War with Germany seemed imminent now and our little country took steps to protect its citizens. Holland was neutral in World War I and we hoped to stay that way.
The Dutch Army is preparing for defense. Bunkers and casemates are dug, parks uprooted to make way for air raid shelters. The possibility of flooding the western part of the country, encompassing the 4 largest cities, is discussed. Water can be our enemy but also our friend. However, long-term damage to farmland and orchards plus all the damage done to housing, makes it not quite practical. Air raid alarms are installed on the roofs of tall buildings and practice drills are held.
The Health Departments orders everyone to be vaccinated against all kinds of strange diseases. I have never seen hypodermics that big. In my memory they were a foot long and yes, no disposable needles. Roll up your sleeve, stab, and then "Next!" We are also issued identity cards, which the kids had to hang around their neck, a large version of the "dogtag".
A Civil Air Watch is established, and each block has a warden. We have to have a bucket of sand, a shovel and a bucket of water in the hallway, behind the door.
What good it would do I do not know, it would maybe douse a small kitchen fire but not a fire from a direct hit. Then you get out of the house as quickly as you can, if you can.
Windows have to be re-enforced with tape, also absolutely useless as we later find out. But the wardens insist. Then the blackout curtains. Oh my, if a glimmer of light is shown, you have the warden on your back again.
People started to hoard food, although strictly forbidden. Coffee, tea and cocoa were the articles most bought because the country produced most all other products.
Mother began to can food in beautiful glass (Weck) containers. We had all kinds of vegetables and combination of vegetables; cauliflower, carrots and some green peas. I still see the tall jars with the beautiful white asparagus. She had so many variations. Not to speak of the fruit we bought strawberries by the flats (crates) and cherries, apricots, peaches. All are canned; some cherries have brandy in them. Apricots with white raisins and brandy, for special occasions. The cellar was full. The shelves were loaded with these jars and their colorful contents. Then we had sauerkraut in earthenware crocks.
Even eggs were put in large earthenware crocks in glassine. That is some kind of a gel. Enough to last the war which, we thought, would not last but a few months.
To this day I have a dislike for French-style green beans. First I had to cut the tips and threads off and then stick them in a slicer which was clamped to the kitchen table. A couple of turns with the handle and the bean was sliced, then the next bean and the next, endless. Cherry pitting was not too bad, because the ones I messed up I got to eat. I still have that cherry pitter!
Our apple tree was a large producer of apples, the type that keeps in the cellar for months (yes, but I had to turn these things every day!). Then we came upon the idea if drying the apples - more work: peeling, coring, slicing, stringing them up and hang them on the clotheslines to dry.
The birds loved it!
There was no ultimatum - Germany invaded our country on May 10. Germany thought they would march through in a day, but met with heavy resistance from our ill-equipped troops on bicycles against SS Panzers (tanks) about 20 miles east of us at Rhenen near the Grebbeberg (berg=mountain). This was more of a high area bordering the North side of the Rhine). We could hear the German guns. Many fell there, Dutch and Germans.
Meanwhile we were warned of parachutists dressed as nuns and nurses. It scared me so bad, I was afraid to go the 3rd floor or in the gardenshed! These parachutists were the Austrian children we Dutch had taken in after World War I, because there was so much hunger there. They were fed and clothed here, attended school, their foster parents treated them as their own children and some never went back. Was this treason? I think these Austrian parachutists were somehow forced to enlist, to be Ambassadors of the German Reich.
There was a heavy loss of German aircraft between Rotterdam and The Hague. Our Royal Marines (Koninklijke Mariniers) defended the bridge over the Maas in hand-to-hand combat.
But the might of the German Army was overpowering. Talks of surrender were underway, when, without provocation Rotterdam was bombed in the middle of the day. Schools were hit, the center of the old city (not the harbor) eradicated. The main waterlines were hit and the fire brigade was helpless. It burned for days. Utrecht, my hometown, was next on the list, but the surrender was signed in time to prevent that.
Mother and I went to Rotterdam a week later, because that's where her sister lived and my grandfather (father's father). Her sister, ironically, had fled France in 1939 because she thought it safer in Holland.
We had to go to a different station in Roterdam and walked for an hour through rubble, smoke and the smell of burnt hair, flesh. Sometimes we got lost, because familiar landmarks were gone. Our family was shook up but otherwise fine, for which we were grateful.
So now we were under German occupation. In the beginning we did not notice anything different, the Germans wanted to make our country a part of their country and they were friendly and super-correct in their behavior. The German troops marched singing through the streets, but people turned their backs when they passed.
There is a line in the patriotic song on the Homepage that says (translated) "We are our own Masters, and no one's Servants". The Germans found out soon that we adhered to that line and imposed on us more and more restrictions,
From Fragments of My Life
~ 1939 - 1945 ~ WW II
by Henny Carlisle
© Henny Carlisle - 2003
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