Talk about an impending war became more frequent and we already had many German Jewish refugees move to our neighborhood. They thought they were the lucky ones, got out with their belongings, but not with their money. Many were professionals, doctors, dentists, lawyers, and owners of large businesses.
From them we heard what really was going on; the extermination of Jews, Gypsies and the mentally retarded. This was Hitler's dream for a pure Aryan race. But for an 8 year-old this was a bit incomprehensible; I heard it but did not quite understand it.
My parents were planning their annual vacation, this time the end goal was Italy, with many side treks along the way. My father more or less liked to wander around and take the car wherever it took him. I was allowed to go this year, because I behaved so well the previous year which saved me from being sent to that (to me) dreadful children's hotel at the beach , which was supposed to be very posh. As an only child I was not used to sharing a bedroom with others and found the fact I was to sleep in a crib at 6 years old very demeaning.
So in July we took off; went through Germany, stopped here and there. But in Munich my father got very upset with the political climate and the abundance of brownshirts (SA= Sicherheits Abwehr) and we went to Innsbruck in Austria, which was now annexed to Germany. From there we went South to Italy, and then during a heavy rainstorm we had a very serious accident, just south of Pavia on the Po River. Blown tire, slick pavement. We had a car, which is called here a convertible. One of the clamps that held the roof in place came loose and hit my father's forehead. My mother and I were thrown out of the car.
Can't remember much of it, but I can still see the blood on my beautiful white dress and I was hollering: Papa, Papa! My mother was on the ground; moaning and my father ran between her and me. Some kind soul brought me a bowl of porridge (pappa - Italian). I remember the ambulance taking us all to the hospital where mother was to stay a couple of weeks and from where I was released the following day. My father had a big bandage on his forehead.
We stayed in Pavia in a little hotel across from the railroad station, only a short trams ride from the hospital. Father was always busy; checking at the garage where the car was being repaired, sending telegrams home, meeting with people from the University.
Sometimes he wanted to go alone to the hospital and I was left to my own devices. Had some money in my pocket and I ventured out. Three doors down was an ice-cream store. Then I went farther out, found a store where they sold colored pencils, mine were all broken in the accident.
One afternoon, father was probably at the garage, I decided to take the tram to the hospital. The conductor was surprised that the signorina ollandese came by herself. Our pictures had been prominently displayed in the town's paper so we were more or less known. I got off at the right spot and went to the hospital where the gatekeeper almost had a stroke and ran for one of the sisters. There was quite a commotion that brought even Mother Superior out of her office. She made tea for us, gave me some medals with Saints on them and a talk-to. My Italian was very limited at that time but I think I nodded at the appropriate parts in her speech.
Yes, I got to see my mother, who was not too surprised to see me.
I think Mama and Papa had a talk because all of sudden we made little trips, swimming in the river; renting a bike and going to the Cloister at Certosa. On the way back we stopped at a little tavern were we had delicious hard salami and something to drink.
We found out that the hospital bill was being paid courtesy of Benito Mussolino and my father was furious. Meanwhile it had become September and war was declared between Germany and England, Poland had been invaded and the Low Countries and France were now seriously preparing for war. Mobilization!
The Dutch Consul in Milan, whom we visited a few times, advised us to leave as soon as possible, rather sooner than possible; unless we wanted an invitation from Benito to stay in a place of his choosing for the duration. His wife, I remember, had one look at me and took me to her private quarters and fixed my hair. I had braided it but the part at the back of my head was kind of crooked. My father hadn't noticed; he was the intellectual and just did not see things like that.
We visited Il Duomo in Milan and climbed all the way to the top of roof, very slick, all marble. I was there a few years ago and it is no longer allowed to go all the way up there. Before we took the train back to Pavia, we had a good look at the big railroad station there, which my father called Mussolini architecture.
The car was finally ready to go, only the driver's side window did not close completely. We left very early in the morning, crossed into Switzerland and took the many hairpin roads to cross the Alps. There were no freeways and tunnels then.
I was handed the map and assigned the task of navigator, which earned me the front seat, but mother was more comfortable in the back seat. I can not remember stopping anywhere for any length of time, the hotel had provided us with a food basket.
It was nasty, rainy weather when we reached Basel. We wanted to avoid going through Germany, so that meant from Basel through a stretch of France. I told my father he was going the wrong way in Basel and he acknowledged that I was right. I was so proud of that little praise! We were now in France; along the roads we saw soldiers digging in and many times we had to wait for long military convoys. Buying gasoline for the car was a problem, some places we could get only red gas. Never knew exactly what that was I think it was gas for military use, but I am not sure.
Father kept on going, through the Alsace area of France, then Belgium and finally past midnight we passed the Dutch border near Maastricht. It was early in the morning when we reached home. The housekeeper had everything in order for us; beds were made, coffee was ready and the heat turned on.
Father had a bad cough, a touch of bronchitis - his words. But it got worse, it developed into pneumonia, which was first treated at home but then he was transferred to the hospital.
He died on 9 Dec, 1939, one month after his 38th birthday and my 9th birthday.