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Open Features: Holland InThe War Years - 1

Aloysius Joosten was nine years old when Germans invaded his homeland, Holland.

Holland had declared itself neutral. The Germans had other ideas. As the Dutch were unprepared they virtually had no resistance to offer, and when Rotterdam and Utrecht were threatened with bombing they surrendered.

This is the first of five articles by Aloysius about his wartime experiences. The second article will appear next weekend.

“I would like to ask the listeners to sleep as tranquilly as they do on other nights when they turn into their beds shortly. For the moment there is no reason to be alarmed.''

These words were spoken in a radio broadcast by Hendrikus Colijn, prime minister of the Netherlands during 1936, reacting to the German re-militarisation of the Rhineland. This was understood by the nation as “Just go to sleep peacefully, your government will watch over you.”

Friday morning, 10 May 1940

We woke up to the sound of gun fire. Everyone jumped out of bed. As the crow flies we lived about 1 km away from the border with Germany and from our house we could see the Haussehershaus, a customs office. With the coming of dawn we observed German soldiers in close formation entering our country.

The entire family moved into a shed at the back of the house as we felt that the walls would protect us from flying bullets.
On two farms bunkers had been built but these proved useless as protection.

There were also a handful of soldiers who tried to escape. Two of them were shot in the back. Later they were buried in a Catholic cemetery without military honours.

The German troops came closer and closer – some on foot, some on horseback. As they moved through the village the residents slowly re-appeared and stood along the streets looking for relatives and friends. They expressed anger and anxiety and looked to each other for comfort and support.

During the first five days there was chaos and uncertainty in the whole country. The Netherlands army was no match for the Germans. On every farm there was still resistance, particularly in the Grebbeberg area near Rhenen.

*The Germans issued an ultimatum to General Gerard Winkelman then the military head of the Netherlands army. If resistance continued they would bomb Rotterdam and Utrecht. General Winkelman capitulated and surrendered. Zeeland was excluded.* (See note 1)

Although normality returned there were going to be drastic changes in the lives of the people.

Various proclamations were made by the Germans. Existing leaders were replaced and people had to abide by new rules. Identity Cards were introduced. Identity had to be proved at all times. Master Distribution Cards * (see Note 2) were issued to each Netherland’s citizen. These had to be taken to the distribution offices. Ration stamps were issued for all purchases made.

Commodities became scarce. As the war progressed so the shortages increased especially petrol which was available for only the most urgent cases. The Germans got first preference.
However, we stayed in the countryside in Drenthe where the farmers lived. The land produced everything – potatoes and vegetables and from the cows and chickens we had milk, butter, cheese and eggs. Peat still had to be harvested and therefore there was always fuel to keep the fires going and bring warmth inside the homes.

In those days there was no gas or piped water. Water came from a rain barrel, rain vat or a well.

We were not always able to obtain what we needed but we were never really hungry. Hot food was provided thrice daily.
Breakfast: Buckwheat wholemeal, boiled in water, some salt added, then stirred continuously until a sticky doughy substance is reached. To it added some molasses or treacle with butter or fat poured over.

Lunch: Boiled potatoes with vegetables and bacon or meat from slaughtered pigs or a stew of cabbage.
Supper: Potatoes baked in unrefined rapeseed oil and porridge. Not at all tasty. The whole house reeked. However, it was fuel for the system.

Milk was fetched from Uncle Bernard’s farm.

In the winter we suffered from chilblains in our hands, feet and toes. They were swollen, red and very itchy. Although we did not suffer from hunger, we lacked sufficient vitamins.
The people who were affected most were our parents and the elderly.

For us, the war was a period of exhilaration and excitement.

*
Note 1: If you go into the internet “ Rotterdam Blitz” it states the following:
“ Even though preceding negotiations resulted in a ceasefire nonetheless the bombardment of Rotterdam took place. The Germans threatened to destroy Utrecht if the Dutch Government did not surrender. General Winkelman capitulated the next morning.”

Note 2: Not absolutely sure if this is the correct translation. Cannot find this description anywhere.

©Aloysius Joosten 2013

Aloysius's vivid account of his wartime experiences was translated into English by his cousin Marianne Hall whose stories and articles appear regularly in Open Writing.

Marianne lives in South Africa. The account is edited by Maianne's sister Petra, who lives in Vancouver,Canada.

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