"THE NAZIS HAVE INVADED
Jesus Did It!
Subtitled: FROM THE UNDERGROUND INTO THE PRESENCE OF ROYALTY
By: John Weerstra
This local Grand Rapids, Michigan couple gives their account of how they survived Hitler's invasion of the Netherlands in 1940. It's a story rich in Dutch history, as well as precious Christian heritage. It is entertaining and highly informative, as it is an inside look at a man and his wife so many will remember, for long to come.
It is also a story that hints of another war - The war of good and evil. One day that war will be over and the Judgment Day will come. What will the Judgment Day be like? Perhaps this story will provide the answer.
Through the next several pages your eyes will dance across the ocean -- reading the words of a man and his wife who served God and their country so bravely and courageously.
And years down the road . . . to the amazement of all . . . their reward was granted them. That reward . . . symbolic of future glory - is about to put a glow in your heart . . . and a tear in your eye.
It started so unreal, so surprisingly unreal. It was as if we were in a different country where we never were before nobody ever told us about - completely lost - not knowing east from west, north from south. What in the world happened? Where have we been? What happened just a few minutes ago? What's going on NOW? These questions we were asking each other...a small group of people, neighbors, all very much known to each other . . . and yet so confused. How can it be?
Oh yes, of course, you were not there. I forgot for a moment, though I must confess at that point and time we thought the whole world knew, because it looked like the whole world was on fire!
The date? Uh - the date? It was just any ordinary date, as all other dates before. The date recorded was May 10, 1940.
The place? Near Schiphol Airport, on the outskirts of Amsterdam.
The country? The Netherlands.
It happened at about four in the morning, just before dawn. We were sound asleep. Suddenly our upstairs bedroom door blew open and shut with a bang! We were awakened instantly. Running outside, in robes and underwear, we formed a little group of people. Our eyes focused in the still dark sky, as we listened to additional explosions and airplanes roaring over the area of the big international airport.
"It's war!" someone yelled.
"Don't worry," said another. "They're just exercises - maneuvers," he lied, having full knowledge of what was going on (we found out later).
Someone saw through his deceit. "Maneuvers?! You with your maneuvers. You know darn well better, don't you . . . you darn Nazi! They're your friends east of us, aren't they? Why ... I'm tempted to bold you one, you . . . you darn traitor - you spy! You know exactly what's going on, don't you? Why don't you just shut up and go home before I hit you . . . and stay there!"
Suddenly all our eyes were opened to a sobering truth. This man being accused was in fact a Nazi-sympathizer and we had not realized until this very moment that he was.
Away the Nazi-sympathizer went, seeking the cover of his home. A wise decision at the time, I thought to myself.
Someone else in the group asked, "Could they be English planes, or are they REALLY German planes? Maybe they ARE just maneuvers?"
Nobody really knew, but soon we saw planes going down, leaving trails of fire behind them. As they hit the ground, the still dark sky lit up like fireworks on the 4th of July.
No. No sir - no maneuvers. It was for real. It was WAR! Then quickly we ran inside our homes. What did the radio say? Before long we were told. We were at war with Germany. How could it be? The night before on the 8 o'clock news we heard Hitler say in person: "Never - no never - we'll never attack the Netherlands. They are our best friends. They're on the west of us to protect Germany from England."
But that was the night before. Now it was Friday morning. Hitler had deceived us.
When our oldest son was born in September, 1939, which was also the time Hitler invaded Poland to the east of him, then I could not help but ask myself and God: "Is this the future of my own dearly beloved flesh and blood? Is this the reason for his life, only to be snuffed out, just when he would become fully in blossom? Oh, God forbid. Dear God - help us.
Yes . . . those were our thoughts. We did not fully understand. We weren't sure we wanted to even try. But life had to go on. Time never stops for even a second. Time takes no lunch break. We had to earn a living. We had to concentrate on supplying the needs for our family of five.
Jackie and I married in 1935. For the first three years of our marriage employment was hard to find. There was sporadic work at farming, but always only temporary. By 1938, we had a family of four. Our two oldest children were cute little girls whom we loved dearly. My wife and I did all we could to supply their needs - even to the extent of my wife taking her own clothes off her back so the girls had something to wear.
Eventually I found full employment. I took over an agency of the Singer Sewing Machine Company from an elderly gentleman who decided to retire. Now I felt I could become a self-sustaining member of society. No more work relief; no more handouts; no more begging! I thanked my Lord up above.
Oh yes - I knew the Lord - in a fashion; ever since I was a kid of about seven. I had given my life to God at an early age. In addition, at the age of 14, a preacher-teacher of mine was instrumental in encouraging me to seek God's perfect will for my life.
When I got the job, this was an answer to prayer. We had prayed so long. Nobody could stop me from working now! Nobody could slow me down! I had much catching up to do,
My business grew rapidly. Then came February 1940, three months before war broke out. We needed a store so we could display our merchandise. Consequently, we moved from our small home to a business section and opened up a store. From that move, we prospered, making twice as much money as what we were used to.
On Thursday, May 9, I was canvassing a certain part of the community I had been assigned by the Company. I had made note at suppertime where I had left off, so I knew exactly where to start on that following Friday morning.
Then came early Friday morning, May 10, 1940. War! How could it be?! How could we have been so blind? How could we have been so involved with our own affairs of life that we saw nothing, heard nothing, felt nothing of all that was going on around us? Right in our own backyard - in our own church in our own country . . . Hitler was upon us. He had caught us totally unaware and surprised.
No - I did not go canvassing that Friday morning, nor on Saturday. Sunday was Mother's Day. We rested, went to Church, prayed . . . the war went on.
Undefended cities were bombarded. Five days after it started, our government surrendered.
What was war really all about? What is it like to be governed by a dictator, against the will of the people - shoving it down their throats, so to speak? Was it the way God wanted the Dutch people ruled?
Let me try for just a moment to reflect on what I think it was like. The people of the Netherlands came from a period of time when there were many, many goods, but people had no money into a period of having few or no goods, but people having lots of money. From our youth we were taught to be conservative, thrifty, and having respect for those God placed above us in authority; spiritual, as well as on the Civil level. Now we were told by our exiled Government in England to do all we possibly could to oppose those in dictatorship over us.
For many, money soon became their God. Suddenly it was so easy to come by. Some became involved in the black market. Others were even catering to the wrong ideas and principles being taught by our Nazi oppressors. Worse yet, some people began compromising their own Godly principles of justice, truth and love; all that used to be honorable and just and pure were now being trodden down in dirt, falsehood and disrespect.
War, and being occupied by a foreign country is much more than dropping bombs, destroying land and property, killing soldiers on the battlefields and in the air and on the sea. War is like a game - any game, but a game where there are no rules and regulations. There are no watchful eyes of an umpire. Each individual is for himself, or, as some groups do, agree to do all they can to play the game their way - regardless of those they oppose. All for me, regardless of the consequences. Me ... me ... and nobody else. The gates of restraint lifted open game open hunting season.
For some, war was easy to catch on to. For others, it came slowly and surely. For others ... it was impossible for them to live in that kind of environment.
Now - where did all this leave us as a family? How does anyone fit in, in circumstances so new, so strange, so against all that we had been taught and were dear to mankind? My family decided regardless the cost, to oppose the Nazi occupiers. There was a prayer upon our lips and in our hearts; not knowing where all this would take us, but as opportunity presented itself, we would resist.
Our first act of opposing the enemy was merely standing in the open in the daytime. On one end of a bridge (being the most central part of our community), passing out literature; guiding and telling our people what and what not to do in order to get rid of our enemy as soon as we could.
On the other side of the same bridge, the Dutch Nazi friends stood distributing literature as well. They were telling us how blessed we were with our German occupiers, because if it hadn't been for them, our "friends," by now we would have been occupied by the English neighbors to the west of us. What a lie! The pity was though, some began to believe this lie.
Meanwhile, sewing machines started selling like crazy. Two or three per family, and for cash! Where the money came from I do not know, but it was there. People paid off their accounts quickly. Before the war had started, I attempted to collect on my many past-due accounts every week. People usually sent me away empty-handed, as they were not able to pay the weekly twenty-five cents. But with the war on, accounts were paid up quickly.
However, before summer was over that year our common enemy seized all of our stock. Their excuse? Oh, simply because Singer was an English-American Company, considered by Hitler as their common enemy. They felt it had to go, so they just took it. No - let me say, they stole it, and took it all to Germany.
Now where to go? What to do? How would our family survive? No more income - no means of support. Since I had been a "well-to-do businessman" and had been able to purchase a small motor scooter, I had been fortunate in not having to spend days at a time on my bicycle selling and collecting. The local civil authorities, realizing my circumstances, now offered me a job as Motor Courier for Civil Defense - bringing messages from one point to the other. Shortly thereafter it came to pass that gasoline was no longer available, and for a short span, we had to use our bikes. Shortly after that, tires became unavailable, so we were told to be a watchman for Civil Defense, perching ourselves on top of the County building, sounding the alarm when English planes started bombing Schiphol Airport.
We witnessed several heroic attempts of those pilots and their crews to shoot out the searchlights into which they were locked, and we saw our enemy, the Germans, with their tracer bullets trying to cause them to crash. But despite the heavy ground fire, the English persisted, and came back night after night, though some would crash - paying for it with their lives.
The day eventually arrived when we in the Civil Service were asked to collect money from the people in support of their Nazi cause; first on the boss's time, but shortly after that, on our own free time, as sort of a patriotic gesture. This was a Dutch Nazi effort to support their activities. At first I did it on the boss's time, but in a rebellious manner: by putting orange flowers instead in the slot intended for money, and suggesting to the people that they too, of course, had no money for such a cause. Some people were offended, but I never got in trouble for it. But when we were told to do it on our own free time, that was going just a bit too far in my opinion, and I refused to cooperate. So I was fired.
Rules, laws and regulations such as the above were enforced and activated by the Mayor of our township who was put there by our enemy, since our previous Mayor was not cooperating enough to their satisfaction. This was becoming commonplace by the enemy, so in key places they had someone on their side. Their replacements were just Dutch citizens, who, for one reason or another, saw an opportunity to enrich themselves - compromising their principles. This was the predicament many good, loyal Dutch officers, policemen, firemen, and others found themselves in. The message was clear. Either cooperate, or get fired.
So I was fired. I was told to report at the unemployment office immediately in order to fill out a form explaining whom I was, and what I possibly could do in order to find new employment. From the time of our first three years of unemployment before the war, I had known the man who used to be in charge, but now he had been replaced with a Nazi-minded clerk by the name of Mr. Borgman.
In my confusion and tension, I signed a particular form; only to find myself sorry I did. It became clear to me that I
had given them my written consent to place me at work any time and any place. That night I could not rest. I had to find a way to undo what I had done. The following morning I went to the unemployment office again. I told the clerk that I had been in their office the day previous and had signed a form on which I was not sure if I had answered a particular question truthfully. If he would be so kind as to let me see this form a minute, I would verify what I had written. The clerk, impressed with my apparent sincerity, looked up my form and handed it to me.
After checking it for a moment, I then informed him - just as I thought I had done - I had declared a lie on this form by not telling the truth. Because I had done so, I could not give this form back to him, and would have to keep it.
The clerk got upset and called for his boss, Mr. Borgman, who then threatened me. I was possibly going to be arrested for stealing government property, and I better understand that this form belonged to the government.
I consented to give him the form back, minus my signature, which I promptly ripped off and ate before it could be retrieved! Then I walked out, leaving a very angry Mr. Borgman behind.
Nothing happened. I believe partly because the Dutch Nazis had yet to learn to be more cruel, and also because the Germans were still trying to get the Dutch populace to cooperate with them.
In order to survive, I could see no other way than going into the black market. By this time, food was getting hard to come by. Ration cards were given to people, and farmers were not allowed to sell their own livestock, grain, or vegetables of their own free will, to whom they desired. Here again, our enemy had placed their "agents" at specific places, so they were very much in control. Worse yet, all their "agents" were Dutch people who probably were faced with the same choice: cooperate, or no income.
Please understand - I am not saying they should not have done it. I am only sharing what it means to live under those circumstances and as a result of such, one had better expect such things to happen. Because of those circumstances, some cooperated. Some did not. The result was that a few of us organized with the purpose of helping those who refused to cooperate. Those who refused to cooperate could not go home anymore for fear of being arrested and put in German factories to work, or just simply picked off the street and shipped away.
Wives and children needed financial help. They needed food, as the rations were not sufficient for anyone. We would encourage those who were in this predicament not to cooperate, so we could hinder the German war machine and all that it stood for
In my situation, I was opposing Hitler on one hand: and on the other hand was occupied in the black market to supply the needs of my family to survive.
Yes, thank God, there were still those who did not cooperate, and at high risk, stayed put. They too joined our forces, and we became those who worked in the underground. When possible, these sympathizers would give advice, or tip us off when a raid was about to occur, and where. Also, they would inform us where checkpoints would be set up to search for those not cooperating with the system.
It was at this point and time when one day we were visited by a representative of the unemployment office checking on all business people. He ordered us to open up our books in order to prove if we still had a legitimate income, and as such, could survive (mindful of the fact that several businesses could not). Of course, businessmen like myself could not report any black market profits. So all those not being able to prove they had a legitimate income were told to report at their office at a certain day and time, and they would help us in finding good employment with good income, at places looking for good people. What this all meant, of course, was nothing else but being placed in factories in Holland or Germany helping the German war machine. When one would not report at the set time and place, one had better expect to be arrested and forced to go.
With this choice before me, I decided - at least for the time being - to cooperate. I wanted to stall the day of separation from my family and country as much as I could. So I went in to report at the right place and time.
As I was cooperating with the clerks and the doctors in our physical exam, acting as if I was really looking forward to working for them and having a decent income again, I was able to manage, by complaining about my health, to postpone my date of leaving for six weeks. That put them in a position where they would check my health again at a later date.
When I reported back six weeks later ... I had a surprise coming. No second exam was required. Mr. Borgman had by then had a chance to check my records, and determined there was nothing wrong with me. I could not fool them any longer.
That was on a Friday, and they had already found a place for me to work. No - not in Holland, but nicely tucked away in the middle of Germany in the city called Kassel, which, they were sorry to say, was just too far of a distance for me to come home on weekends. The following Monday morning I was to report by 8 A.M. at Amsterdam Central Railroad station for my train ride to Kassel. Mr. Borgman had his day . . . or so he thought.
All of this happened to coincide with another narrow escape. To see how the hand of God protected my family and I through all of this - a few weeks prior to this fateful Friday (of being now assigned to Germany), the Gestapo, or Secret Police (Hitler's right arm), found it necessary to raid a particular farm in our neighborhood. They had apparently been informed that this particular farmer, a Mr. Bogart, a man well up in age, harbored Jews. To harbor one Jew in any way, shape, or form (or give them any assistance), was punishable by concentration camp or death, and quite often the loss of one's home, farm, place of business by burning them to the ground. A simple way of doing that was by throwing some highly flammable phosphorus bombs into the structure. Those were the possible consequences of helping one Jew. Mr. Bogart harbored, fed and clothed about 80 Jews.
Mr. Bogart just could not say NO to all those fleeing for their lives who asked him for help. It was inevitable that some "friend", neighbor, or relative would squeal on him. Sometimes even wives, sons or daughters would report matters like this, for all kinds of unthinkable reasons. For favors, for being under pressure of daily life and circumstances, for getting nervous -- many different reasons. Even when shelter and hiding was given to one Jew . . . let alone 80 . . . that could not be kept a secret for very long.
So a raid took place. Fortunately an alarm was sounded, telling them a raid was coming, and they tried to escape. Fields of wheat and corn gave them some cover. Some hid in ditches filled with water. However, most of them were unable to escape. They were arrested and sent to an almost certain death in a far-away concentration camp. Included, of course, was the arrest of the elderly farmer, Mr. Bogart.
That was in the fall of 1942. The enemy was still sometimes lenient in order to gain the trust and confidence of the people. A mock trail was held in Amsterdam, at which time the commander of the Gestapo shook his head and asked Mr. Bogart for what reason he was trying to get away with hiding 80 Jews?
Mr. Bogart answered, "Sir - Mr. Commander . . . because my Bible tells me so. Sir . . . there's something else I would like to tell you. Today, Sir . . . it's the Jews, God's favored people who are in dire need of help. But, rest assured, Sir, the day will come . . . before long . . . when you and your people will be in very difficult circumstances. I want to tell you, Sir, when that day arrives, you can find my place, and I will be there to help you."
Quite surprisingly, Mr. Bogart was released; sent home with the stern warning not ever to repeat what he had done.
I wish it ended there. Mr. Bogart, for the love of God and his fellow man, could not stop doing good. Sometime later there was a second raid on Mr. Bogart's property. He was arrested for harboring more Jews. He was hauled away, a second trial was held, and this time he was sent to a concentration camp, never to return.
Backing up now to my confrontation with Mr. Borgman at the unemployment office, and consequently being assigned to Germany the following Monday . . . during one of the raids at Mr. Bogart's farm, one of the Jews managed to escape, and my wife and I were holding him at our home -- keeping him inside and out of sight from everyone.
While I was on my way to the unemployment office that very same Friday, my home was raided by the local police, which consisted of about a dozen men - including the Chief of Police and his assistant. The Chief's name was Jelsma; not yet replaced by a Nazi, but given an assistant who was Nazi-minded.
Who told them we were harboring a Jew, we will never know. Maybe one of our little children said something they never should have said, unknowingly so. Maybe it was one of our neighbors. Three of them: one to the West, one to the East, and one to the South of us were capable of compromising. Only God knows, but here they came, storming into our home. Our "guest" found just a split second to flee upstairs, trying to hide under a bed. By the mercy of God, the Chief went upstairs, and ... we believed ... found the man hiding under the bed. But coming back down the stairs, he assured his assistant there was nobody there. The assistant did not go up against the Chief's word, so nothing was said. As the Chief was the last one leaving our home, he shared with my wife, Jackie. "Get rid of that contraband upstairs, because surely it will give you trouble." Jackie caught the drift.
When I came home from the unemployment office, I heard all that had happened. Later that evening, under the cover of darkness, another home was found for our "guest". At the same time, we felt certain now was the time for me to disappear from the scene, and really go underground.
That Sunday evening, I wrote my wife Jackie a letter saying goodbye. Since I felt I could not live with her any longer, I advised her to go with this letter to Social Services so she may qualify for some financial and social assistance. We saw no harm having some assistance from a source opposing all that was decent, and at the same time supporting someone's family who opposed all they stood for.
That following morning, which was Monday, never will I forget boarding that train in Central Station in Amsterdam. No I was not going east toward Germany as they had ordered me to. Instead, fleeing in another direction, I would be riding north to the province of Friesland. Once on board, I was in for a quick surprise! I ran into the previous boss I had worked for who represented the Singer Sewing Machine Company. I knew he had turned Nazi.
After a season of conversation with him, I soon left his cabin hoping and praying he would never know my reason for traveling north instead of east. By the grace of God, I believe, my prayer was answered, because I never heard or saw him after that! Nevertheless, the tension remained of being discovered of what I was in the process of doing.
My destination was about 100 miles. Halfway there we stopped at another train station. From there I mailed the letter I had written the night before. The postmark was real, and yet they could not trace me. All they would find, of course, was that I had not arrived in Kassel, Germany.
In due time I received orders to organize the underground in that part of the Netherlands. We could exchange those who were running and fleeing from opposing Germany; placing those from the south to the north, and vice versa.
I became area director in the southwest part of Friesland. I began organizing a contact man in every village. Soon we made contact with others doing the same work in other parts of the Province, meeting every Friday in the North Christian Reformed Church in Leeuwarden for our weekly exchange of names and addresses to report to.
In the meantime, I was still trying to help my wife and children as much as I could, to give them financial support knowing full well that the Nazi-minded government would not help. I lived in dairy country, and I would buy butter, cheese, bacon and other meat to sell in the big cities in Central Netherlands, such as Amsterdam, Haarlem, Leiden and DenHaag. Of course, the Nazis did not appreciate these activities. Some otherwise good, decent Dutch people and officers who thought to do the country a big favor by doing all they could to help Hitler along did not realize that the more food that kept from getting to the Dutch people, the more food was being shipped to Germany.
I traveled mostly by train. Unexpected raids were always to be expected within the trains, or at exit points at the train depots. I soon learned never to be the first one leaving a station. When the officers - Gestapo, SS Police, or even local police or Dutch Nazis - were all busy checking people with their baggage, I would then walk up and pass through without any difficulty, though always with a sigh of relief. It was also not a good idea to stay too close to our own baggage. We would deposit it very nonchalantly in the baggage rack on the train and then go find a seat as far away from it as we could, without it being out of sight if possible.
Humorous experiences happened from time to time, during those days of trying to provide for my family. On one occasion, I was carrying homemade butter packed in an empty sewing machine case, traveling from Friesland to DenHaag - a distance of about 150 miles. I bought this butter from a dairy farmer who made it himself. I will never know if it was done on purpose or not, but in making butter one must work with it and press it again and again so all the buttermilk will be eliminated. Of course, that also meant one would get less and less butter, the longer one worked with it. At any rate, as I was traveling along, I began to notice that due to the vibration of the train, more buttermilk began separating itself from the butter, and drip . . . drip . . . drip . . . it came out of the sewing machine case, dropping on the seat below where people sat! To the best of my knowledge, no one sitting there noticed, because there was no raid or inspection. But whew . . . was I ever glad and thankful to deliver my butter without further incident.
On another occasion, again I was on a trip from Friesland to DenHaag with a sewing machine case full of dried bacon. This time, I remember my oldest brother Martin thought he would like to accompany me on one of my business ventures. The trip went wonderful, until we moved from the train to a local streetcar moving across the city. Halfway down the city we had to transfer to another streetcar. The other streetcar had not yet arrived, so there was a wait. I sat my "sewing machine" at a certain spot where people were to wait, and then, as always, I stayed a good distance away and watched it.
Like ourselves, there was a nice lady waiting for the same streetcar to arrive. She had a little poodle at her side, with the leash in her hand. Passing time, she walked up and down the waiting spot and came close to my "sewing machine." The poodle got very excited and started sniffing around my "sewing machine" - just the way dogs know very well how to do, and much to the embarrassment of its owner.
Saved by the bell of the oncoming streetcar, I picked up my "machine!" Thank goodness, the little dog never did tell on me what he REALLY liked so much. And no . . . never did I hear any complaints of the people who, no doubt, ate a very hearty piece of bacon. (Of course, it was packed very safe, but nevertheless, not good enough to fool our little poodle!)
Slowly but surely, Hitler and his followers began to realize they would never be able to convince the Dutch of their ideas and principles, and as a result, they became more rude and aggressive. That meant more stern rules and regulations; more traffic checkpoints; more raids; more murder, and more destruction.
Every six weeks or so I would travel the 100 miles from Friesland to my wife and children for a few days on a weekend. I started wearing glasses and grew a mustache so people would not recognize me in my hometown, and under cover of darkness, I would come and go - staying out of sight as best as I could.
I became sort of a prisoner in my own home - hoping and praying none of our own three children would spill the beans as they played with neighborhood children. I would travel by train, taking along my bike to ride to and from the train depots; bringing along money, food, clothing and extra ration cards. My bicycle carrier was loaded with extra food, such as meat, butter and cheese. I would hide the extra ration cards on my body, covered by my underwear. Much of the time the food was even given to me by good, patriotic people I helped organize, who opposed all Hitler stood for.
The ration cards sometimes were falsifications, very skillfully produced somewhere in the country by our people. At other times we would break in and rob the offices where they were printed by the government. Other times we would break in and rob them from the distribution offices in certain communities. The real ration cards were printed on the same principle as money, and it was very hard to make them look like the real thing. It would not take much to discover the real from the false, so much time and effort was put forth to steal the real ones.
Activities such as this were done by people we called K.P.'ers, (The equivalent-of a modern-day guerrilla fighter) who received special training (all in secret of course) from even people in England who were dropped in a particular area, all pre-arranged and under code. These same people would also kill and destroy certain people who were of particular danger (very fanatic Hitler people; maybe even of Dutch origin). At other times, they would raid strong, protected jails where some of our own were held prisoner, to get them out. Needless to say, on several occasions this was done at the expense of some very, very precious lives, with torture and pain.
Personally, I never was one of them. Fortunately I was trained and taught to be active on a more civil level. I gave help and support to those refusing to work for Hitler; Jews fleeing for their lives; pilots shot down on their bombing, and things of that nature.
It was under those kind of circumstances that I was trying to see my family well supplied with food and authentic, stolen ration cards, of which each person could have only one in his possession.
Leaving the train depot in the city of Haarlem by bike, I had about 11 hours to get home before curfew time would arrive. After a certain time at night, nobody was allowed to be on the streets anymore, until a certain time in the morning. As I was pedaling along down through the city, coming into the suburbs, I was given a warning from citizens walking on the sidewalk to watch out because there was a checkpoint just ahead. O well, I thought to myself, I'll just ignore it and talk myself out of it . . . but then another couple warned me to watch out for the checkpoint, so then I thought: This is enough. I took a bypass, being well acquainted with the area, only to find out that there was another checkpoint! Before I knew it, I was ordered to stop and have my I.D. checked.
The reasons for the checkpoints were manifold. They would check one's papers - maybe to spot fleeing Jews - maybe to see if you should really be in Germany. Maybe they were looking for someone who had just escaped from jail or a concentration camp. Maybe they were just rounding up some innocent Dutch citizens who would have to pay for a raid, or break-in, or murder of a very dangerous fanatical German or German cohort. No one ever really knew the real reason for the checkpoints, until it was too late.
So I stopped and parked my precious bike with all it's contraband and good tires right in front of a livingroom window through which I could see the lady of the house watching me; hoping nobody would search my bike. Then I produced my I.D. card, thinking all was okay. Somehow the officers discovered an apparent flaw - or something suspicious - and I was told to stand aside with about a dozen other people. One of those 12 was very belligerent and mad, which resulted in he being marched off to a nearby jail with a gun in his back, (which told me I should not act like that, being mindful of the saying: "It's better to catch a fly with syrup than with vinegar.")
After about 15 or 20 minutes, the rest of us were told to form a single line, walk in the middle of the street about two yards apart from each other, and not say a word. On each side of us there were as many, if not more, guards with guns aimed at us, thus showing how futile it was to try to escape. Of course, I thought about escaping. I knew where I was. I could sneak into an alley and disappear in a hurry, but with so many guards? It would be foolish.
I also thought: why all this? To me all was okay. Could it be . . . could it be they would walk us to a central spot while all the bystanders were forced to watch - and execute us?
I wondered if they knew about my bout with Mr. Borgman at the unemployment office. I wondered if they knew I was supposed to be in Kassel, Germany to work for them? Oh God - what do I do?! Help me please!
Then one of us spoke to the man in charge in a tone of voice not pleasing to his ears, and was plainly told to shut up, which told me that was not the way to do it either. So then I took the courage, as we were marching along, stopping all coming and going traffic, to say: "Sir - may I please ask you a question?"
"Yes," he replied, "what is it?"
Hallelujah - I felt I made progress; our commander fell for my honey. "Sir - I really do not know where you are taking us, nor the reason -- but wherever or whatever, when we arrive at our destination, would you please handle my situation first, since I have to travel some distance to my home and I really would like to be home before curfew?"
"We see," he answered gruffly.
After walking about 2 kilometers, we arrived at a busy intersection. Just the spot they might choose for their possible evil display.
We were told to stand with our backs against a six or seven foot high iron wrought fence surrounding a Catholic Church. Each of us had a guard in front of us, aiming their guns toward us, ready to follow any possible given command at a split second. I must give thanks to God for this, because I was called out first to come forward to be interviewed by the commander - just to make sure I was who I said I was, since this commander was very well acquainted with our own local community where I used to live. I was able to name persons and authorities I had worked with in the Civil Defense program, proving to him that I was for real and was who I said I was. Incredibly, with a warning and admonishment to be a good person, I was permitted to walk away free and go my way - to my bike and home, despite all my contraband on and with me!
No - I did not walk . . . I ran! I ran as fast as I could, only to slow down when I saw another bunch of people approaching me, similar to the way we had been marching along - so they might not think I had escaped from them.
Now about my precious bike and cargo . . . coming to the place where I had parked it, the bike was gone! I asked the lady inside if she by any chance had seen somebody taking my bike, since I knew she had noticed that I had put it there.
"Oh yes," she said quite freely, with a voice of calm assurance. "The police took it to their post, just a few blocks away on this same street."
"Great! Thank you very much!" I left, walking toward the police station, wondering what would come next. Would I find a good loyal Dutch citizen, or someone Nazi minded? What if they searched my carriage? Oh God, please help me again!
Stepping inside, I was trembling with fear. I explained who I was and that I had placed my bike in a particular spot; was arrested temporarily; released, but found my bike gone. I was told some police officers had taken it along. (Please understand, when I say precious bike, I mean just what I say. Not only for the contraband cargo, but also for the bike itself. It was almost new, with good tires. At this point in time, a bike in this condition was seldom obtainable, since most people rode on wood tires, or rubber made out of worn-down car tires).
What would I find at this police station? Being arrested all over again? Would they discover the evidence of my being a black market dealer, not to say anything about my ration cards under my clothing?
The officer in charge looked at me and asked, "Are you the guy they arrested? Is this your bike? Boy, are you ever lucky to get out of this alive. Here, man, take your bike and go. We just took it so no one else might get some ideas. Here it is, and see that you get home on time before curfew!"
"Thank you, Sir! Thank you! Sure appreciate your help and understanding," and off I went, giving thanks unto God under my breath.
I never knew if they checked the contents, but not a thing was missing. And did I ever pedal to be home on time! If nothing else, that experience taught us it had become too dangerous to travel especially long distances. We'd have to stay close to home, where most of us would be tipped off or warned beforehand of any unexpected danger.
Still I had to make a living? How? It so "happened" in my different travels and transactions, I became acquainted with a young man who would buy my contraband right where I lived and he would transport and sell it in the central part of the big metropolitan areas. Of course, he did not know my real name, nor where I boarded. We would meet at different public places, usually at restaurants.
One of those restaurants was next to a police station in the city of Sneek, which was where I was boarding at the time. The owner of the restaurant knew me for what I really did, being very active in the underground, so for me this was the safest place to be. He stayed in continuous contact with some of the "good" police, who would warn him of possible upcoming danger, (which was a definite advantage).
On one particular occasion, the contraband was butter, packed in a radio with all the innards taken out. After the transaction, we went our separate ways, only to find out a day or two later that this young man had traveled with his "radio" close to the west coast of us, across from the North Sea, just separating us a few miles from England. Anyone walking with radio equipment was immediately suspected of sending or receiving secret messages from the enemy, so of course he was arrested. He spilled the beans as to where he got it, and gave a good description of me. From the police station in Harlingen where he was arrested, a call was made to the station at Sneek, calling for my arrest. But being warned of this situation, (and I believe through God's protection), I was never caught.
In the early spring of 1943, the war was not going the way Hitler would like. The result was that the situation was becoming more and more difficult for the peoples of our country. In the beginning, after our five-day war in 1940, all our soldiers were made POWs. But as a gesture of "good will", and of course, to make us in agreement with Nazi principles, all POWs were soon released and sent home, because remember, the Netherlands people were their "friends."
However, by 1943, Hitler surely understood the Dutch populace in general did not fall for his deceitfulness. By the first of May, it was ordered that the whole Dutch Army was to report to be made POWs again. From England, our Queen Wilhelmina ordered a complete strike of all people in the Netherlands as protest to this command. That included all railroads, post offices, police force clerks, civil personnel, farmers, anybody and everybody.
All of this coincided with the fact that my sweetheart wife, Jackie, was expecting the birth of our fifth child, due any day. I say our fifth, because our fourth baby was a stillborn little girl in 1941, so in reality we now had two girls and one boy, with another on the way.
Since the strike would undoubtedly upset everything we could think of, we decided to move as soon as we could, just before the deadline. I'd go home so I could be there when the baby was born, and possibly could be of assistance. (All of our children had been born at home, with the help of a nurse and mid-wife).
I avoided the Central Station in Amsterdam and traveled along the country roads on my bike, camouflaged with glasses and mustache. I arrived home safely, under cover of darkness, to await the birth of our baby. Jackie was in no hurry, however, and she waited until May 14th to give birth to a beautiful little girl named Theadora. Those two weeks of waiting were hard on all of us, since there was always the tension. Would they possibly expect me home - come and arrest me - if for nothing else but my previous experience with the unemployment office? And maybe again, our children could have said something. After all, they were excited and glad to have their daddy home. Then there were also the neighbors.
Locked up in my own home, not to be seen or heard, was not easy for me to take. The following day I would leave . . . but our little girl almost died. With the help of our midwife, and the Lord's blessing, she revived from almost choking to death. So the day after, I was feeling good enough to leave again - leaving my family in God's care and expert provided help.
The strike was devastating. There was great confusion. Some were obedient to the Queen, some to Hitler, and some too scared to do anything. Farmers would pour the milk out into ditches, or keep it home to make butter and cheese. Those in charge of transporting the milk from farmers to the creameries would stop on their way, and were seen emptying all the milk on the street or in the ditch.
Of course Hitler did not take all of this sitting down. It's hard telling how many, but numerous arrests were made. Many paid for it with their lives right there on the spot, or later on in jail or concentration camps, to say nothing of the torture many went through to get information out of them that the enemy could use for additional arrests and torture. (The German's mentality was to never be too hard on those who would tell and lead them to all they knew, often with the promise of being pardoned; only to find when they had said it all, they would still be executed - sometimes even after they dug their grave first).
I left home on the 16th of May, partially by bike and train, and boat until I managed to arrive safely again up north in the province of Friesland. There was much work to be done, since many, many more people found it necessary to leave home, family, and work, fearful of being arrested for what they had done during this striking period. Many railroad people never did report back to work, leaving the stations unoccupied and all possible bridges and overpasses open, or closed. This alone was a great tool in our hands for disrupting Hitler's war machine.
It was also at this time that we were finally paid for working in the underground full-time -- paid from and with the cooperation of our government in England. I do not know the details, and even cared less, because from then on we could dedicate all our time and effort opposing our common enemy.
As area director, I was made paymaster to all the railroad personnel in our area, who, despite all threats and pressure, refused to go back to work. (All railroads were owned and operated by the State, so in a sense they were government employees.) I did not have office hours for them to come and pick up their paychecks. For those working in a secret position, one of the main rules was to be known by as few people as possible, even by your code name. The reason, of course, was that if and when you or someone who knew you (or where you lived and how you looked) was ever arrested and tortured, if you did not know, it was not possible to tell either.
Everything was secretly organized, and many people never knew the how and whom. This principle was true as well for Jews, pilots, Army people, or anyone else. No discrimination was applied as to politics, religion, race, or creed or nation. Just one simple question was asked: "Are you a hindrance to Hitler's war machine?"
Because I had been away from my family for more than eight months, pressure was applied to my wife and family from Social Services - I'm sure in cooperation with the unemployment office, and very much recommended by our newly appointed Nazi-minded Mayor. Since I was gone anyhow, and the need for housing became a more urgent issue, Jackie was told to move soon to a smaller home, so a bigger family could occupy our dwelling more suitably. Maybe our landlord also recommended this, as he was also ever trying to please the Nazi regime. So the decision was made. We would move out voluntarily - to a new place and destination not known to anybody.
Early one morning, about six weeks after our baby was born, a horse-pulled buggy came and picked up our family and brought them to the railroad station in Haarlem. From there they traveled by train and boat to Workum, Friesland and from there again by horse and buggy to my parents in Wons. After about nine weeks staying there, a "good" Dutchman offered his home, furnished and all, for us to occupy, but then finally we ended up living in a houseboat on one of the many waterways Friesland is known for.
Our furniture was shipped somehow to Friesland as well, and stored in an old converted jail made into a tobacco factory. Because the Germans needed more space for jails later on, it again was converted into a jail, and somehow all our furniture got lost in the hassle. We never saw it again.
Before leaving the impression that working in the underground was nothing more than making a living in the black market and staying out of sight, let me explain the real reason for working in this underground. As an example, one day a Jewish lady came for help. From our contact in Amsterdam, she arrived somehow in our area, and with the help of a local contact man, she was placed with a farmer who opened up his home to give her food and shelter. Unknown to us, of course, she had been acquainted with a young man when still in Amsterdam who had been in the service of a Nazi-minded police force. If this was not bad enough, despite our orders not to let anyone know of her whereabouts, she saw fit one day to write a letter to her ex-boyfriend, telling him exactly where she lived - way out in the country, and describing to him exactly how to get there.
Not long after, he knocked on the door and asked if he could see Marietje. The farmer, not knowing what else to do, invited him in. Needless to say, the farmer was very upset, since we had promised them no one would ever know and find out that he gave shelter to a Jew, disregarding all consequences. The local man was contacted, then I was informed, and I informed my Central contact. After some inquiry, he then found out this man's previous occupation. To this day I don't believe they did it all on purpose, but it surely would not have been the first time our organization was penetrated by an undercover Dutch Nazi-minded spy, with catastrophic consequences.
Immediately this young man was brought to another farmer, awaiting research, study, and then the final judgement of a judge and court (all in secret of course). The verdict was to execute this young man, to take place immediately, and witnessed by myself as Area Director, and the Central Director, and to be performed by a member of the K.P. group.
I now felt I must pray that God would intervene somehow, sparing his life, though I did not know how. Together, the Central Director and myself went on our bikes to this particular farm to witness this awful event. All the way there I was praying: Lord, please intervene; give us discernment in doing what has to be done. Let us have peace with it all, and if possible, have no innocent blood on our hands.
Then, when all was ready, a thought came into my mind. I approached the Central Director, asking him to wait just one moment, and shared with him my inspiration and possible solution.
Since it appeared the man and woman loved each other very much, I said, "What would be wrong with letting them live together as husband and wife, both of them under continuous watch in the same room and bed?" (Of course it was impossible to have them officially married by law, since that would mean exposure and arrestation and a concentration camp, never to return from it.) Marietje, his girl friend, and not the least, the farmer, would have to be in agreement with the plan.
All was in agreement. Both of them survived. I believe after the war they never really married, but nevertheless a precious life was saved.
The only way of transportation became the bicycle, since no more gasoline and tires were available anymore. Whatever automobiles were still around were mostly driven from gas made by burning coal. The furnace would be carried along, being attached to the automobile. As I mentioned before, there were no more tires for bicycles either, and people had to improvise with either wood or old worn-down car tires. Neither created a smooth ride. However, if you were a Dutch Nazi collaborating with the enemy, then these items were more readily available. Consequently, we were advised that if we knew of collaborators in our area, and they did have good tires, just to break in and take them. In our understanding, it was more important for us to move and travel swiftly and silently than it would be for them.
Thank goodness for those loyal Dutch people who stayed put in their respective duties, regardless of the tremendous pressure, helping us every way they could. In preparation of one particular "break-in" we informed the "good" police force in that particular community as to where, when and how, we had planned it all. By doing so, all we had to worry about was a possible German patrol. Of course, we planned to go under cover of darkness, which would also be after the hour of curfew. The farmer we had in mind of raiding lived right next to a public road. We expect no one to be home, since there was a Nazi meeting in town they would probably attend. (Incidentally, all Nazi-minded Dutchmen had special passes, so they could freely move, disregarding many rules and regulations, including the curfew hours.)
We approached the farm, climbed on the roof, and were about to have to make some noise, when a fleet of more than a thousand B29 bomber planes flew overhead on their way to bomb German industries. Unknown to those flyers, they gave us a marvelous cover, so we could more freely do what was to be done. I was asked to keep watch by the road and be ready to shoot if need be.
We found six bikes, all of them with tires as good as new! We covered our tracks by just riding them down to a pre-arranged spot by the road, took off the tires, and dumped the bikes in the ditch.
The following morning, the police were called and the robbery reported. They came out of course, with tracking dogs and all, and they did recover the bikes, but there was no trace of the tires or even the culprits themselves. We had a good laugh and surely enjoyed the tires for some length of time.
On other occasions, I was asked to assist the local contacts to promote all we could to oppose the enemy, by finding homes for those who could not be at their own homes and families anymore. I was also asked to help raise money to cover the ongoing and ever greater need for finances. Often those visits became very emotional, seeing the dire circumstances many people found themselves in. When homes were raided, searching for Jews, some would jump from homes to a certain death, rather than be sent to the gas chambers in the concentration camps. Many people did have money they could not officially give account for, so they would give liberally to us. Also, we gave them receipts, and after the war was over, they would receive tax credit for supporting our good cause.
Quite out of context, on occasion, I was told that I had missed my calling. I was told I should be a clergyman of some kind, as I would share with them my sincere belief that all we did was nothing more than our Christian duty.
One night I remember we were asked to transfer two pilots who were shot down on the way back from a bombing mission in Germany. This happened in 1944, and at that time our allies desperately wanted those crewmembers back, since there was a great need for them. We would hide them for awhile, until the heat was off, and then try to find them a way back to England via Spain.
After curfew, my brother Mart and I would see to it to transfer these two pilots from one hiding place to another, away from the populace - the safest place for them to be. My brother knew English somewhat, and could talk with them. However, I knew nothing myself except a melody of a song I believe they called: It's A Long Way To Tipperary - a song I would hum a little on our way. It was funny to see how these two would bike on a narrow gravel bike path, parallel to a railroad track. They had not been on bikes for some time, it appeared, as they would ride as if they were drunk. Almost every night, the Germans would inspect the tracks for possible sabotage, but we would take a chance on this, since it was more safe than being on a public road.
Without incident, we delivered them into the hands of another contact, thinking never to see or hear from them again. (However, somehow after the war, we were given their real names and addresses. They were U.S. servicemen, one from Pennsylvania and the other from North Carolina. Years later I was able to look up the one in North Carolina, and what a reunion it was!) It was then that I learned that they, with a crew of nine, were shot down in the northern parts of the province of Friesland. They crash-landed...Killing the pilot, but the remaining eight were rescued just before the Germans arrived at the scene. The Germans would then, of course, search and search for hours and hours, from building to building, for some days to come, stopping all in and outgoing traffic in that particular area - sometimes successfully, but thank God, sometimes not.
However, I learned later on our two pilots were arrested in the railroad station in Antwerp, Belgium, on their way to Spain. They were then made POWs and sent to a concentration camp, of which our friend still would have nightmares about the way they were treated, he told us at the reunion.
One other time I was asked to kill a particular N.S.B'er (A name given to a particular Dutch-Nazi minded organization) from a small city, whom they thought, was fanatic, and a spy for that community. The local contact was asked by the Mayor of that small city to see to it that this person would be eliminated. He in turn involved me and asked if I could possibly see to it. Again, after several discussions with those faithful to our cause, I was chosen to be the one to eliminate this person, and was given instructions as to how to do it the best way. Again, I emphasize the best way.
When matters like these would occur in any given area (and they did happen quite frequently), the Germans then would round up several innocent bystanders or people just passing by, bring them to a central part of that particular community to be executed in front of other bystanders. All of this of course was to make and show how dangerous a game we played by resisting our common oppressors.
I was asked to hide in a particular spot on the road outside of town in the country, armed with two small guns, and shoot this man off his bike, as he would pass by. I stood guard on that spot, but thanks be to God this man did not show up that night. Going home later that night, I was much relieved in my spirit because I was not at ease with the whole situation in general.
The following day we did more research regarding this particular man and the Mayor concluded the risk was too great. We found it to be more of a personal vendetta between the Mayor and the N.S.B'er than it was a threat to the community as a whole and our underground work in general. So again, thanks to God, no blood was on my hands.
As the fall of 1944 was upon us, victory day appeared imminent. The allies had a good foothold in France, and our common enemy was getting very nervous and trigger-happy at the slightest occasion, making our activities more dangerous every passing day. Because of all the victories south of us, we in turn became more and more, aggressive.
By now, my office was at a farmhouse, which was dug out underneath the hay barn, with tunnels branching out from the center. If ever the Germans would find us out, they usually would burn the place to the ground, with us included. However, we still might survive by way of a secret airpipe underground, so we could breathe fresh air. Fortunately though, we never had to put our system to the test.
It became unsafe, especially for any man in the right age bracket (ages 17-50), to be on the public road at any time, be it day or night. There was no telephone, so lady couriers by letter, and always in code, carried our way of communication. Very few, if any of our local contacts knew of our whereabouts. However, one day we learned that one of them was arrested. This contact man was at our hideout and knew about our location. An immediate alarm was made, for the reasons I mentioned before - never to depend upon anyone not telling the enemy all he or she knew during the common practice of torture beyond imagination, because they would be promised that if they would tell, they would then be released.
The next thing was to immediately move our headquarters, and all our material, whatever could be used against us, and even our Sten guns, to be used to fight our enemy openly in the day of our liberation (that day not being too far off, in our estimation). We buried all of this on a hill surrounded by water. For anyone daring to wade through it without knowing where all the ditches were located would surely drown.
Our contact man was a fine young man, very intelligent, patriotic; a schoolteacher in elementary school, but for some unknown reason, squealed. He was placed as a passenger in a German occupied car, going from one place to another pointing out all he knew about our locations, which resulted in additional arrests and destruction. Afterwards, the Germans executed him after there was no more to tell.
Since we figured he also knew the whereabouts of my family in the houseboat, we also decided to lift our anchors and move to a safer, more secret location. With the help of another local contact person in another community, we headed for a place about four or five miles away, out in the country. Again, we moved under the cover of darkness and after curfew, hoping and praying no German Marine patrol would spot us. Since most of the land around us was flooded, (due to the fact that there was a gasoline and oil shortage, motorized windmills could not be driven), we found it necessary to fasten long ropes to our houseboat so we could be pulled.
About halfway to our destination the ropes snapped and we were completely at the mercy of water, wind, and of course, our faith in God. We drifted to parts unknown, hoping wherever we stopped and bumped ashore, our children would not fall out of their bunkbeds. Lo and behold, very soft and gently we ended up against a wall, and got stuck on a shallow mud bar. Somehow, our fellow helpers found a roundabout way to come to our aid, and then all of us stepped into the water and started pushing. We got off the bank, and continued our journey.
Sunday morning came. At daybreak we started moving again. Jackie baked fatballs and threw them toward us as we pulled along. We caught and ate them very tastefully, and enjoyed each other very much, despite the danger we may be confronted with at any moment by a possible German patrol boat intercepting our journey. With hindsight, I cannot help but believe the Lord placed His protecting angels around us even though we ourselves did not realize it at the time.
Arriving close to our destination, we then painted the outside of the houseboat from white to dark gray. Before dawn we were in a new community. Nobody would recognize us. We anchored near a parcel of dry land chosen by the K.P'ers for a dumping ground, for our allies to supply us with needed material to fight and chase our enemy when the signal was given. These fields were, of course, made known to the navigators. They would know when they arrived, by code and certain flickering lights, that they were at the right spot, and would drop their cargo by parachute. At times they were not always precise, or on time, and the cargo would fall into German hands. Sometimes the Germans would break the code one way or another, and instead of us being there, the Germans were just happily waiting for extra weapons, and sometimes chocolate and cigarettes.
One evening, not too long after we had been there, a "dropping" was scheduled for that particular night. All went well. We hid all the material at different places. However, not knowing in detail what all happened, somehow part of this cargo was found by the Germans, and more arrests and torture took place. Two of our friends, Jurjen Hooman and Hank Huizenga, were among those arrested, and after digging their own grave, were executed.
Again, with all of this going on, we did not wish to stay there any longer. In bright daylight now, we moved along the shore of a lake, ending up in a place still further in the country. By now it was very dangerous and risky for any German patrol to move in the daytime, since all that moved in a sort of military way was mercilessly taken care of by continually patrolling allied airplanes. So we decided, for us to pull our houseboat, the safest way to do it was in the daytime. After another four to five miles, we again arrived at our destination without any incident. Again we gave thanks unto God, for His continual protection.
By then it was early spring, 1945. The southern part of the Netherlands was already liberated, and we were waiting to hear at any time our code to come out of hiding and fight our enemy in the open. It was beginning April, and we learned with shock and sorrow the death of the President of the U.S.A., Mr. Roosevelt. However, we had to move on; we had to win this war; we must be free. President Truman took his place, and on we fought.
We next received orders to sabotage all public roads and railroads. Despite the general railroad strike, Germans somehow found people who could run the trains, and forced them to operate the steam engines. They traveled by night, as in the daytime they surely would be strafed with gunfire and rockets.
Before moving out at night, heavily armed with grenades, bazookas, and rifles with fixed bayonets, we would gather in a barn. With the local Pastor (Bylsma) in charge, we would hear the Word of God, and gather to ask the Lord to protect us. We would then go out and turn all the bridges open, making sure those in charge of the bridge would be in hiding somewhere else (along with his family), so the Germans could not arrest him and force him to operate the bridge. We also distributed many, many roofing nails on the roads, causing tires to flatten, and slowing down the German's means of transport.
On a Wednesday evening, April 11, 1945, one of our groups went out with the order to put their special attention to a railroad track a few miles from where we lived. This group, coming to a curve in the track, loosened all the nuts and bolts of several sections of the track in such a way that, unless given some special attention by a German patrol, was not easy to notice what was done. Shortly thereafter, a train loaded with munitions of all kinds steamed full speed toward the curve. The result was that the engine and a couple of boxcars nearest the engine derailed and rested on their side next to the track. We anxiously waited for the first rays of dawn, so our allied friends in the air could spot the wreck. We did not have to wait long. About 9:30 that morning three planes spotted the crash and strafed it with machine gun fire and rockets. Not once, but twice and even a third time, and then left, just like that.
We could not help but wonder why they left, with no apparent damage, as we were witness of it all, standing on top of our houseboat. But, the planes were barely out of sight when one explosion after another occurred. Then we saw the most unusual sight we had ever seen. By some mysterious power it seemed, several boxcars shot into the air - about 100 feet high only to explode to smithereens right there, way high in the sky. Then we understood why the three planes fled for safety, and very wisely so.
Sunday, April 15, 1945 . . . a day never to be forgotten, imbedded in our minds as long as we shall live. It started out just like any other ordinary Sunday, of course, considering the circumstances of the war. There were certain expectations, to say the least, because we had heard many rumors. We were told to stay alert, because our allies would possibly drop paratroopers in our area behind the lines. If so, we were to give them all the help and information we could. But so far, nothing had happened, and our community went to church like usual. Pastor Bylsma was preaching again; what about, I don't recall. But one thing I remember for sure - our Pastor lead us in prayer for protection, and hopefully a speedy liberation from our oppressor. He also lifted up our exiled government in England. The service lasted until about 11:00 A.M. that morning, and then everyone went home as usual to have our imitation cup of coffee.
However, it was not long after that when our two oldest daughters, Jackie and Jean, came running into our houseboat all excited, screaming and hollering, "Daddy! Daddy! Mom! There are pilots walking on the street - right in the open - dressed in their uniforms."
Not taking time to finish my coffee, I ran out to the man in charge of the K.P. Only to have him verify our liberation was just a few hours away, and to have him tell me to come along to our previously established point of meeting which was our so-called "headquarters."
I ran home, changed clothes, picked up my rifle (which by now I hid in the houseboat) and jumped into a car driven by the local commander and off to our headquarters we went. Arriving there, we distributed additional weaponry to those that were a part of the underground, and also were given armbands as a token of recognition known also by our upcoming liberators.
However, after being there for maybe an hour or so, we spotted a group of German soldiers marching toward our headquarters. Not ready for an open showdown with the enemy, we closed down our headquarters hurriedly and took our weapons with us in the car. We sped away into hiding and waited for further instructions. Naturally there was great tension among us, because it would not be the first time that a community came out of hiding so to speak. To participate in and to witness the oppressor's retreat - only to find out later that for some reason our allies would have to retreat temporarily and then the returning Germans would cause great havoc to its citizens beyond anyone's imagination.
Shortly after that, having been in hiding for less than 15 minutes, we rejoiced tremendously to learn that one of our other local groups had made our first German POWs - marching them off to a previously arranged prison camp. What a victory! In no time, we were back in full action.
In the afternoon, a big steam freighter was trying to escape to the central part of our country where the Germans were still very much in control. Not knowing exactly what they had for cargo, we ordered them to stop. At first they ignored us completely and just kept on steaming toward the south. Only when we brought into position a bazooka gun did they obey and surrender. To our surprise their cargo was several Dutch Nazi-minded N.S.B'ers with their families, trying to escape the day of judgement and revenge for all, the damage they had helped to happen with indescribable, horrible consequences to their fellow citizens. They also were marched off to their particular places of confinement awaiting future justice in our courts.
The day went fast and rumors had it that a Canadian tank brigade had reached our community on a certain highway, chasing fleeing German soldiers only a few miles from where I was at that time. Needless to say, I pedaled as fast as I could to this highway and at 8:00 O'clock that evening . . . I saw with my own eyes our God-sent liberators. They were waiting to cross a bridge, inspecting it for possible mining. As I reached them, I jumped off my bike and we hugged and kissed and jumped for joy. Their faces and hands were covered with some kind of chemical that would show up in the dark, so their fellow crewmembers could identify each other.
At this time I also saw the body of one of our own members carried away behind our front lines. The Germans had shot him as he was in pursuit of them. Sorry . . . yes we were, but this could not stop our unspeakable joy. After five years of oppression, murder, and horror . . . being free again - being free - being free; only those in similar circumstances will be able to comprehend and understand what that is all about.
The following days were again the complete opposite of what we had been used to for the last five years. Just as confusing as when it had all started, but well worth the change!
For our part, the northern part of the Netherlands was liberated on April 15, 1945, with the help of the Canadian army. The allied commanders had deliberately bypassed and surrounded the Central part of our country, which was thickly populated and also heavily defended and fortified. Many, many lives would have been lost there. This way, they expected them to surrender without having to fight, and in fact they did surrender, on the first of May 1945.
For us . . . the war was over. Now we were back to normal. As fast as we could, we had to restore and rebuild.
Many years went by. After the war . . . 37 years later to be exact, I received notice from the Netherlands authorities informing me that I would be given a Medal of Honor at a meeting to be held at the Dutch Embassy in Washington, D. C. Prince Bernhard (father of the present Queen of the Netherlands) would be there to decorate me. All of this came out of the clear blue sky, because we never did whatever we did in the war with the thought in the back of our minds that someday we would receive honors for it. But the fact of the matter was - they now wanted to honor us.
However - please understand - everyone had not appreciated working in the underground. Of course, there were the Nazi-minded. We could readily understand that the majority of them would hate us to some extent. Not only for what we sometimes caused to happen to them during the war, but also now that the war was over, many were placed for six months to a year in a concentration camp, with their property given to those in the underground who had lost their homes. Their furniture was confiscated and was given to us who had lost our own.
Then there were also the black marketers who had made money hand over fist. Sometimes they had been paid a visit, demanding from them a substantial "donation" for the good cause. Though sometimes very reluctantly, but with a possible threat of public exposure, they would yield.
Then there were also others who would be jealous at the way the underground workers would be favored some way or the other (sometimes rightly so), to the expense of those who thought they could do better and felt were more qualified. With all these ramifications, our government and it's people at that time were not ready to bestow some kind of special recognition on the ex-underground workers, regardless of the fact that many paid for it with their lives and lost all of their possessions.
As for myself, after the war, I could not wait to get back to normal and peel my own potatoes.
Time passed. By 1949 we had six children (the oldest being 14 and the youngest two). That year, we immigrated to Ontario, Canada. Living there for seven years - scratching out a meager living, the Lord finally brought us into the Promised Land. The land of our dreams since childhood . . . the United States of America.
We settled in Holland, Michigan. Though I had always said they would never catch me working in a factory, I surrendered that opposition and stayed working in a factory for 15 years, learning and becoming a machinist.
After that I had a change of professions, and started selling real estate. Ultimately I started my own business, calling it Weerstra Real Estate Inc. out of Holland also. At the peak of our little enterprise, we had two secretaries and ten sales people. Here I must share that whenever we went into a new adventure, always it was interwoven with prayer. As God had led us so wonderfully through five years of war - surely, we believed He would take care of us in times of peace and prosperity.
We purchased a new three-bedroom ranch home with a nice family room, located just on the outskirts of Holland, north of the city. Then came the years of 1979 - 1980. Interest rates went sky high . . . sales slumped and there was not enough capital to back us up. We started throwing good money after bad for awhile, and finally could not pay our creditors anymore to their satisfaction. We felt it was necessary for us to use the laws of the land related to the matter of bankruptcy procedures. Still through all this and in the circumstances, all was interwoven with prayer. We were thanking God for all He had ever given us, and praying: Lord, we know it all belongs to you, and if ever the time must come to give it back to you, one way or the other -- let your name still be praised.
Sometimes it's easy to express ourselves that way in our prayers, but when the day arrives and one indeed must give it all back . . . it does not go without having some loss of sleep, coupled with tension and anxiety. At the height of that tension and anxiety - when our self-image was at our lowest ebb, sort of being at the bottom of the pit . . . then it happened. We received a call! It was the Dutch Government wishing to honor us for our service performed 37 years ago!
Oh, there was recognition after the war. We received citations from the Jews, a tree planted in our honor in the Holy Land. Other citations from General Montgomery for helping pilots, from General Eisenhower, and others, but none like this! None from our own country! Now we were to be recognized and have presented to us honors by a member of the Royal Family from the Netherlands. Right here in our own beloved country no less! What a surprise.
On October 8, 1982, we were asked to appear at the Dutch Embassy in Washington, D.C. in order to receive this honor from the hands of Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands.
We traveled by car to Washington D.C. - my wife Jackie, and our oldest son, born in the Netherlands, and our youngest son, born in the United States. With six other people from the Grand Rapids area going to Washington for the same reason, we were put up in a hotel that Thursday evening, all previously arranged by the office of the Honorable Hal Sawyer, our Congressman representing our particular district. What a service, and all just for us!
The following morning we traveled by subway to the Dutch Embassy. The subway reminded me somewhat of my adverse circumstances back home with my real estate business - symbolic of being down at the bottom of the pit. But soon we were going up . . . up to somewhere, but we just did not quite know where or what - lay ahead of us.
I was nervous, pondering all along in my mind, what I would say. How must I greet the Prince? I had never been in the presence of Royalty. Must I talk Dutch, or should I speak English? No - I could talk Dutch all right. Anyone having been brought up in a country for some 34 years never forgets that language, no matter how good they may speak English. All in all, those were my thoughts and concerns.
We arrived at the Dutch Embassy. We stepped out of the taxicab, which had brought us from the subway. Looking at the building, I could hardly believe my eyes. Was it real, or was I dreaming? The whole building was lavishly decorated with the old Dutch Glory . . . the red, white, and blue flag, from top to bottom.
We stepped forward. As we climbed the steps, there in front of a well-decorated entrance were standing half a dozen Dutch Marines dressed in uniform. They jumped to attention when I - simple I... in all my depressed, financial circumstances, passed between them. I could not help but feel like a penny waiting for some change. All this attention for me? My wife? The others with us? Unbelievable!
Having entered into a hallway of sorts, a book or register was handed to me to sign in, and as such, I was registered. This book and table was attended by one of the staff members of the Ambassador. Then we were asked to enter a big room, and standing there before us was the Ambassador to greet us and welcome us. Standing next to him was . . . Prince Bernhard. This was the moment I feared most.
Shaking each others hand, I could not help but say to him in English, "Sir . . . I really do not know how to talk to you."
The Prince right away put me at ease by saying, "Never mind all that. Just do and talk like you always do."
"Thank you, Sir. Then I would like to share a story with you. You yourself have probably forgotten about it long ago."
"Go ahead," he said.
"Well, Sir, shortly after your engagement with Princess Juliana (who later on became Queen), on one of your trips trying to visit her, on the way you had car trouble. I can still see the picture in our daily newspaper showing and telling us -- you got out of the car, and with the help of others, you pushed that car off the road on the way to a garage. Now this may not have meant anything to you, Sir, but I know that with that simple ordinary act, you stole the heart of the people. And Sir please let me say one more thing. My oldest son-in-law, being in charge of what is known as WINDMILL ISLAND in Holland, MI just this past summer had the honor and privilege of giving your daughter, now Queen Beatrice, with her husband, a tour through this island. He afterward testified to observing the same spirit you yourself so wonderfully displayed so many years ago -- just to be one with the people."
His response was, "Well, thank you; thank you very much, Mr. Weerstra. Pleasant, pleasant memories indeed."
Thank goodness, my nervousness was gone after that.
After some time of conversation and speeches, finally the moment arrived. Prince Bernhard fastened the Medal of Honor on my coat lapel, again thanking me for those pleasant memories, bringing that day back in focus. I will not go into detail of all what happened that day, other than to say we were treated like kings. We were entertained, had much to eat, and kept busy until late that Friday night - being able to see our Capitol City, when it was all lit up, from the top floor of a nice restaurant.
The following morning, we were the guests of honor at the residence of our Congressman Hal Sawyer, having breakfast at his home, after which Mr. Sawyer gave us a tour of the Capitol building. It was very, very interesting, and enjoyable receiving so much attention. Sunday morning after having attended a worship service in the Washington Cathedral, we went on our way home, arriving there Monday evening, all safe and well.
For the most part, over the last several pages you have read, I have left out the spiritual side of my life. My life would not be complete . . . and neither would this story be, if I did not write what you are about to read:
I believe with all my heart, all of the foregoing was not by chance, not by accident, but under the complete supervision and guidance of God Almighty. Yes, I do believe God cares about the finest details of our life. He knows the beginning to the end, despite our so-called better knowledge . . . or ignorance. What I hope and pray is that all those who are reading or hearing this story may now indeed see and hear what the Spirit of God has to say unto us.
Out of the experiences of my life, I dare say that so often I cried out: "Why - why - why?" I could not see the forest, because of the trees right in front of my nose. "Back off back off; let God do His work," the Spirit wanted me to hear, "and you will see and understand with a joy and peace passing all understanding."
Through the trying circumstances of life, once through them, don't we all pretty much come to this conclusion: "No - no . . . I would not have wished it to happen any other way. God did supply all my needs, according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. Not one hair fell from my head without His will, and all things did work together for good for us because we love Him and are indeed called according to His purpose.
In retrospect . . . bring into focus those five years of war. Many times He saw us through, even by the skin of our teeth. But my greatest blessing throughout all this . . . 37 years later, when we were at our wit's end, God came and took us out of the miry clay we were sinking in, and by His mercy and grace, again put our feet upon a solid rock.
As mentioned previously, symbolic of our circumstances, through the depth of the earth - even under the Potomac River that day in Washington - we, by God's grace, were in more than one way brought up to the highest plateau we had ever been. That being brought into the presence of Royalty, being honored and respected as never, ever before.
The deepest meaning of all this is to be found in the Book of Revelation in which we see so clearly what the future holds for all those who believe. Here we see a Book; no one was able to open it. No one . . . and we are standing there with John crying, because it will mean life or death, Heaven or Hell . . .forever to be with Him . . . or forever to be separated from Him, if one's name is not written in that Book. Just as real - our name had to be written and registered at the Dutch Embassy in order to be the beneficiary of the honor. Of course, much more important is that our name must be written in the Book of Life that we may be told: "Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Enter into my presence."
So, can you see yourself standing there with John crying because nobody could open the Book? But praise God . . . there comes the Lamb of God... He takes the Book and is allowed and able to open it... Because He paid the price. He is Life personified. He's the Word personified. No wonder He's able to open the Book. He's the essence of the Book.
Now hear Him read the Book. He reads your name . . . my name, and the names of all those near and dear to us. Hear Jesus read the names of all those who believe in Him, who has repented from their sinful ways - making Him King of their lives . . . Lord of Lords. Just like we were waiting in Washington to hear our name being read, so we could step forward to receive the honor and sort of hear the Prince say, "Well done thou good and faithful servant -- receive your reward."
Suppose just for a moment, having done and gone through all that I have shared with you . . . our date in Washington drawing closer and closer . . . and we finally arrive there and are about to enter into a mansion - expecting to be in the presence of Royalty. A guard suddenly says, "Sorry, Mr. Weerstra, very sorry; your name is not to be found in the register. Sorry . . . no entrance . . . no entrance." Can you imagine how I would feel? Disappointed. Discouraged. Can you see the importance of having that name written in the Book? No name . . . no well done . . . no entrance . . . no life.
It is my prayer to God that He may grant us, not because of what we have done, but only by His Grace and Mercy . . . that OUR names be written there. Yes, I mean yours and mine. And His Word teaches so clearly that we do not have to guess about it either. Right now in this life we can experience joy and peace which passes all understanding. Yes, even allowing us here and now - right here on earth - a foretaste of heaven.
Someday -- when we stand before God Almighty . . . we'll remember the pit we came out of, as we step into His presence. See right now the angelic guards jumping to attention, letting you go further into His throne room . . . into the presence of the King of Kings. Him and Him alone are able to open the Book . . . finding your name . . . Him reading it. Now hear Him say: "Please enter in ... enter in ... enter in ... receive your reward ... receive your reward." Imagine being entertained as never ever before. See the beautiful city in its entire splendor and glamour.
No more sickness . . . disease; just glory and honor and praise. What will we do at that moment? Revelation 5 says we will fall down and worship Him . . . WORSHIP HIM . . . and as in Revelation 19, we'll sing the Hallelujah Chorus as we never thought we were able to sing before . . . so pure . . . so clear . . . so perfectly ... from the heart. To praise Him forever and ever and ever, Amen and Amen.
And war . . . will finally be over.
PLEASE HELP SHARE THE BEST NEWS GOD HAS FOR EVERY PERSON!
"And this gospel of the
died for sinners] shall be preached in all the world for a witness
unto all nations; and then shall the end come."
(Quote from Jesus Himself: Matthew 24:14).
Consider how many children in "all the nations" have never heard YET what Jesus accomplished for THEM at the cross? PLEASE HELP SPREAD THE GOOD NEWS TO THE LITTLE CHILDREN!
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JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT!
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JESUS DID IT! - or - JESUS DID IT!
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Dear Reader -are you at peace with God? If not, you can be. Do you know what awaits you when you die? You can have the assurance from God that heaven will be your home, if you would like to be certain. Either Jesus Christ died for your sins, or He didn't (He did!). Are you prepared to stand before God on the Judgment Day and tell Him that you didn't need the shed blood of Jesus Christ on the Cross to have your sins forgiven and get in right-standing with God? We plead with you ... please don't make such a tragic mistake.
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