THE HUNGER
WINTER
1944


Days were getting shorter  and scarcity of food and necessities was hurting us all.

Previously, gas and electricity were rationed, then limited to a few hours a day and then nothing.

No batteries, no candles, no matches. The Nothing November of 1944.  I scoured our attic for candles or stumps or even some wax to make a candle, came up with a few little stumps. We had some batteries, but they ran out and we re-heated them on our makeshift heater/stove to coax more life out of them.  The more fortunate people had a carbide lantern,  they really stank,  but we did not have one.

It was getting dark so early now, sometimes 4 in the afternoon. And so cold  -  one of the coldest winters on record.  The roadways were impassable due to ice and snow or damaged otherwise, the canals were frozen over; no barges could come through to bring food.



We sat huddled around the little wood heater.  We had moved upstairs now, to father's old study, small and easier to heat. That's where we lived, and tried to stay warm. Mother and I were good knitters and I had unraveled  old sweaters, re-washed and straightened the yarn over a little board and made a new sweater from two old ones.

But you cannot knit in the dark, we played a lot of cards in the feeble light we had and just went to sleep early. Mother and I shared one bed. "Just in case a bomb falls on the house we die together", she said. We slept with our clothes on, fur coats on top of the bed and the little strong box near at hand.  Miesje stayed on top of the covers at the foot end.

Most of the nights were sheer horrors, which made us stay up most of the time anyway. The allied bombing raids on Germany continued;  they came over  almost every night and the anti-aircraft guns were blazing away.  We had to get up, put our coats on  , just in case we  had to flee the house.  If it had not been so frightening, the sky could have been beautiful with all these tracers going.


We were checking, from the safety of an upstairs window,  when an aircraft was hit, if we saw parachutes. Sometimes one went down in flames and then we hoped and prayed that the crew made it safely out the plane.  The Underground was watching it closely too and quite often they reached and hid the flyers before the Germans got a hold of them.


It was a few years after the war that I found out that there was  an elaborate system of tunnels , in the inner-city. Rescued airmen could go from house to house, without being found.  Eventually they would be routed to France, or Spain to be re-united with their Squadrons.


What I best remember of those nights, was the constant butterflies in my stomach.  I refused to go in the cellar.  I stayed under the stairway in the cellar closet.  From experience we knew that a staircase remains standing if a bomb falls on the house.


I couldn't go on the Milk Run anymore; our bicycles were stolen. Schools were suspended, as well as businesses. Our ration coupons gave us less and less each week.  I was entitled to some whole milk and my mother to "taptemelk" or skim milk, per the ration cards. In the beginning of rationing Mother also had tobacco rations, which she traded for something she could use better.


We have never felt so dirty -  there was no soap, except for two types of "ersatz" soap.  One was grayish, like a pumice stone, and the other floated, but also melted away in a jiffy.  I really do not know how we kept a modicum of cleanliness going.


The result was evident:  lice in the clothes. How we brushed and aired our clothes to get rid of them. Then I had sores all over my fingers;  several nails had to be pulled out, to relieve the tremendous pressure and  pain. The doctor gave me a stinking, sticky salve to put on and some gauze bandages, not exactly what a teenage girl relishes.


As for food, since we had someone in hiding who had no ration card (The Underground could no longer provide cards either), my mother went to the Priest and told him that she was hiding one of his flock, who had no ration card.  She asked him if I could eat in the church with the other children.  He permitted two days , Tuesday and Thursday.  That, in addition to the Wednesday in the Protestant church kept me alive.




One of the things most sorely missed, was salt. Holland produces its own salt, but it was all carted eastwards  -  Germany. For a while Mother used her stash of bath-salts, but that did not last long.  We produced plenty of fruit and vegetables, but all we got sporadically and after waiting in line for almost a day, were some potatoes, may be a cabbage or some huge large winter carrots, about a foot long and 3 inches in diameter. If you were lucky the potatoes were not frozen. Only pigs can eat frozen potatoes.


A sugar beet, which we could get once a week, is actually  fodder. If you cook it long enough you can make syrup, but who had the fuel for that?  Mother diced the beet real small.  Our man in hiding, Theo, was a former pastry chef and he had some food coloring, so we put some red in there to make it look like red beets, if we had an onion to go with it so much the better.  The "ersatz" (imitation) vinegar improved it a bit too.


Theo also had some almonds stashed away. I took a handful and ate them  not knowing they were the bitter almonds, used very sparingly to enhance almond flavor. They are also toxic -  arsenic. Shall never forget how sick I was.


Early in the year of 1945, mother and her sister-in-law (father's sister) Jeanne decided to go on a food trek to the farms in the north-eastern part of the country. Seys-Inquart, the "Governor" of the Netherland had to lift the ban on no travel, people were dying by the thousands of starvation.


My scooter was dismantled, I was too old for it now anyway. It had two good solid rubber tires, and axle was fashioned and from some wood a box constructed.  In short, we had a small cart.


Items to barter were gathered; father's long underwear, his suits, shoes. Aunt Jeanne had children's clothing, table cloths.  Off they went for a 2-3 week trip, on foot, joined by thousands of other women. (I stayed with the neighbors.) .  They slept in barns, sometimes they were lucky, other times not.


The risk of confiscation was always great.  The Germans themselves did not have much anymore.  I never heard much about the trek itself much, but when they came back, there was a piece of bacon, a pound of butter, some cheese and some grain.  Still see my Aunt divide the grain, first weighing the total and then each portion.  By mistake she almost put a lost grain in Mother's share but she quickly changed that!


We still had to go to the woods to cut a tree, when we could get a cart and a saw.   I do not know what the saw was called, but it was a real long one, with a handle on either end. One pushed, the other pulled. The last trip we made, we were stopped by an older German soldier (that's all that was left now of the once mighty German army).  He offered us some coffee with milk, because we looked so cold.  He even re-tied the sections of wood onto the cart.


I guess even the enemy had enough of the war.  Except for their maniac leader, who behind his back was called the "Teppichfresser" (carpet eater) by his own people.  Nowadays,  we call such a person, schizophrenic, bipolar and what have you.  Our occupation forces were now older soldiers, some crippled or injured and their means of transportation were small carts drawn by Polish horses. They were assigned to guarding bridges, certain roads and such futile things. I can remember one time a soldier sharing his bread with some of us kids.


The one force still to reckon with was the SD (Sicherheits Dienst) or Security Police  they wore these big, imposing breastplates on their chests.


Officially Holland was Juden Rein (clean of Jews) but the hunt was on for the Underground and the Strikers.  The Dutch Railroad workers struck "en masse", even with a death penalty on their heads. Sometimes, all of a sudden streets were blocked off, nobody in or out and a house to house search was performed. They were the notorious razzia's.  Pity the people who got caught and were later interrogated (read "tortured").  They rarely came out alive to tell.


The rail road cars were now manned by Germans, but the bombing raids on the rail lines continued.  As a counter measure people were taken hostage, randomly, men and women, to stand along the rail line. Our government in exile in England was quickly apprised of this and the bombing stopped and what further could be taken out of Holland was taken out over these rail lines.


We in Utrecht were better off than the people in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague, since we were closer to farms. Their total population was far larger than our town, which stood at that time at about 250,000. There were dairy farms in the Western part and fruit was grown in hothouses, but the main agricultural production in the West had always been the bulbs. You can't eat daffodils, very toxic, people tried eating tulip bulbs, made them sick too.




We were so hopeful when the invasion started on the 6th of June.  We followed the progress  and calculated that the Allies would be here in 6 weeks. The Operation Garden Market (The Battle of Arnhem) , on 17 Sep 1944, was unfortunately a failure at the cost of many, many lives. We could hear the big guns all day, but were they coming closer? Were the Allies going to win in the Ardennes? Troops were south of the big rivers now, no more than 50 miles away.




We were  physically and mentally exhausted, from all the hauling, standing in lines, the no this, no that, not allowed to do this, not allowed to do that.  I had at one time come to a point that I couldn't eat anymore, couldn't hold anything in my stomach.


DEAR GOD - When is it going to end?


 
From "Fragments of My Life"
~ 1939 - 1945 ~  WW  II
Holland
by Henny Carlisle
©Henny Carlisle - 2002
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