Tuesday, 5 May 2009


Today it's Liberation Day in the Netherlands. We remember and celebrate our liberation from the German oppression during the Second World War. Years ago, when I was still in primary school, we had to do a project: ask one of your grandparents about World War II. I knew that one set of grandparents had hidden someone from the Germans (they lived on a farm), but thought that would be a bit much to ask. So, I asked my other grandmother (Oma) about her experiences. She wrote me a letter back and my dad translated it into something legible (her handwriting was awful). Everything in brackets is added by me. Here's my Oma's story:

It was the end of December in 1942 and we had nearly run out of food. During the day I worked at a notary's in Utrecht (middle of the country) and during the evenings and at the weekends I stayed at an aunt's place. She had relatives in Dalfsen (east of the country). And they still had plenty of oat, rye and potatoes. And of course they clandestinely slaughtered a pig every now and then. But how to get that food to Utrecht? After a short deliberation and the cooperation of a brother of Uncle Kees (who was in the resistance), we were able to borrow a handcart from him to get some things. There was also a male cousin who would come along. A rather large and course guy. He would come dressed as a woman. It wasn't quite without danger though. In those days all boys and men were supposed to go to Germany to be put to work.

We left Utrecht at 6am on January 5th 1943. We couldn't leave earlier due to the curfew. The weather was beautiful. Not very cold and no rain. We moved from Utrecht to De Bilt to Bilthoven, Den Dolder and Amersfoort. Arriving in Harderwijk we passed the TINO soup factory. There was a Red Cross post. We had to check in and received a lovely cup of soup. It tasted so nice. I can't quite recall where we spent the night. Nowhere was there anything for sale. We could have taken something from home, but that wouldn't have been enough for the trip.

In the mean time we had arrived at the IJsselbridge (near Zwolle). There were a lot more people on the way to get food. But to get onto the bridge with the handcart was impossible. In the mean time about eight to ten handcarts had gathered. The decision was made to try and cross the bridge together. There were also elderly women. But most were young girls. And Germans everywhere. We were halfway on the ramp to the bridge when all of a sudden a harsh voice sounded: "Halt ein mann bei" (Stop, there's a man as well). The girl in front of us turned around and said, we are being called. I snapped: "Shut your face, move it!". Because that woman was my cousin. And he had to get across. They let us cross. And that's how we crossed the river IJssel.

We still had to get to Dalfsen though. We got there at around 7 pm. We were both exhausted. It had taken us two days. We stayed there several days. But it had started to snow. There was a meter and a half (5 foot) of snow. Never before, nor after have I ever seen so much snow. But we had to get back to Utrecht. Again in convoy across the IJsselbridge. This time the Germans left us alone. We had home-made bread and bacon for the road. And we had potatoes, rye, oats and eggs. The way back took us four days. The journey was a lot harder. Because of our load and because of the snow. Afterwards we slept for like two days in a row. And we shared the food with others.

During the summer I took two nieces to Dalfsen. Because it was harder to get food in the city. We walked all the way and had one bike with massive tires (all the rubber tires had been confiscated by the Germans and it was either wooden tires or metal tires). But the three of us and luggage on one bike was hard. So, walking it was. On our way we spent a night in a haystack of a farmer. For my way back I was given another 35 kg of rye. This time the Germans did check at the IJsselbridge. But I was allowed to pass. After that I went to live at the notary's, for days and nights. And he occasionally received some food. I've never known true hunger, but I did know cold.

Langerak, 3 May 1983

The total trip was about 110 kilometers (around 70 miles) one way (taking today's motorways)! If you click on the map, you can see a line going from Utrecht via Amersfoort and Zwolle to a point just beyond Dalfsen. That would roughly have been their route.


  1. It's good to see Oma's story live on. Thanks sis.

  2. First - congratulation with your National Day!
    Second - condolences with the mad attack on you Royal Family and the death of innocent people.
    Third - thank you for an interesting ant touching story. That genetration had much to tell, but very often they would prefer to forget what they could.
    Fourth - Thank you for the pleasant comment!

  3. What an awful time!

    Seeing your map makes me wonder why they never finished the Zuider Zee project. In the original plans wasn't it all supposed to have been reclaimed?

  4. Fascinating post! Thank you so much for sharing your Oma's letter. Americans who lived through that era (as I did) have only the slightest understanding of what your people endured.

  5. What a fascinating story, Mara! Thank you for sharing it with us. That is an extremely long walk, especially in winter. I can't imagine how scary it must have been for your Oma, wondering if her cousin would be caught. I'm sure she would have been punished as well.

    Also really amazing about your other grandparents hiding someone. I sometimes wonder if--and hope!--I would have been as brave and good in that situation. It's beautiful the way we see the courage of people like your grandparents (on both sides) shine through at the very times when we're experiencing the worst of human nature.


Any weighty (and not so weighty) comments are welcome!