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Nazi Occupation of Holland

Letters from the era

This page is so far the only page in Flat Earth Academy's History Department, apart from the pages about timelines. It isn't the usual "core facts you should know", but it does give you a glimpse of something that happened which you should know something about.

I have, 2014, the pleasure of knowing a bright and active English person, a retired teacher who remembers the dark days of World War Two. The following is something she was kind enough to share with me.

I have removed or replaced names, just to be on the safe side. I have also introduced more paragraph breaks than were present in the original, but otherwise generally left the transcriptions as received.

Life in Holland in Wartime

(Preface to the material by my friend, the retired teacher: My mother's younger sister went to Woodbrooke, the Quaker college in Birmingham, and met her future husband there, who was Dutch. They lived in Wassenaar, near The Hague, and had two children. The whole family was trapped in Holland when the Nazis attacked.

My aunt's inlaws had two daughters, who both became nurses. (So did one of my half-Dutch cousins, "Mary" (some names changed) after the war). Eventually Mary's family moved to New Zealand. When the war ended Mary wrote several letters to me and to her English family (my parents and my siblings) describing what life was like under the Nazis. She must have been 12 or 13 years old when the war started, and 18 or 19 when she wrote these letters.

In transcribing the letters, which were written in English, I've left Mary's sometimes idiosyncratic syntax and vocabulary. Dutch was her first language, and I don't suppose they used English much during the war, even at home. (I have also edited out chatty bits of family matters.)

(In the rest of this, material in italics is usually from this website's editor.)

The letters from "Mary"...

June 1945

Just now I ought to have done my examination, but the last half year we did very little schoolwork because it was too dangerous and we had to fetch food. Now I am trying to get from school as quickly as possible, but everything is very uncertain about examinations. Some say we shan't have it this year, others say we get the certificate and will have a long holiday, others say it will be in December etc. All the examination classes have got one thought, and with anything, that is "from school". After this winter we cannot sit in school seats any more, and there is also very much to do for us, I want to become a hospital nurse for children, after this school I am going first to a Household School (nearest equivalent in England would be a Domestic Science College) which has got a special course for nurses. I hope that there will be going trains at that time, for I shall have to go to The Hague and our cycles are all ruined. O, Cousin, there is much misery and joy at the same time.

All those prisoners coming from Germany, back at all sorts of times of the day. There came somebody at one o'clock midnight, and he tooted very hard with his car, and the family fell out of their beds and flew out of doors, and I suppose they didn't sleep any more that day. Of our family there have been many in camps but none murdered. There is so much to tell that I must think hard what will interest you mostly. I don't know what you do or don't know of Holland, for we hid our radio because there were traitors in our street. And now we are free but haven't got any electricity.

Happily we may borrow English papers from Canadians so that we know a little about English people's thoughts. They told a lot about people's thoughts and doings. I missed that in the illegal papers, they told a lot about future plans and awful things that happened, what you ought to do and what you ought not to do, jokes and a very lot of scolding against the Germans. That was our literature. I did not read the ordinary papers with lies. Only Pappie did have a paper for the food (coupons?) and then we sometimes roared about the transparent lies. You simply couldn't understand how they had put the things together, they did not correspond with anything. The fake rumours, that was very disappointing, but you couldn't help telling them further, for everything was so dull and you wished so intensely that it seemed true. At least I think it must be that, for there were numerous people who had seen something, and then afterwards it wasn't true.

You know, the 18th of September , it was "Mad Tuesday" in Holland. (Allies in Belgium), and people had seen the Canadians in Breda, and they could be in one house in Rotterdam. Lots of people were already celebrating. But nothing happened, and then the battle of Arnhem..... After this misery began. We lived from day to day. I shall tell you everything that was extraordinary.

We had to cook on a stove in the room, because there was no gas and happily we had some coal, but we stoked the fire in the room because of the warmth. There were people who hadn't any coal or wood, so there was a central kitchen from which we fetched once a day warm soup, porridge or potatoes with greens. At last it was water with a cabbage-leaf, which became the apple of discord of the people. We did not lay the cloth, because you were eating something when it was ready, you could do only one thing at the time, and it was also a bother with the black pans on the white tablecloth. We didn't have dishes because that was too much trouble with the washing, we had no time and there was not much water. We had to finish everything in daylight , for we had no electricity.

When we didn't have to stand in a queue or do housework we stayed till twelve o'clock in the morning in bed, for then you were warm and didn't eat so much.

When we heard there should be razzia (German military rounding up men and boys for forced labour) Pappie and my brother, with a few other men slept downstairs and one watched. When they should hear something they would go in a cupboard under the house, and I should shut the (trapdoor?) and throw all things on it and lock the cupboard. That was a good place, but only the ground water was very high with all those inundations and it was rather muddy, also the Germans would shoot sometimes through the walls and floors, but we had made a hole to the kitchen, and the kitchen floor is of stone. We have never learned so well how a house was built as now. We considered all possibilities of hiding all sorts of things, or escaping possibilities. When the Germans came you sit under the house, and when the Allies came you sit on top of the house.

I must stop now, I shall go on in another letter.

19th June 1945

You were much more worried by flying bombs than I thought you would be, because there fell a lot in Holland, and many fell into the sea. Many people said that they couldn't reach England from here. But in those war days nobody knows the exact thing, which is an awful nuisance because there come all rumours then.

A few days ago the Minister of Education made known that everybody would get his diploma without having to pass an examination, except the persons who didn't behave themselves during the wartime (betraying a teacher etc.). We didn't do much during this last winter.....

Now our school has no compulsory lessons till the school gets vacation, and that's very jolly.

Today we had with a very little group conversation in English about England and America. It was great fun. The mistress's sister helps in a library in The Hague, and she gets some periodicals from the very few that arrive from England. We may take them home, and the next day we must tell something about a subject out of that periodical. We talked about English and American schools, the mistress had talked with an American and an English schoolmaster. (They were here soldiers, of course). We have a great interest in your schools because we think that our schools are going to change, and they will come now under your influence. We all like your schools. You have much more sport and music, and no tiring examinations.

At our school we had a choir, but that was an exception, we had a very musical teacher. We also had a little school band, but that was all, and through the war lots of things were opposed. It is a pity that I am just now going from school, at wartine I didn't like it in the end, it seemed so unimportant compared with other things. There were so many people to help, and to fight against. But on the other side I am very glad I am from school, you are needed everywhere, and now I can do something useful for others.

Very many girls don't know what they are going to do, because everything is in such chaos now still. But when things are going a little smoother there will be very many possibilities.

Of course there are very many who want to go to England and America. In Wassenaar 700 people gave themselves up as leaders for children, and there were only 30 children from Wassenaar going. I read in an English paper that there were in England also many people who wanted to go abroad. I should like to go abroad too, perhaps I shall come and nurse in (England) in the far future.

Also 19th June 1945, to brother of my friend

So you are going to a boarding school already. English boys go much younger from home than here. Dutch boys at 18 give themselves up for India (i.e. Dutch East Indies?) They will have their training in England and then in South Africa.

In wartime the boys had to, we call it, "dive under" for the razzias or for the hundred and one things which they had done which were forbidden by the Coffers. We had here the capital punishment for everything so that we did not mind anything any more. A lot of boys were in the underground, that is the organization against the (Germans), and they spread illegal papers, rifles, ammunition etc.

When you had underdivers you got the food (coupons) from the underdivers who robbed the distribution offices in S.S.uniforms. They also gave messages to England.

Here in Wassenaar were two boys who crept in the night through barbed wire and mines and hid themselves in some bushes. The next day they photographed everything of the V2 bombs while the (Germans) were shooting them off, and while the Allies were bombing the V2 bombs. The next night they crept back and sent the photos to England. I expect now there will be films about those flying bombs. It was rather comical when the V2 flew to Germany instead of England.

In the beginning of the war we heard your planes only in the night. The air thrilled from the noise. Only since there came such an amount in daylight, so then we could see them too. We didn't see other separate planes, they were then very high so that you only saw white stripes in the sky. After the battle of Arnhem there came every day planes, who bombed and shot everything on the road and on V2 places.

There have been many people killed and wounded. When you went out you had to watch the planes, for you never knew when or where they should dive and shoot. There were dug holes along the roads, which were meant really for the (Germans), but we used them also.

On bright days the (Germans) sat on top of their cars, so that they would see the planes in time. You never knew when you were safe or not, because the (Germans) shot the V2 off at all sorts of places, sometimes from a road, and they had anti-aircraft then on this hill and then on the other.

You can imagine that a lot hated your planes. But on that Sunday when the great Lancasters came flying just above the dunes and dropped the parcels, that was my V.E. day. They flew just above our roofs and greeted us by turning their wings up and down, sometimes we could see them sitting in the cabins and waving. By some waving people they dropped a parcel or waved the Dutch flag out of the plane, or made a circle.

I have seen the crocodile working, and the carpet-beater. My brother has been making a lot of cars clean which have been also underground. He wants to take lessons in driving, but they don't do that yet, it takes too much benzene. It is marvelous to sit in a car again.

Also 19th June 1945, to sister of my friend...

We had school at the house of the pupils, so that the children needn't go very far through the bombs and bullets, and the older boys and teachers needn't go on the street (Germans).

The group of our neighbourhood was in our house, so that sometimes the Biological teacher came to us. We had made a hiding-place and he hadn't, so that he came to us when he heard rumours.

In those tense days you learn to know one another better. We helped one another with food, and organized evenings on which we played gramophone records and told each other stories by a little oil light.

So we tried to make some light points in the dark weeks. Every evening we longed for the illegal newspaper. Pappie had made lots of maps from the front, and then when the paper had come he signed with a red pencil every progress on the map. After the news Grandmother read aloud a book, we couldn't read for ourselves because we didn't have light enough.

Happily we had the oil, for most people sat in the dark. We went early to bed, for we were always tired and cold. We had some coal, but that was only for cooking, (tulip and sugar-beet!)

15th July, 1945. Letter to my friend's mother from her mother's sister...

Note from webpage editor: This letter is from the point of view of my 2014 ninety- plus- year old friend. It is "aunt to aunt", as opposed to "cousin to cousin", which the letters above are. Sender and recipient were adults and mothers during the war, in Holland and England, respectively. The author used people's names, e.g. "Henry", "Ellen", not "my son", "my niece"... but while the chances of problems are small, the internet is too big a place to take chances.

Existence is no longer so strenuous and pleasures are coming back again, for example letters from home (i.e. England, the writer's childhood home and heritage), and our radio, but we have to limit ourselves because we have such a small ration of electricity allowed us.

My son has arrived home after his last schoolday, so we decided we must celebrate by treating ourselves to some music on the radio. Also we have at last a very little petroleum allowed us so that we can cook without lighting a fire. Very soon we hope to have a little gas too. I did have Coba (maid-of-all-work) until last September, but after "Mad Tuesday" she stayed away because it was too dangerous to come, and also she had to stay at home to help there.

"Mad Tuesday" was so-called because of the mad rumours which were doing the round when the English were reported to have been sighted in the distance from the roof-garden at the "Bijenport" etc.etc., and we were all expecting their arrival every minute.

I had my son in quarantine still in his little room after the diphtheria, and was thinking what a pity it was if he missed seeing the English going by. I need not have worried, for that happened in May, and then (Presumably in June?) they were chiefly Dutch and Canadians who went by, but we were very glad to see them. A few English were with them.

Last Tuesday I was alone at home when there was a ring at the door and there stood a gentleman in uniform who said, "I come from Watford, does that mean anything to you ?" (My friend's Dutch relatives had previously lived in Watford). He was now a war correspondent, and he brought your letter. It was ever so nice to get them and to make his acquaintance. He said he was returning next day to England, so I could only have a short talk with him.

Of our family, my daughter (author of the letters above) is the one who has been nearest danger from the war (not counting her slightly older cousins, who were in the bombardment in The Hague). My daughter was going along the highway when suddenly an aeroplane ducked and began shooting at everything on the road. Others began to run for shelter to the houses and called for her to come too, so she ran as well, and it was a blessing she did so, for a man who stayed by his cart in the road hit and badly wounded. If she had stayed she would certainly have been hit too. She helped those who looked after the man and then came home, and I could see that she had had a bad shock, and after that she was more nervous of shooting aeroplanes and bombs.

My young adult niece and nephew had, of course, a worse shock. It was just before 9 o'clock when it started and the windows were blown in. My nephew was not yet up, and my niece began to get up. She had to shake the glass out of each piece of clothing before putting it on, and to take shelter at the back of the room for each following bomb as it came. Some people rushed into the streets just as they were, in night attire. With the cold and little food many people got up late so as to be able to stand things better.

Niece and Nephew stayed to help the wounded as doctor and nurse, and it was about 2 o'clock before they had finished. When they returned to their own house it was on fire, so they could not save anything out of the flames. There was a strong wind blowing and that made the fire spread so. (From webpage's editor: The bombings, in some cases, certainly Allied bombing, presumably the Nazis' also, were conducted deliberately and scientifically to maximize the post-bombing fires.) The exit towards Wassenaar was blocked so that the people all fled the other way, and we knew nothing at first of what had happened, except that The Hague had been bombed, but we thought that they had bombed the German "fort" part of The Hague.

Someone did say to me "The whole of The Hague was on fire", but it was obviously so exaggerated that I did not take much notice of what he said. He was one of those pessimistic people I usually avoided unless I had a store of optimism in myself because otherwise one would not stand the sombre outlook. He went on to predict that Wassenaar would follow next.

((From web-page editor: A "well" placed ring of bombs, around the center of a town, would start fires. The updraft from the first fires would cause winds... very string winds, in some cases... to blow in towards the town from all points of the compass, driving the fires around the ring towards the center of town, where combustible material was more dense, destroying with fire what the bombs missed. (More on this can be found in the Wikipedia article on firestorms.

From a separate Wikipedia article, edited: The U.S. firebombing of Tokyo on the night of March 9-10, 1945 killed more than 100,000 people in just a few hours. The bombing caused fire that created 50 meters per second winds. 3.5 million pounds of bombs were used in the one night, on the one city.

The one consolation is that while the intent is no less horrific, the usual accuracy of the bombing was poor and not every attempt to start a firestorm was successful. I cannot find a statistic that I trust, but from memory, I've heard things like "less than 5% of all bombs dropped in World War II fell closer than 3 miles to their intended target." I have not researched the raid(s?) on the Hague to see how they stack up in the pantheon of bombing raids. Getting back to the letter from the mother who was trapped in Holland, to her sister who spent the war in England....

The next day however, Sunday, my young-adult children arrived on bikes, loaded with all sorts of odds and ends which they had rescued out of the house. I opened the door unconcernedly, for I had expected them on a visit, but one look at them and the bikes told me what had happened.

Lydia is still suffering rather from the shock she had then, she is still unlike herself. Now I have seen the ruins there, whole streets wiped out. The wreckage is still lying there because there is not enough transport to clear it away. It has a very depressing effect. If one can see something being done one cheers up, but of course transport of food and people is more important, so if there is limited transport it is used for that.

Here everything is hampered by shortage on all sides, so that it sometimes seems as though things are going round in a vicious circle, Still, I expect some order will evolve out of the chaos some time.

Mary's little Jewish friend, Marietta, with whom she corresponded as long as possible before she was finally sent to Germany, is back again, and all her family with her. ("Mary" was the writer of the letters above, niece of the writer of this letter.) Mary is very relieved, for we feared when Marietta was finally sent to Germany that she would not come back.

A Jewish master of Mathematics who was at their school who lived opposite to us has not come back. It is almost certain that he has been gassed at the Jewish camp at Auschwitz in Poland. Marietta saw him at the camp where she was, and saw him off when he was sent on to Auschwitz. Those who were sent there knew that there was little hope of their returning.

His wife and three little girls are left behind. For a time his wife went every day to the main road to look out for him just at the time when prisoners were returning to Holland, but I don't think that there is any hope.

What I wonder, do Friends (i.e. Quakers) advocate doing with people like these German Nazis who gas people by thousands when they want to be rid of them? Can they hope to educate them to think differently?

People are already prophesying another war with Germany in 40 years. Still it is no good making gloomy prophecies for the future, one must first recover from the present chaos.

I wonder whether you could find an R.A.F. man on the aerodrome near you who would be flying to Holland and would bring me over a packet of tea and some white sewing cotton? Parcels are not yet allowed to be sent I believe, but I thought that perhaps that way we might be able to get some tea across. A friend of mine has already had a packet of tea that way, and it would be such a boon and a blessing.

The food is much better now, but we have no jam, very little cheese, very little salt, no pepper, no vinegar, only once a tiny bit of tea, so that we are ever so grateful not to be in want any more, but one longs for the fleshpots of Egypt such as tea and jam.

I have had a few eggs for Daan (husband) because he was underweight, but ordinary people don't get these. An optimistic newspaper announced yesterday, "next year plenty of eggs", so we are hoping that he will be right. We dare not be sure though because the announcements in our papers are rather erratic, sometimes true and sometimes not.

I shall be glad too when I can get a new suit for my husband and for my son, but that will be in the future, I expect because people who have lost everything will be helped first, and rightly so.

The group of relief workers from the Friends Relief Service who were here brought over some copies of "The Friend" of the last four years, and we have the 1944 copies at the moment. It is very interesting to read them.

It would be great if the F.R.S. could do some relief work here, but it remains to be seen whether it will materialize. The two relief workers I saw before they went on to Germany said that what struck them most over here was that the people were so tired.

Mary (niece, writer of the letters above) wishes that she was further with her (nursing) training and could join in with the relief work, but I expect that when she has finished in four years time there will still be relief work to be done.

Bicycle tyres are another thing we need so very badly, but I believe that export of tyres out of England is forbidden. It is a pity.

During the dark winter months when we had no electricity we organized evenings every now and then with the Biology master and his wife who live near. We took it in turns at each other's houses and we had some music and read bits out of books etc. It was very nice to cheer ourselves up, and the risk of returning home at 11 o'clock (we had to be in by eight) was not great, as we lived so near to each other and far out of the village.

Sometimes by very bright moonlight we did think it a bit risky, but it always turned out alright. Once watching for my husband to return on a bright moonlight night at about 11 I saw someone opposite, who was out too and had apparently heard my husband's step, suddenly go down on all fours behind a hedge. It was a funny sight to me, for I knew them both to be harmless citizens, and there was one crawling on all fours to his front door.

This same man's wife had an accident some weeks ago. She was run into by a car while cycling in Leiden. She had concussion and has been in hospital since. Her husband is thus alone in the house, so we ask him to dinner every now and then, and other neighbours do the same. Mary is going to see whether she can help him a bit when his wife comes home, for she will need to rest all the time at first.

There are a good many accidents just now, because we are not used to so much traffic on the roads. Owing to the shortage of petrol even German autos were limited on the roads.

Tomorrow we go to Mary's school (nursing training college) for the wind-up.

21 July 1945

(This letter from "Mary", aged 12-18 through the war years, to her cousin, my friend. You may notice that the English is weaker here. I suspect that the stress of remembering the accounts related is the reason. It is not due to uneven editing. Also, you will see "(Germans)" in several places. This is how the document reached me. I believe that a different term was used in the original letter, but that it was obscure or offensive.))

You said you heard planes going towards London.

Well, in the beginning of the war we heard the same thing. Just before dark they were coming. We hated them. We had lost the fight because of those things and now we were afraid for England. The first war day we awoke very early in the morning and saw the moffen fighting and bombing the airdrome near us. There was one little Dutch plane fighting against four Germans, every time the Dutch plane turned back and went among the four Germans who stayed together. At last the Dutch plane fell down, I think the pilot was wounded, one of the soldiers sprang out and came down all right.

I think I shall never forget that first fight that I saw. And the fifth day, we had just talked with (Dutch) soldiers who had fought by the Haagschoun bridge, they had white cords round their necks, which were from the German parachutes which they had captured. (Our soldiers) had great courage and thought that the Germans wouldn't beat them so soon as the Germans thought.

A little after, when I was just on the other side of the field, I saw a car riding fast, with a soldier standing up in it. Soldiers were shooting at it and shouting. Oh, my friend, they couldn't think that the Netherlands had capitulated, they thought these were traitors who were telling the message round. But when you looked in the direction of Rotterdam you saw a very big cloud, and that was enough.

(This next section relates to being thrown out of their home so that it could be used to billet German soldiers.)

Only once we had to go out ourselves in 24 hours. The whole neighbourhood helped us, and all our things were spread over five separate houses. We had to leave our lamps and oven and geyser (device for producing hot water) in the house, but we didn't do that. After a few days there came a (German) and asked Pappie for the lamps etc. Also with that our neighbours helped us. They lent us monstrous things called lampshades, the gas-stove was too awkward, the (Germans) did not believe we had used that thing so we had to give them ours.

The Germans had first been at our neighbours but they weren't at home , so that they came to us. I sat at the window so they had seen me. I had to open the door, from him I heard the news. A lot of people didn't do the door open, but then it was their neighbours who had to go out of their houses.

In our house there were about twenty (Germans). I think after a month they went to France but they never reached it, their train was bombed somewhere in Belgium.

This was only one time we were put out of our house. I mustn't think about the people who had to do it ten times to please the (Germans). There was one good side to it, we did a lot of things away, you appreciate your own house much more when you know what it is without it. We also noticed how kind our neighbours were.

You understand now why soldiers make great friends in wartime. We (as civilians) have had the same thing in the fight against the (Germans).

We have a shortage of labour on the land. But the Minister said that they couldn't use volunteers, for they couldn't get them to the necessary places, people weren't strong enough for the land work, and then there was also the food for the elders. All land labourers who are doing other work than gathering harvest must come and help. I hope that will be enough, for a lot of things must be done by hand, because the (Germans) have stolen a lot of farm machinery.

I have got a nice friend, but she lives in Amsterdam and the communication is very bad. You can of course take a lift, everybody does that, especially girls get immediately a car, but I don't like that begging. So I go with a boat, which takes four hours.

I met her at the Dutch Young Friends (Quakers). The Dutch group is very small, when the German Jews have to go back to Germany the group will be still smaller. We haven't got a Quaker Meeting in The Hague any more, all the Friends are gone.

13th September, 1945

The toothpaste and soap are lovely. (From a Red Cross parcel.) We had tooth-powder but I don't like that very much. We had some presented by an Englishman, but that is nearly all used.

We didn't have nice soap any more, this was the exact thing we wanted. Food we needn't have because we have enough. Now only the nice sweets, cake and jam we haven't got, but I don't mind that. We have just now received a U.S.A. parcel at school. In that parcel were all sorts of nice things, chocolate biscuits, dried fruit, chewing-gum, little sweets, little coffee parcel, sugar lumps. Everyone had something else so we exchanged everything.

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