I was only 12, and I was scared. I remember dodging bullets and hiding behind trees all the way home to keep from being killed by the German SS soldiers…
Our lives had changed drastically when the Nazis occupied Holland during World War II.
For years Adolf Hitler had been building up the German war machine, and the world stood by. He believed that the white Aryan race was superior to all other races and planned to rid the world of Jews. He made sure the Hitler Youth were thoroughly indoctrinated with his philosophy.
The Jews tried to get out of Germany, but no other country opened their doors. Then Germany marched into Austria in 1938. Still the other countries did nothing, just wanting peace with Hitler. Next Germany took Czechoslovakia and then Poland, and World War II began. In May of 1940 they marched into the Netherlands where I lived with my parents and five brothers and five sisters.
My oldest brother and my brother-in-law were in the Dutch army, and they fought bravely against overwhelming odds. Holland’s little army was nothing against the Nazis.
The German Luftwaffe (air force) destroyed Rotterdam, the busiest harbor in Western Europe, killing 10,000 people in one day! Holland had no choice but to surrender after four days.
I can still see in my mind’s eye the seemingly endless columns of German tanks and trucks and horses and soldiers streaming into the country. I can still hear the propaganda speeches Adolf Hitler shouted over the radio. The Germans scrambled all incoming radio waves from free England.
Everything was taken for the German army. Store shelves were empty, and people in the big cities were slowly starving. Can you imagine your own countrymen coming to your door, hungry and willing to give anything just to get some food so they can stay alive a little bit longer?
War changes people. In some, it brings out the worst; in others, the best. Some would betray their neighbor to benefit from it and get favors from the enemy, while others would give their lives to help their fellow human beings.
My family was very involved in the resistance movement or, as we called it, the underground. My dad and four older brothers were instrumental in rescuing Allied pilots shot down over Holland. They gave them civilian clothes, buried their uniforms and parachutes and helped them back to England to do it all over again!
We listened to coded messages on the radio and relayed them to the underground. Listening to anything but the German-controlled station was strictly forbidden. We were risking an automatic death penalty—a bullet to the back of the head—no trial.
Everyone over 16 had to carry an ID card, but the Jews had to wear a big yellow Star of David so they could be easily identified. Later, all the Jews were rounded up and shipped to death camps. Most of them never came back. My family helped many Jews hide and provided them food and a safe place to stay.
We could hear the bullets
One time one of my brothers and I had to bring supplies to my older brothers, who were away from home in hiding. It had to be done in the dark so no one would follow us. But the curfew was 8 p.m., and we were late coming back. We came across a German patrol, and they shouted for us to stop.
We started running, and they started shooting! We could hear the bullets slam into the big oak trees as we were running from one tree to the next. My brother, who was five years older, came home first. Can you imagine what my dad said to him for leaving his little brother behind!
I will never forget
I will never forget the night of July 8, 1944. Someone knocked on my dad’s window and said, “The Germans are on the prowl!” Immediately my brothers disappeared into the many hiding places on our farm.
Shortly after midnight, our house was surrounded by SS troops, and they started banging on the door. Several officers stormed in and searched and ransacked our house and barns.
One young officer, barely out of his teens, put a revolver to my dad’s chest and shouted, “Where is your son John?” My dad said, “I don’t know,” so the officer smacked him in the face with the butt of his rifle and knocked out all his front teeth. Every time my dad said, “I don’t know,” they beat him again. They told my mom to go back to bed and took my dad to prison.
Ben sent to a concentration camp
John, the one they came for, was sound asleep under the barn floor and never heard a thing, even though they searched the barn. But they did find my oldest brother, Ben, who along with all my other brothers was on their most-wanted list. Ben’s wife had just had their first baby five weeks earlier.
Ben was sent to Westerbork, a concentration camp just north of our city. His wife was allowed to see him just before he was shipped out from there, and he looked so awful and beaten up that she hardly recognized him. She was never allowed to visit him again and did not know where they had sent him.
We learned later that he was shipped off to a concentration camp in Germany under the most horrible conditions of overcrowding, cold, starvation, sickness and death. When someone died, and many of them did, the others fought over his flea-infested blanket.
Since Ben was a carpenter, he was sometimes sent out on a work detail to help repair homes that were damaged by the nightly bombing raids by Allied planes. Sometimes German citizens would secretly hand him a piece of bread, which helped him survive.
He told us later that he prayed for death many a time, even though he was encouraging others to never give up hope.
He escaped three times, and three times he was recaptured. The last time they stripped him naked and threw him in a concrete bunker for three days with no light, no food and no heat in the middle of the winter of 1945. Yet he survived! He came back home when the Allied armies liberated the camp. He was 28 years old and looked like a skeleton at 87 pounds! But he survived.
Meanwhile, back home…
Meanwhile, they had kept my dad overnight and beat him to a pulp. Then…someone made a mistake and set him free! He limped the three miles home and we hardly recognized him. His face was swollen and bloody. He was covered with dirt and was black and blue all over his body.
The next day he was right back at it again! I thought my dad was a hero!
Hitler was now losing the war. The Nazis became more vicious. They no longer put wanted men in prison. One of my brother’s best friends was caught and executed on the spot. The principal and a teacher from our local high school were shot for helping and hiding Jews. They each left a wife and little children.
In one small town, all the men over 18 were rounded up and executed as retaliation for a German soldier who was killed by the underground.
The long end
The Allies invaded Normandy June 6, 1944. We thought we would be free in a couple of days! In September they were in the south of Holland, only a hundred miles away! But Hitler was not giving up. He threw all he had against the Allied armies in the middle of Holland and stopped them dead in their tracks at the Rhine River for six months.
Finally, on April 11, 1945, the Canadian army liberated our city of Hoogeveen, and Germany surrendered unconditionally on May 10.
What have we learned?
Do you think man has learned anything from all this?
There is no doubt that man has searched for peace since the beginning of time, but so far it has all been an illusion.
I have seen what happens in war, and I’ve tried to tell you a little bit about it. In war, nobody wins. Ask those who have lost loved ones and have experienced the pain and the suffering and the heartache that never goes away.
So, will there ever be peace?
God tells us that the Prince of Peace will return to this earth and bring real peace (Isaiah 9:6; 2:4). Humanity will no longer learn the way of war, but will learn the way of peace. Then “all your children shall be taught by the LORD, and great shall be the peace of your children” (Isaiah 54:13)!
God speed that day!
For more about how real peace will come, see “The Prince of Peace” from our sister magazine The Good News at http://gnmagazine.org/issues/gn42/princepeace.htm.