the cat was running around shivering from the cold, bare naked. All was neatly packed in a carton box and handed to the Red Cross who looked after the delivery.
In the hospital Joep got aquainted with a man from Poland, one from Czechoslovakia
and another Dutchman from the city of Schiedam, close to Rotterdam . The four of them escaped from the hospital, fled into the mountains and hid inside a barn belonging to a German farmer. One of the farmer’s daughters found them the following morning. The farmer was luckily on their side and kept them hidden till the end of the war. They were expected to help with the farm chores and were able to repair some of the farm equipment.
Joep wrote home whenever he could, he wrote about the new friends and send the address of the Schiedammer, “ just in case”, he stated, “you never know”.
It just so happened that my Dad was asked to go to Rotterdam by train ( they were still running at the time)to deliver some “freshly printed” ration-coupons to a given address there. So, with the coupons safely tucked under his shirt and a couple of sweaters over them he took off for Rotterdam.
The arrival time was delayed by a few hours, too late to go to the given address so he decided to find the address in Schiedam and as such a place to bed down. It was an upper apartment above some stores. He rang the bell and a lady shouted “come on up”. When he climbed up the stairs the first thing he saw was a large picture of Hitler in the “Sich Heil” mode, further up was a German flag with a large swastika. The woman seemingly was okay, the friend of Joep was her son, she was happy knowing that he was in good hands at the German farm. Dad was happy to get out of that house the following morning, he felt he was in the lion’s den. When he got back home the first thing he did was write Joep not to trust this new found “friend”, his Mother was one of the NSB party and could make a lot of trouble.
In August ’45 Joep came home again. Many never returned, my brother was one of the luckier ones. Mom asked him about the package she had send, did he receive it? “Oh yes” was his reply “What were the cloves made off?” was his question because he explained, when he had them on, his hands got very itchy and after 10 minutes they were as red as a beet. Other men of this vulnerable age went into hiding , they became known as “Onderduikers”, persons in hiding. More “work” for the SS and Grune Polizei,
now they not only had to look for and find the hiding places of the Jews but also for those of the Dutch. In 1943, on the 25th of July was my parents 25th Wedding Anniversary, an event that had to be celebrated and celebrated it did. It was a pity that Joep was not present but the rest of the family came, some from a far distant. A beautiful photograph was taken of the group right in front of Nelis Verbeek’s shoe store on the Kerkplein,
this was later published in OUD HOORN’s quarterly issue of 1995.
Our house was a big house, equipped with an old fashioned outhouse, one with a barrel and funnel. With so many people in the house, all using the outhouse facility, understandably when time came, the barrel was full to overflowing. It was just past 1 o’clock in the afternoon, Opa Bongers stood their dancing away because he had to go but he had to wait. First Dad had to dig a deep hole in his flower garden
and then with the help of the other men, carefully the barrel was removed, turned over right above the dug hole to empty it. Dad’s shoes got the full load. Uncle Gerards’s jacket sleeves and the cuffs of his shirt with the golden cuff-links were also slightly in the way. It was quite a sight, something one does not forget.
In an other part of Hoorn lived one of my Mother’s sister, our Aunt Dien married to Uncle John (Jan Molenaar).Their home was on the Meerensstraat.
They also had Jewish people in hiding, first one ( a little boy, maybe 6 years old ), then suddenly there were eleven all of different ages. An incident with catastrophic results caused the Jews having to move suddenly to an other residence, right next door to us in the Pieterseliesteeg in the carpenter’s shop of “Ouwe Molenaar” as he was known to us. The catastrophic incident happened on July 7, 1944 when a squadron of airplanes, bombers, flew over our city on their way to Hamburg Germany.
Normally they would fly over during the night but this particular day they flew over in daylight, early in the morning around 8:45, the sky was black with planes, obscuring the sun, the sound was tremendous, loud and droning. Me and my friend were on our way to school , just crossing the Church-Square (Kerkplein ). We were fascinated by what we heard and saw and stood looking up for a while. The airplanes were flying very high, leaving vapor trails behind which formed behind them a long white cloud, visible for many kilometers.
We were watching in awe when suddenly we saw a flash of light, we heard a loud explosion and saw parts of planes, opened parachutes with flyers and unexploded bombs hurling down. The sirens on top of the church and other buildings were activated and were wailing their eerie blaring sound.
A man in the Kerksteeg, standing in the doorway of one of the stores, beckoned to us with arm gestures and shouted “get off the street” We turned around and ran home. Later we heard that two bombers had touched wings and crashed down.
Parts of the planes were scattered all through the city, bomb craters as well. The most damage had taken place in the Meerensstraat and Drieboomlaan where several houses had been flattened or severely damaged. One woman was killed in her house on the Drieboomlaan. There were also parts of one of the planes on the Pelmolenpad. There were 10 men in each plane, thus 20 men in total, 13 of them died, one managed to escape after dropping down in a farmer’s field. He went “underground” in the Village of Venhuizen by farmer Commandeur,
joint the Dutch underground movement and rode this way to the end of the war.
With all the commotion going on in the city and especially in the Meerensstraat Aunt Dien got scared and told the Jews, hiding in her house, that they had to move to the Pieterseliesteeg, into the carpenter’s shop which was owned by her Father in Law Ouwe Molenaar. One by one, disguised and camouflaged with lots of clothing, she guided them through the streets of Hoorn, using a different route for each one of them..
When Ouwe Molenaar was still active and working he produced mainly coffins on contract for the local undertaker. Now that wood was no longer available he and the shop were idle. The back of the shop annexed onto our backyard, separated by a low, 3 feet high wooden fence.
The carpenter shop had no toilet, no water, no electricity, no cooking facilities, no heat, there was nothing, a good hiding place but unlivable. It did not take long for them to open the backyard fence so they could use our toilet,
an old-fashioned outdoor outhouse with a funnel type barrel receiver, situated directly behind the house in our backyard.. When it came to obtaining water, cooking their meals and washing their clothes, our kitchen became their kitchen, of course they would always ask if it was okay so as not to interfere with our requirements. As the fall became winter, it got very cold in the carpenter’s shop, we al donated a blanket from our beds to them. They simply huddled together to keep themselves warm.
Back in 1941-’42 the German Reich started to confiscate all goods which were no longer permitted to be owned by the population such as radios, bicycles, cars, motorbikes, copper-ware, leather-goods, musical instruments, etc. Anything to do with the Queen or the “House of Orange” was not allowed and punishable, often with death by the firing squad.
Our house was built in 1666 and had a unique hiding place between the ceiling of the mainfloor and the floor above it. It was approximately 3 feet deep and covered the whole area of the house. It was not detectable from the inside nor the outside of the house, access was by removing a floorplank at the second floor level in my Parents bed room. The other uniqueness of the house was that it had centrally, on the right side, a circular,
oak wooden staircase and directly above it a fairly large sky window. These contributed to an optical illusion and also to the undetected hiding place.
Some of the local merchants had been given notice of confiscation of their goods in stock, the radio store of De Haan in the Kerksteeg for example, so also the bicycle merchant Lakeman on the Grote Noord and the shoe store of Nelis Verbeek on the Kerkplein. Mr. De Haan brought almost all his radios in stock, one at a time, very carefully, to our house to be hidden in that 3 feet area. Only a couple of radios, with half of their guts missing, were handed over to the Germans. Mr. Lakeman’s son, Simon, drove the bicycles,
one by one at a different route every time, to our house also with the 3 feet of space as its destination. Neighbour Verbeek came with dozens of boxes with expensive shoes and other goods out of his store, They also found a place together with the other goods. Boy oh boy, thinking back about all these risks our Parents took, it’s a wonder we are able to talk about them.
In 1942, my Dad’s job was getting closer and closer to an end. He was selling petrol ( kerosene) door to door, supplied by ESSO, to about 1/2 of the town’s families. This commodity became scarcer by the day and suddenly was no longer available. My Dad had to seek other employment. He was “requisitioned” by the Germans and was asked “Was kennen Sie?” “What is your job?” When he told them that he was by trade a baker, he was immediately taken on. He spoke the German language also fairly good which was an other asset.
To go back to his youth years, people in that time had to start working at an early age, learning a trade was very important. He was 11 years old when he started in a bakery and learned the fine art of confectionering and baking anything that can be found in a good bakery. He stayed on as a baker till he was 25 years old and by then was married to my Mom for 3 years. He was getting trouble breathing, saw his doctor who told him to get
out of that bakery because the flower dust was the cause of his problems and would get worse if he stayed there. So he quit his job and found employment with the PEN ( the Provincial Electric Network) as a “linesman” which was outside work and better for him. I don’t know how long he worked there, but an accident brought an end to this career. He was changing some of the isolators high up in a pole, when someone reconnected the high voltage power supply. Dad received quite a jolt and tumbled down from the ladder falling with his
right knee on top of a cast iron sewer cover. His knee cap was shattered in many pieces. After 2 operations and one year of recuperation he was given the okay again to resume working, so he went back to the PEN. There he was told that since he no longer could climb a ladder, the PEN had longer any use for him, he was advised to leave. He asked for a pension or some other compensation but was given a “pink slip” and a bit of money, just enough to obtain a small hand cart. He applied for a permit by the ESSO Company to sell petrol and
soon was ringing door bells to obtain a clientele. His first client was the local boss of the PEN, the one who had given him the “Pink slip”, he cursed and swore my Dad to the end of the street. After some years he got rid of the hand cart and bought a carrier-tri-cycle. He remained a “peddler”, selling kerosene till 1957, thus for 32 years.
He began to work in the barracks of the Wehrmacht as a cook in the kitchen, this also involved baking breads and other baked goods. An ideal job for a person who had many mouth to feed at home, Dad always made too much, so he could go home with all the extras, the neighbours were also happy and never left out. All too soon the Wehrmacht command was changed, an other group came in and Dad’s services in the kitchen were no longer required. He was given another job, looking after the gardens. Dutch farmers were still growing vegetables, fruit was still growing on the trees, but when it became time to harvest these, special German patrol-spotters made a quick visit to the farm first. “Ach du liebe, sie haben kartoffelen, grune bonen, wortelen, weise kohl, sehr gut, alles wird geconfisceerd”. What he said was: “ Oh my God, you have potatoes, green beans, carrots, white cabbage, very good, all of that is now confiscated.” An armed sentry was placed on that farm, the farmer was told not to take anything from his crop, not even one carrot, his field will be cleared as soon as possible. My Dad was ordered to round up a half dozen men and harvest the crop within a certain time and to bring it to the barracks. This was done within the specified time, but first the farmer got what ever he needed for his family.
The first stop on the way to the barracks was our house and these of the helpers. By the time it got to the barracks only ¼ of the load was left for the Germans, if they complained they were told that it was stolen by other hungry people from Amsterdam. At least we and some of the others in the street had something to eat.
The gardeners tried to cover, as well as was possible, their crop from the sight of the roads but that was in vain for at least 8 of them. After that it was finished for them, for the Germans as well and for my Dad, he was given another job with another division of the Wehrmacht. They were complaining because tobacco was becoming unavailable. Right behind Dad’s warehouse on the end of ‘t Breed, beginning of the Westerdijk was a fairly big parcel of land (later it became a playground with rides for the kids). That land was seeded with tobacco plants and
Dad became the man to look after them. When the plant-leaves were ripe and ready for harvesting, they had to be dried first by stringing them on a line inside warehouses. The Wehrmacht claimed at least 4 of them. Naturally a lot of leaves ended up in our house, the attic was filled and the whole house began to stink.
In the meantime an other person came into our lives, our cousin Cor Bongers, one of uncle Hendrik’s sons living in Arnhem. He was 17 years old and had received notice to report to the Gestapo. In stead he went into hiding at our house. Things were not going well at Aunt Dien’s in the Meerensstraat, she was being questioned. My Mom had taken the 2 Jewish girls, Marja and Rodie to the hairdresser on het Nieuwland and while there she suddenly saw her younger sister, Aunt Dien , walking passed in between two large men each wearing a light (rain)coat and one hand hidden in the pocket. They were walking in the direction of our house, Mom thought for a moment, didn’t like what she saw and decided not to take the girls back to the house but to the Sacristy of the church. Aunt Dien and the 2 men in the meantime had reached their destination, the rear entrance to our house, the wooden gate on the Warmoesstraat. It was locked with the boom, but she yelled “it’s Aunt Dien” which led someone to remove the boom and give her and the 2 men entrance to our backyard. My sister Greta and me were sitting right across the gate, next to the kitchen door, peeling and scraping some potatoes we still had, when we saw the guns in the hands of the 2 men and heard them shouting “Hands up, you are all under arrest!”
Greta threw the basket with potatoes aside, grabbed me by the arm and we both ran inside the house, straight up the stairs to the second floor. There in the open she saw the radio, still set on the BBC. She removed her apron and threw it over the radio, I grabbed a pillow and placed it on top of the apron. We both went into the large, walk-in clothes cupboard, closed the door and waited in the dark, shaking with fear. It didn’t take long or we heard footsteps coming up the stairs and some one milling about. Suddenly the cupboard’s door was wrenched open and we heard somebody say “Come on out”. We both emerged, Greta got a kick in her behind, she almost tumbled down the stairs and I was held to identify the I.D.certificates the man had in his hands. I was surprised, he spoke Dutch and questioned me calmly, “Who is this person?” and “who is he?” I answered, “ He is my brother Louis” and “he, I don’t know”. For the family members I gave the names, for the Jews I said “I don’t know”.
We were told to do it this way, in reality I identified the Jews. When it came to the I.D. of my cousin Cor, difficulties were encountered. His Mother was from Spanish ancestry, she had a dark complexion, so had Cor. When I said that he was my cousin, I was shouted down “no, he is a Jew”. I insisted that he was my cousin, the man insisted that he was Jewish. He put his handgun up to the temple of my face and asked again “who is this” I again said “my cousin”. He finally believed me. He led me to the stairs and I ran down as fast as I could, him following me. The Jews were all lined up in the hall way and the kitchen ready to be led out onto the street. Cousin Cor was begging one of the young Mothers to hand him her little girl, about 2 years old. “No’, she said “if we have to go she will have to go as well”. The Jews were led to the police station on the Kaasmart ( Cheese market Square). One of the men managed to escape via our backyard, he jumped the fence to the neighbour’s backyard and the next fence into the Trommelstraat. After staying in the police station for a short period , the Jews were transported in vans out of town to end up in one of the concentration camps, we don’t know where. When all this was going on, Ap had run over to the horse stables where my Dad was working at the time and warned him not to come home. He stayed away for a few days. We had learned in the meantime that the 2 men, who had come with Aunt Dien , were so called “Bounty Seekers”, Jews themselves, “traitors” with other words, to their own people. They had no cause to give us any harm, they had been rewarded with the standard fees, what ever they got for bringing in a Jew. Of course they missed out on the payment for the one that escaped. For this we were scrutinized and pestered for many weeks afterwards, them thinking that the escapee was still among our midst, but he was long gone, we had no idea where to.
Checking up on the drying tobacco-leaves it became apparent that they were ready to be cut and had to go to the tobacco factory somewhere on the Achterom, behind the West Frisian museum. This factory was idle for quite a while already, there was no tobacco, so the electricity had been cut off. This became reinstated with a special permit, allowing the surrounding buildings also this luxury. My Dad came also with his dried leaves and brought them back nicely cut for the rolling of cigarettes. A couple of doors away from our house was the store of butcher van Wijngaarden, who was very busy making smoked ring-sausages. He maintained that they were all made from first class meat, mainly beef. We never saw a cow there however and when he was working in his slaughter area, next to our backyard, the street doors remained closed and locked. Every day a line up of out of towners, people from Amsterdam and other cities, bought those sausages, they thought they were good and tasty. Dad came home one time with one, he found eyes and furry hide in it, our cat didn’t even want to touch it, it ended up in the refuse container.
Back in 1943 the German occupiers went on a rampage through the cities of Holland, Hoorn included, to plunder and remove the bells out of the church steeples and those that were in other such towers. The 2 small bells of the harbour tower were the first to go, then the one in the R.C. church and finally the ones in the big church on the church square. The 44 bells from this steeple was our carillon, I was there when they were taken as can be seen on page 30 of the booklet “HOORN bezet en bevrijd”.I come walking from the Warmoesstraat onto the square in my short pants and jacket. When all the bells were removed, they had to take also the bronze wind vane from the top of the steeple. This was a dangerous, big job and took quite a while to get done. I always had seen it as a rooster of minimal proportions. The hoist rope was about 10 meters short so it was dropped onto the square with a loud noise, damaging it somewhat. I was surprised to see that it was a mermaid and not a rooster when someone pointed this out to me. It also appeared to me that it was as big as an automobile.
Dad could not bring home (borrow)much while working in the horse stables, but he did bring home 5 or 6 grey horse blankets, they were always useful. One day he told Mom to dye one of the blankets navy-blue, he had an idea. When it was finished and he took a good look at the result he asked her to dye three more of the blankets. The idea was to take the 4 blankets to the farmers as bolts of cloth for either men’s suits or women’s skirts and trade them for either potatoes or wheat. The first few farmers were not too interested but when he came to Koedijk, a village close to Alkmaar, a farmer there wanted to know more. One of his daughters was getting married and he needed a new suit of clothes. He called his wife to the door, she examined the “material”, felt its texture and proclaimed that she could make a skirt for herself and a suit for her husband , she was good at sewing , had a singer-foot treadle sewing machine, oh yes, there was enough material. Dad received a small bag of wheat, a pound of butter and a whole cheese to bring home with him. Potatoes he did not have. Sometime later he heard that the wedding had taken place, the farmer was the best dressed man of the whole bunch there, the only thing was that in the afternoon a heavy rainfall spoiled the outdoor activities. The farmer’s new suit became soaked, the dye disappeared, all of a sudden the farmer was walking around in a grey suit. Everyone thought that he was a magician and gave him a big ovation!!
Suddenly we were in the month of September, ’44, the 17th of that month was very significant and is still embedded in the minds of many Dutch people. It was the onset of the battle of Arnhem known as “Operation Market Garden.” Prior to this event we listened every evening to the broadcasts of “Radio Oranje (Radio Orange) of the BBC, from London England and followed in this way the progress of the allays since “D”-day, through France, Belgium and now the southern part of Holland. Our radio, a Grundig which my Dad had bought in 1938, was continually set on the BBC station, the antenna was strung inside the attic, we were not allowed to touch any of it.
Dad was born in Arnhem, a city in the province of Gelderland, situated on the river Rhine, centrally in Holland. When the battle of Arnhem started, all citizens of the city and surrounding districts were ordered to leave the area, “evacuation” was the order. Dad still had relatives there, some of them went to other family members not too far from the city. Uncle Hendrik saw the urgency of this order when one of the wooden glider planes, used to transport parachutists and /or war equipment from England , came down in his backyard, taxied right up to his backdoor, almost hitting the house. He and his wife, Aunt Toos and their 9 children lived in an area called “De Geitenkamp,” just in the north-east part of the city. Uncle Hendrik found an abandoned flat-bed truck, it had wooden tires on the wheels and about half a tank of gasoline. He “borrowed” it and drove it to his house. They loaded the truck with some needed items such as clothing, shoes and food , strapped the kids down onto the flat-bed with ropes and headed for Hoorn, for our house. It took them 5 days to travel the 148 km distant, avoiding the German patrols as much as they could.
Opa Bongers was still alive and well, lived together with Mieske, his cat, in a small house at the upper part of the city of Arnhem. He had to leave also, packed a small suitcase with a few of his belongings and started walking, also in the direction of Hoorn. He had to leave Mieske behind for which he was very sorry. On the way he found a wooden baby carriage, pink in colour, placed his suitcase in it and walked on, holding onto the carriage for support. He was 81 yrs old at the time, arrived at our house dirty and tired, he had walked for 18 days so he told us, slept in ditches but he had made it.
New arrangements and improvisations in our household had to be made when Uncle Hendrik and his family arrived. We, the children, all slept together on straw mattresses on the upper floor, to the delight of us kids, I don’t remember if we slept at all. This all too soon came to an end when Uncle Hendrik found suitable accommodations for his family in a farmer’s barn in one of the villages close to Hoorn.
Opa Bongers, after arrival, was given one of the upstairs bedrooms, the first few days he slept most of the time. He stayed with us till the end of the war. So did Cor, he was still 17, same age as my brother Louis. Both would soon be 18 yrs of age, they would have to go into hiding or end up in Germany, which had to be avoided of course. They both went “underground” and ended up by different farms in the village of Berkhout, Louis at a pig farm, Cor with a dairy farm. Our Mom was trying her best to feed us all, food was very scarce, non obtainable in the stores and now also at the farms. Since 1943 the “soup kitchen” was the only outlet for most people, it was on the corner of de Breestraat and the Gerritsland in what was earlier a small candystore. Sometimes there was stew on the menu with real meat, little did we realize that cats and dogs were almost all gone. Most times all we got was some concoction made from sugar beets and tulip bulbs, the taste was terrible and it made you run to the toilet more than often.
Those living in the bigger cities such as Amsterdam and Haarlem were worse off, for them it was total starvation. We were in 1944-’45 in the so called “Hunger winter”. Every day handcarts pushed and pulled by Amsterdammers loaded with all their worldly goods, came through Hoorn on their way to the West -Friesian farms, in the hope to receive food as trade. Some were successful and came through again on their return trip, loaded this time, with food items such as potatoes and /or wheat. Often also a dead or sick relative or friend lying prone on the cart. If they came into town close to or after the curfew hour, which was at 7 in he evening, they could find shelter and park their cart with belongings at a vacant garage on the Veemarkt. They had to stay awake however, to keep an eye on their goods. If they fell asleep they would loose them, it was every man for himself. My Dad had pity upon one family, a Father with 2 sons, their cart was pretty well loaded with 3 bags of potatoes and 1 bag with wheat. They had been robbed before in that garage, so Dad told hem to come to our place, we would make room for them and their cart was safe in our backyard. They were hungry , Dad baked them each a couple of “hearth cookies” made from ground wheat baked on top of the pot-belly stove. Early in the morning they left, before any of us was out of bed. The following Sunday we all got ready to go to church, Dad asked me to fetch his “Sunday” shoes from the shelf near the staircase, his shoes were gone, so were Mom’s and those of my older brothers!! We never again had Amsterdam-folks overnight in our house.
I was one of the better customers at the soup kitchen. Every day I stood in line with a large pot and 12 coupons in my hand waiting my turn. If they had something that looked fairly decent to eat I always had a slight “accident” when handing the coupons to” the guy with the big ladle” dealing out the portions, I dropped a few of the coupons in his pot, as I said: “accidentally” of course. He would ask me “how many coupons did you have?” I would tell him “15”. This way I came home with 3 extra scoops. I still see” the guy with the big ladle” fishing for the 3 extra coupons, ha ha !! Earlier on when the Jews were still occupying the carpentry shop, most of the soup kitchen food was given to them, after all, they had nothing and to them it was “gourmet stuff”.
My Dad came home for a couple of weeks vacation, most of the farmer’s fields had been plundered and his job was coming to an end. Somewhere in the carpenter’s shop the Jews had come across some sheets of 1/8” and ¼” thick plywood. Dad was informed about this and came upon the idea of using these newly found treasures to fabricate suitcases out of them or trunks for storage. With these, he and my brothers could trade them with farmers for potatoes or wheat. Fabrication of these items started soon afterwards, upstairs in our house not in the old carpenter’s shop, the noise of hammering would be too easily identifiable as a place where people are present and where no one should be in actuality.
My brother Ap and I in the meantime were busy making friends with Heinrich, the new chef-cook in the Wehrmacht barracks. Heinrich was one of the good Germans, he hated to be working away from his beautiful farm, his wife and 6 kids and all his farm animals. He was not a soldier, hated guns and everything having to do with war. He worked here in a kitchen which was not that bad, but he would rather be with what he had in Germany. He knew that we wanted food, we were happy with a couple of cans, he gave those often.
One day we approached the kitchen barrack and saw a large truck backing up to the kitchen door, almost touching it. Something was taken out of the truck and dragged into the kitchen. Having done so the truck drove on its way again. The kitchen door was still open so we peeked inside. Heinrich was busily cutting up half a carcass of a pig , “I’m busy now” he told us “I have no time for you kids right now!” We walked away but Ap was reminiscing to himself and thinking out loud when suddenly he proclaimed: “You know what, we simply tell Heinrich that he has to go the Ortscommandant, we just met him and he told us to tell Heinrich!” Well well , Heinrich was surprised when we told him but believed us because he knew that he would get instructions what to do with the fresh pig meat and these would only come from the Ortscommandant. So Heinrich took off his bloody apron, put on his jacket and cap, looked into the mirror if all was okay and took off across the yard leaving Ap and me in the kitchen. Ap told me to take the kinnebak (half the head) and he would take the ham portion (upper thy). We took off our coats and wrapped these around the meat portions and ran as fast as we could home with our loot. Mom was angry at first and worried afterwards, what if Heinrich comes to our door, surely he is going to be very angry. Heinrich did not show up, we stayed away from Heinrich for two weeks, when we again went to visit him. “ Sie sind slechte jungens, sie haben von mir geklauwd und dan noch der Ortscommandant.” “You are bad boys, stealing from me and sending me to the Ortscommandant”, “ next time if you want something ask me, I’ll give it to you if I have it, but don’t steal again!!” We did not know if Heinrich knew where we lived but one evening the doorbell was ringing,
Dad looked up to the clock and saw that it was close to 8 o’clock. Curfew time was at 7 o’clock, no one was suppose to be out on the street after that time, so “who could this be?” Dad went to the door and asked before opening, “who are you?” The answer was a mumbled “Ich bien Heinrich, ofenen die ture” “ I am Heinrich, open the door”. Dad opened the door and there stood Heinrich, much larger than he normally was.” Kunnen Ich dahrein kommen?” “ Can I come in?” he asked. “Ja natuurlich”, “Yes of course “ was Dad’s answer, “Was machts du hier?” “What do you want?” was Dad’s question. Heinrich opened his coat, it was hiding all sorts of goodies all hanging from his belt. There were pieces of meat, bags with can-goods, bags with other essential goods like sugar, butter etc. “Choose one item”, said Heinrich,” there are more people I must visit, don’t take too long”. Dad choose a piece of meat, Heinrich opened the door, looked both ways into the street and quietly slipped away to his next “customer”. Dad was standing in the hallway dumbfounded, holding his piece of meat, it was close to 6 kilos in weight, beef of all things, it was hard to belief. Soon after this encounter, Heinrich disappeared. Later we learned that the Gestapo had found out what Heinrich was doing and done away with him, he never saw his beloved family and farm again.
The afore mentioned candy store, where now was the so called “soup kitchen”, was owned by , what we learned later a Jewish family, a Mom, Dad and 2 little girls. We never knew that these people were Jews Every Sunday morning after Mass we used to get our 2 cent allowance from Dad and run to this store to transform this “capital” into licorice or chocolate or what ever else we fancied. Suddenly one Sunday when we got there, we saw that the door was locked, the windows all boarded up, the people had gone, no one knew where to. For us it was a disaster, no more candies, no more goodies!! After the war, we came to find out what had happened to this Jewish family, it all had to do with our city’s pride, a steamboat called “The Baron van Dedem”, in folklore “The Hoornse boat”. Three times per week it would sail to Amsterdam, with some cargo and as many as 300 passengers. It would depart at 7:30 in the morning and return to Hoorn at 9:00 in the evening. It was not a new ship, it was built in 1889. It remained in service until the end of 1943, when the scarcity of coal for the boiler brought the vessel to a halt. Up till that time it had taken many people, families with kids and many German officers to and from Amsterdam for a day of leisure. They did not know that down below in the hold was the Jewish family , the candy store operator, his wife and his 2 daughters. The Father was one of the stokers, the black coal dust was his disguise, the 2 girls and Mom remained out of sight during the day time, sleeping most of the time. During the night , when the boat was idle and tight up, they had the full use of the cafeteria for food and the bathroom to wash themselves and their cloths. They stayed aboard after the boat was taken out of service, the owner kept supplying the food and other necessities. Of course they had to be careful not to be too noisy and to clean up to ward off suspicion.
In September 1944 the Hoornse boat was ordered back into service by the German forces. She was needed to transport wounded German soldiers from the areas of Arnhem, Apeldoorn , Zutphen, Nymegen and further south, the battle around the river Rhine was causing a lot of casualties and wounded. The hospitals in these areas were overflowing. The wounded German soldiers had to be transported to other areas, across the IJsel lake if necessary, from the port city of Kampen to port cities on the other side of the lake like Enkhuizen, Hoorn, Volendam or Amsterdam. The Hoornse boat was confiscated and painted all white with great big red crosses on its roof and sides. Coal was brought in and the boat was ready to sail to Kampen, 75 km’s away. Of course the Germans were in command but the crew to operate the ship were the original members including the candy store operator, his family were also still aboard, nothing for them had changed, they simply had to be extra careful, keep out of sight in their small quarters under the coal hold, aside from the cargo hold. The boat returned to Hoorn with double its capacity of German wounded, they were devided between the 2 city hospitals, replacing some of the Dutch citizens that were ready to go home or would have been discharged within a week or less.
The boat made a second trip, came back with more wounded men. It became too risky to sail the boat for a third time so it was decided to moor the boat permanently in the harbor. Those Dutch citizens that had to remain hospitalized were transferred onto the, now idle, Hoornse boat and the German wounded took over both hospitals entirely. Soon it got too cold for the Dutch patients to remain on board, so they were taken off the boat and put up in the old, Butter Hall on the Kerkplein (Church Square) which already had been converted into a hospital for the patients of the St. Jan’s Gasthuis hospital which had been taken over entirely for the German wounded. As the patients were transferred and transported the family of four Jews put on hospital clothes and gowns and pretended to be patients as well. They pulled it off, stayed in the Butter Hall till the city was liberated and thus got their freedom as well.
Our school located behind the R.K. church on Het Achterom was also taken by the Germans and converted into a hospital for wounded and sick German soldiers. It was a fairly large building where boys were taught from the first class up to the seventh. At it’s peak it would house 350 to 400 students. The classes had to be dispersed to other locations. I was in the 5th class with as school master Mr. Poot, we went into a warehouse for old paper and rags and such on the Gelderse Steeg. Our class room was just above the screw-press in the back of the building. The first thing every morning, Mr. Poot swept out the entire area to clear it from the mice and rats, the principle occupants. We used the Westerdijk as our playground during recess, the dike was right along side the Hoornse Hop, a Bay of the IJsellake, straight across we could see the village of Scharwoude. One morning during recess we were surprised when suddenly out of the blue sky a lone single airplane dove straight down right above our heads, leveled off just in time and flew across the Bay, low over the water towards Scharwoude. At about 50 yards from shore it started to shoot and blew up a train that was parked there, a train full of ammunition, ready to resume its journey with approximately 28 German soldiers on board. The train was totally destroyed, the German soldiers all killed When this was happening, Mr Poot had us hurriedly go back into our class room, we were all quite shaken up and talked the rest of the day about this occurrence. Later we heard that a botter, a fishing boat, had been in the path of the airplane and the top of the mast had been clipped by the airplane . Personally, when the plane had come down to its lowest point, just before leveling off, I could see the pilot clearly in the cockpit of the plane as well as the outline of the plane. Only a few years ago I saw this airplane again on my computer and recognized it. It was a Lockheed P-38 Lightning , a fast flying fighter aircraft.
Towards the end of 1944 trains had stopped running, cars were no longer on the streets, bicycles were almost non existence, train tracks became foot paths and the shortest paths to the farm communities. We needed milk in a desperate way. Getting milk was not easy, few dairy farms were still operating and that’s where you had to go in order to get some. We had heard of one near Avenhorn, about a 10 or 12 km walk along the railroad track. So my 2 sisters, Greta and Riena and I, each carrying a handbag with 2 empty bottles, started the trek at 7 on a Saturday morning, it had snowed and it was still coming down, my feet were getting cold but we pushed on till we got to the farm in question. A line up of people, all with empty bottles, were waiting their turn. The farmer had rigged up 2 stationary bicycles with 6 volt car generators, which were connected to a series of 6 volt car batteries. The generators had to be driven by a belt from the rear wheel of each bicycle. A half hour on the bike would earn you a half bottle of milk, a full hour would get you a full bottle. Greta had never been on a bicycle, she tried but lasted just 10 minutes, Riena and I stayed on for the full hour, it was hard because the saddles were not the best. The farmer felt sorry for Greta and gave her half a bottle for her effort, Riena and I had each a full bottle. Our Mom was very happy when we finally came home at around 4 in the afternoon, it was getting dark already. The first thing Mom did was to divide the full bottles in 2 halves and to hand these to us with the command “Schudden!!” “ Shake!!” We had to shake them until finally a teaspoon of butter was floating on the milk, more was not to be had, the farmer had skimmed the milk before, to remove most of the cream.
On the 30th of December, 1944 an incident took place in the barbershop of De Groot on the Nieuwstraat. A German officer had entered the shop for a shave and a hair cut. He removed his jacket and hung it on a peg, sat down to wait his turn. In came two people from the underground, shot the German dead, took some papers out of the inside pocket of the German’s jacket and fled by foot into the Kerksteeg and disappeared out of sight. This act had to be retaliated by the Germans of course, first the town crier was ordered to go through the city and tell the citizens that the 2 perpetrators better had come forward within the next few hours or the consequences would be disastrous. These 2 fellows left the city immediately and were no where to be found. At 3 in the afternoon of January 4, 1945 five men from a detention house in Amsterdam were led into the city by Gestapo forces, strapped onto the iron fence of the church on the Kerkplein (Church Square) and each given 3 shots as there were 3 riffle men in the firing squad. We were all outside in our backyard and heard the shots very clearly as well as the orders “Schiesen” “fire”. Nelis Verbeek, the shoemaker right across from the church was ordered to close the curtains of his windows and not to look out. He did as told but kept one curtain not more than a hair width open, and was able to see the whole thing. He told us later how awful it had been and he wished he had never seen this happening. Every 4th of May of every year since, these 5 brave men are commemorated by a quiet walk through the streets of Hoorn following their route to the execution spot. The monument erected in the wall of the church shows the names of the victims, their dates of birth and where they had lived.
One day, while strolling along the Gedempte Turfhaven, I heard a commotion across the street, right opposite the Apothecary van Ooievaar, a few stores from the Ramen. A big German “overval wagen”, a truck was parked there with 6 or 8 Gestapos and SSers milling around. Their focus was on a small door between two houses, they were trying to open it. Several attempts were made, all unsuccessful. There was a lot of shouting and nervousness which could be seen and heard. All of a sudden one of the SSers gave a shout and made a run of about 8 meters towards the door, lifted his knee-high boot and slammed it into the bottom panel of the door. The door flew open, in went the Gestapos and immediately hauled out several people, women, children and at least 3 men. One of the men, one with a gray beard and a hat on, protested. He received a deadly kick with the boot from the same SSer, crashed down onto the pavement and did not get up again. Several people witnessed this event, many were standing near me. German soldiers were soon upon us and chased us away, out of sight. A few days later I went to have a closer look at that door and to see if someone had known these people that had been taken. I found no one to talk to but did see a deep gash in the door where the SS boot had done the damage, I’ve been told that the gash is still there, now 60 years later.
Many nights we were kept awake by the so called “Nachtzuster”, “the Nightsister”, a lone airplane diving out of the sky and dropping one single bomb onto the buildings or grounds of the, what was before, a jail house or prison, known locally as the “Krententuin” “Raisingarden”. For the Germans it was an ammunition ware house, reachable via a bridge as it’s build on an island, surrounded by water. It’s not very big but a true fortress. The bombs, which were dropped almost every night for a period of 16 to 20 days didn’t do a lot of damage, they did break almost all the windows of the nearby houses on the Achter op “t Zand. We thought that it was intentionally a small light bomb to save the surrounding historical buildings. As I mentioned before, most bicycles were already confiscated, my sister Riena’s bike was the last to be taken from our family members. She was on her way home when she was stopped on the Gauw by an ,as she told us, a big fat German. “Halt” he had shouted, took the bicycle from her, ran beside it for a short distance and jumped onto the saddle. Further down the road was a flat car pulled by a horse, onto which her bike was dumped to join the 4 or 5 others which had already been picked up. She came home crying and telling her story ending it with her “special”wishes for that “big fat German”. Louis and cousin Cor were still around and they promised Riena that they would take care of the “big fat Basterd”.
Upstairs in our attic were all sorts of spare items, it didn’t take them long to find an old bicycle frame and a couple of wheels with some spokes missing, also a chain and an old beat up saddle. With a bit of ingenuity and muscle they got all the parts assembled and they had a working bike, no tires, it would have to run on its rims. Now they had to sabotage this bicycle to insure that the “big fat German” was going to be out of action for a while. Using Dad’s hacksaw they first cut the frame’s cross bar going to the saddle, about 10 cm from the handle bar. They did the same to the bar going down to the peddles, this separated the front from the back. They than fabricated a two splices from a slightly larger in diameter pipe than the ones on the bicycle frame, a section of drain pipe which they had found, with a thin wall thickness. They cut two pieces about 10 cm long and slit them both length wise. These pieces, when applied to the frame of the bicycle, kept the frame together but if Louis or Cor jumped on the bike, the bike would fly apart. That of course was the whole idea!! Gerard was only 6 years old at the time, he knew how to get around on a kid’s bike, but a man’s bike was too big for him. Yet he was the right person to take the bicycle to the street where, at the time, the "big fat German” was hanging around. With a bit of practice, Gerard was able to drive the bike by cycling it “side saddle style”, with other words putting his right leg through the frame to the right peddle and riding it that way.
We, in the meantime had found out that the bicycle raid this time was taking place on the Nieuwsteeg. We told Gerard to go there but wait 5 minutes so we could get there first, we wanted to see what would happen to the “big fat German”. Oh yes, he was there with his #!*%+|^ smile on his face. Gerard was coming in the distance, it was a funny sight seeing him “side saddling” that big bike. The “big fat German” saw him also coming , stepped off the sidewalk, held up his hand and shouted “Halt”. Gerard did exactly as he was told , spit in the German’s direction and started to cry. The “big fat German” grabbed the bike, ran beside it for about 5 meters, threw his right leg into the air and jumped on the saddle with a heavy thud. The bicycle was in motion but immediately fell apart, the “big fat German” came down hard with his right leg entangled within the framework of the bike, he could not move. Right away his comrades were there to help him up, we were all laughing and quickly told to get away from there. A couple of days later we saw the “big fat German” still confiscating bicycles but this time he was on crutches, his ankle was broken, exactly .what Riena had wished for!!
Every year for many years already, even before the war had started, we had fattened a rabbit for that year’s Christmas dinner, this was more necessary now in 1944. We got a baby rabbit in April from one of Ap’s friends, it was just 6 weeks old, very tiny but eager to eat and to grow bigger!! Every other day Ap and I, sometimes with Gerard as well, we went to gather distels ( dandelions) from the grassy fields, meadows, parks, where ever we knew they grew. Once or twice we were chased off of the properties by angry owners, once even by a pitch-fork yielding farmer, we never went back there again. One day, I was with Gerard in one of the parks, when we got the scare of our lives. German soldiers were training in full gear, armed and with gas masks on, sneaking their way through the brushes. Suddenly one of them came across us picking dandelions. I don’t know who was more surprised, him or us, but we all three gave a loud yell and scream. The German immediately trained his rifle on us, I yelled “nicht schiesen!” “ Don’t shoot!”. He saw that we were only kids, laughed and walked away from us , not uttering one single word.
Another time, alone, on the way with my empty jute bag to pick again some more dandelions, I noticed that the Hoornse boat, which had been idle for some time, had smoke coming out of its chimney. Just than the mooring lines were undone and the ship’s propeller was moving the ship. It was going the wrong way, in the direction of the Karperkuil, the small pedestrian bridge to the park had been opened. Knowing that the Karperkuil is an unsafe shallow area, I was afraid that the boat was going to be damaged there. But no, next to the small bridge was the mooring place for a small German patrol boat which had been sunk by saboteurs during the night. I had seen this little boat there for a few weeks, it never moved and no one was ever on board. It was painted a yellowish-green and had a large red cross painted on its roof and sides. The Hoornse boat was put in position with its nose stuck just passed the opened bridge and its anchor dropped., it had to hoist that little boat out of the water and onto the quay. A German Officer was standing next to its hoist-mast and giving orders with shrill yells. The boom was placed directly over the sunken boat, clearly visible by the red cross on the roof top which was approximately 20 cm under the water-level. Someone had gone into the water to fasten a steel cable onto the boat. The other end of the cable had eye-hooks which were connected with the hoist rope. When all was ready, the German Officer shrieked “heisen””start hoisting”. The cable became taut, pulled the ship at an angle till it was almost 60 degrees, not budging the little boat one centimeter. Again the German gave a yell while holding onto the mast. The straining of the cable was released, the boat uprighted itself, the boom was readjusted, the steel cable checked, all under the commands of the German Officer.
An other try was attempted. Slowly again the cable became taut, the ship again began to angle, the German was hanging onto the mast for dear life, the angle became more and more acute, it was close to 45 degrees when the mast suddenly snapped and broke about 5 feet up from the deck, almost at the same height as the Officer’s head. Splinters as big as my arm went flying in all directions, one flew past my head. The ship wrenched back in an upright position, swayed for a while before it got to a still stand. The German Officer had been hit hard, a piece of wood was sticking out of his body, blood was all around him, it was an awful sight. Other Germans came quickly on the scene and yelled at the onlookers to get the hell away from there. I went home in a hurry, the rabbit had no food that day. Yet, when Christmas came, Dad was home and praised us for having looked after that animal so well. It weight 24 pounds on the hoof. Dad had a hard time killing it, skinning and butchering an animal were also not in his league, but once done and handed to Mom, she knew what to do with it. She still talked about that rabbit for years after the war was ended, “ I braised ‘m in its own fat” she would say on and on!!
Often I still think about the long walks we had along the railway tracks to find and pick up pieces of coal which had fallen off of the steam trains when they were still running. Others before us had already done so but still, we did find pieces they had missed. Mom and us also scoured the farmer’s gardens when they had been emptied of their crops, often crawling on our hands and knees through the (moist)black earth, to find a forgotten potato, carrot, beet or anything else eatable. The Germans brought in Italian workers to help in the stables, looking after the horses. They were given little or no food, they had to look after them selves. They had learned the art of “slingshot shooting” at other locations and were deftly applying this onto the pigeons flying near the church on the Kerkplein. They were very successful in this “art” and most afternoons you could see them sitting on the Square turning a plucked and cleaned pigeon on a spit, centered on two tripods above a fire, made of little scraps of wood. They didn’t dare leave their place or the fire, one of their own comrades could steal their hard earned meal if they had not been successful in catching any them selves.
I recollect many other things which took place during these war years. Often we were kept awake by air battles in the sky above Hoorn or over the IJsel lake. There was always the danger that a stray bullet or grenade could hit a house, go through a roof or through a window. A young girl, living on the Grote Oost across from the church, was killed this way while asleep when a stray bullet went through the roof, her bedroom was in the attic of their house. The danger was greater if an airplane was shot down, where would it end up? An other thing which always kept me awake was the dispersing of silver paper strips out of German airplanes. To me the noise that this made was ear piercing . This was done to thwart the reception of radio signals, especially those from the BBC and Radio Holland from England. Even today, the jingling of a plastic bag reminds me directly of these silver paper strips, the sound is almost the same and gives me goose-bumps all over.
The last winter of the war, 1944 to ‘45 was surely our worst, it will always be known as “The Hunger Winter”. Most of the southern part of Holland was liberated, the Germans were being pushed into our direction, they demanded all of the food that was available, there was none for the Dutch people. Neither could one obtain fuel for stoves or wood for a little heat. Structures such as the wooden wharf known as “Het houten hoofd”and the wooden railroad bridge crossing de Koepoortsweg were being dismantled piece by piece. Their wooden planks, mostly oak, thick and wide, were excellent for fire wood. Trees were also capped and removed, if you had an outhouse or a shed, these could also suddenly disappear from your property, no questions asked.
Brother Louis came back for a short period and removed the oak wooden circular staircase, which had not been used for many years, one step at a time, it would give us heat for 2 days. The new access to the 2nd floor was for many years already ‘n other stairway, build inside a so called bedste, cupboard bed which was removed, it still had the double door entrance from the living room. This stairway was straight up and down. The only heat source in the house was a potbelly stove in the living room. In the kitchen was a gas range, but the gas factory had no coal or anthracite thus could not supply gas. Electricity had also been “cut-off”, there were no lights burning anywhere. People went to bed when it got dark, sometimes as early as 5 o’clock. We had a few candles which were used sparingly and only when urgently needed. The schools were all closed, the classrooms were too cold and many teachers were in hiding. One night we were scared out of our wits when we heard airplanes flying over the city and lighting up the area above the gas factory with bright flares. Dad counted as many as 15 flares and proclaimed that they would bomb or blow up the factory. This luckily did not happen, it would have been the end of Hoorn I think.
Air battles between airplanes were a common thing, the rat-tat-tat of the mitrailleurs over the IJsellake brought many an airplane down, plunging into the lake. The following morning the German patrol boats went out to retrieve the flyer(s) and bring him or them ashore, often using an ordinary ladder as a stretcher, they would generally carry the deceased to the Krententuin. Luckily it all came to an end on 5 May 1945. Prior to this date, a few days before, the big planes came flying very low over the city dropping food parcels in designated places and zones containing such items as canned goods with soups, stews and fish, boxes with crackers and cookies. We managed to obtain a few items, it was all very good, our stomachs were not used to all that good stuff.
The citizens that had belonged to the NSB organization were all rounded up by the BS men and imprisoned to get their sentences at later times. The girls who had been lovers with the Germans were all rounded up, shaved bald and given 6 months of house arrest. We had 2 of these girls living on our street, their Pa was one with the NSB organization. We never associated our selves with them.
Marja and Rodie, the 2 Jewish girls reappeared, they had been found by a surviving uncle and the three of them moved to Israel. We never heard from them again.
The Jewish man who had escaped via our backyard came to see us and thank us in the beginning of August. He had a lot to tell my Parents. He knew that the other Jews were all gassed and cremated in Bergen-Belsen Concentration camp. He brought us some toys and books, a ping-pong set with 2 paddles and 4 balls, we had a lot of fun with that.
Brother Joep also returned in August from Germany, he was a different person, he did not talk much about his ordeal and experiences.
Aunt Dien and Uncle John were no longer welcome in our household,. For their “bravery” they were given a tree planted in their name somewhere in Israel. Aunt Dien later died while vacationing in Italie.
My Parents never received anything, no accolade, no thanks, no recognition. Not that they wanted this, they were not looking for gratitude but it would have been nice as a gesture.
P.S.: Some parts of this story are made up but as it is told to school children of 10 to 12 years of age to emphasize what happened during my years as a child, those “untrue” parts are purely there for their entertainment.