• Arjun Vaid

An 83 year old Dutch man involved with Dutch Underground Militia in WWII does an open interview on R


What was the scariest moment during your time in the militia?

My scariest moment, apart from running guns past Nazi checkpoints would have been the time I was almost sent to a concentration camp (even though I'm not jewish) I was walking with a friend of mine through the snow one day (it was a brutal winter) and we were so hungry. We were on our way to a grain shed where we might be able to get some bread. I was so exhausted. I legs fell from underneath me and was facedown in the snow. It felt so good and I just wanted to lie there. I fellt my friend pulling my arm and yelling for me to get up but I coudnt. I was so tires. Then he told me "Stay still Herman. Dont move" so I listened. He ran off somewhere and I heard an engine coming close to where I was lying. I heard German voices and my heart stopped. Someone hopped out of the vehicle and walked over. I held my breath, I was so terrified. The man nudged me with his boot and yelled in German. He lifted me by the arm and I went limp, playing dead. He cocked his rifle and yelled again. Then the driver yelled at the soldier and he went back in the truck. I waited until the truck was out of earshot and heard from my friend who had been hiding that the truck was full of young boys like myself, headed to the camps. The guard was about to shoot me when he was told not to waste ammunition. Id never felt so lucky in my life.

Wow, that is crazy! Thank you so much for your service!

Haha, thank you for your question!

Where were you the day that the war was declared over? How did you feel when that happened?

The war didn't end for us until US soldiers entered Amsterdam and cleared out he remaining Nazis. When we did start hearing whispers that the war was over, we celebrated, mostly in cellars with a small bottle of wine if we could afford one. It was the first time we felt hope in a long time.

We celebrated, albeit quietly.

I have read quite extensively of this period due to having a lot if Dutch friends and have not read or seen anything about the US army on Northern Holland and it was the Canadians forces who liberated Amsterdam. Is that who your grandfather meant?

I think so, I only get my information from him. It might offend you, but he might have mistaken the Canadian soldiers for American. All the same, he offers his thanks :)

Were the Canadian soldiers good to you? Quite a few dutch families migrated Nova Scotia (my home) after the war and have done really well as farmers. I had no idea about the starvation they must have gone through. Thank you for your actions and story. I'm so sorry for your loss and pain.Thank you for your contribution from a Canadian point of view! My Opa holds the Canadians and their actions in extremely high regard for their help.

What motivated you to work for the Underground? Was it merely the fact that the Nazis had invaded your country, or did their atrocities (such as their slave labor and the Holocaust) play a role in that? Or did you think much of those ideological motivations at all?

My older brother Hank got me involved first by tricking me into running guns for him. I told the story in my first reply. The Dutch people were very territorial of their country and did not hesitate to fight back against the Nazis. My brother Hank was a revolutionary, and was not afraid of the Nazis. In keeping with your question, my family was not Jewish, but due to the amount of Dutch militiamen, we were almost in as much danger as being killed as civilians as the Jews. We cared little much of the ideology, as these Germans were very cruel and we just wanted to survive.

I mean, what motivated you to keep working for the resistance after you learned what Hank was doing? Was it just to help your brother, or did you have some other ideological reason?

I suppose as a young boy I was caught up in the danger and adventure of it all. Biking 5 kilometers every second day for food became tiresome and i wanted to invest my life in helping my country liberate itself, rather than live in subsistance. I hope i answered your question :)

When you were working with the militia back in Holland, what were your views of the German citizens? Did you think they were just like the Nazis? Also did your views of the German citizens change after the war?

OP's grandson here, ill answer this, as my Opa (dutch for grandfather) can get a little bit overboard with this kind of question.

He didnt care for them much during the war, but afterwards, even today, my grandfather holds a lot of hatred for Germany and the German people. Apoligies to any german redditors, i dont share this belief. I think its sad that he hasnt resolved his differences, but if almost your whole family was dead because of Nazis, i suppose i would feel similarly.

Did the Nazi's hurt his parents and siblings?

I knew he said he was afraid of getting hurt, but I didn't realize they did hurt them. He blames them for their greed. The Nazis stole all the food, heating, firewood, leaving nothing for his family (or the rest of Holland) most of his family died from starvation. He talks about the hunger A LOT.

He never returned to Holland after leaving following the war.

Did you ever kill a nazi/ nazi supporter? If so, did you feel justified because he was a nazi? Or do you live with the guilt of having killed someone?

I never had the pleasure of doing so, but my brother Hank did. He never talked about it, and after this he was moved higher up the hierarchy of the Militia, and situations between us became a bit more distant and similar to shutting the door at the end of "The Godfather." I was just an arms runner, an errand boy. My older brother was seen as a hero.

I'm assuming he helped fight off the Nazis. What did he do exactly that made him a hero?

My Opa became known as a courier, who would help deliver resistance food to starving Dutch families who had no militia connections. These people saw my grandfather as a hero as they ended their hunger (even for a few hours) and made them feel a bit better, when no one would.

How did you rebuild your life after the Nazi's left? Especially with your family gone?

Holland stayed occupied for weeks after the third Reich collapsed. US soldiers were closing in to liberate Amsterdam so we had lots of secret celebrations. The Nazis were acting strange, we noticed, like they were sad or something. When word reached us that the war was over we had a celebration on May 7th 1945 in Dam Square. Unbeknownst to us, a group of Kriegsmarine Soldiers were getting drunk on a third floor balcony adjacent the Square. They were obviously upset and began firing down upon the celebrations. 20 dutch men, women and children were killed, and 119 were injured. It was a sad day.

So after they finally left, I met my wife, Amy, at a dancing class of all places. We decided to move to Australia, as we wanted to get as far away from Europe as possible.

Oh my...that's so sad. That also sounds very traumatic for you emotionally. How did you deal with the sadness and pain emotionally?

By the time of the massacre, I was quite dulled and numb to the emotional pain and suffering, and we dealt with it. People died everyday by the Nazis hand. It makes me sad to talk about it, but we did survive.

That's horrific. I hope they struggled to live with those actions for their remaining years.

Remaining days, actually. Normally the Nazis would execute 10 civilians for every Nazi killed. But we didn't care anymore. A group of militiamen kidnapped them from there room that night and drove them in a truck into the fields. We didn't see them again.

What was the most exciting thing you did in the militia? And the most important thing you did in the militia?

The most exciting thing would have been running guns (when i was aware that i was doing it!!). The rush of danger would stay with me the whole day. I think that running guns was important but delivering food was more rewarding to me. My famoly was lucky because we knew someone who lived in the countryside with a shop and farm who would help us if we were hungry.

So did you help many Jewish people stay safe? Did you ever meet a high ranking Nazi guy?

The Nazis all looked the same to me. Cruel, mean, like bullies in a playground. Since Holland was quite dangerous for Nazis due to the Militia, most high ranking officers did not showcase their rank, for fear of assassination. As for the Jews, many were picked up and taken away with non Jewish citizens. This omnipresent danger made us fear for out lives and made us feel very vulnerable. We just wanted to survive. Our neighbor was discovered for harbouring Jews in his attic and was subsequently shot in the street. You can understand our fears.

They didn't make you go out and watch him get shot did they? I love WWII history wise never thought I'd actually get to ask questions from someone who was apart of the war, thanks for doing this! Also did you do more gun running for your brother after the first time?

Yes, they assembled the whole neiborhood so they could make an example of him. After i got back to my house i kicked my brother in the testicles for nearly killing me. I still did a little gun running after that, mostly on my bike. The Nazis sometimes ignored children, which gave me an advantage.

That's awful I can't imagine seeing that :(. Did you have any close calls? Were there times where you like "im so screwed " what other stuff did you do?

I was nearly picked up by a German truck twice. The first time ive told in this post when i collapsed in the snow. The biggest im so screwed moments i had were hunger related. When he ran out of food, we would put breadcrumbs on the street and use a wooden crate to catch pidgeons. Those were dark days.

How does pigeon taste? And how do you catch one?

"Stringy" he says.

I caught them by putting breadcrumbs under a leaning wooden crate, then dropped it on them when they were at the right position, just like in the cartoons :)

My Opa was the only kid in his family who could go to school, so inbetween courier work for the resistance and running guns, he attended a boarding school outside of Amsterdam. It gave him relative refuge from the Nazis and it gave him a bit of normalcy in relativity to the situation he was in. So one day, three trucks pulled up outside the school. The teachers looked terrified, and the soldiers started pulling kids into single file lines outside the trucks. The trucks were most likely headed to a work camp, just like in the first story. My Opa grabbed two of his friends and went out the back window, and down the hill where the school was situated on. They covered themselves with leaves and lay still, waiting, terrified. When they heard the trucks start up and leave, they went back to the school and found the teachers weeping on the front porch of the school. All the boys were gone.

How do you feel when you hear people denying the holocaust ever happened?

I am not Jewish, but I do feel great sympathy towards the Jews as my people were slaughtered by Germans as well. Anyone who denies it is a fool, as I would feel disgusted if anyone questioned the sacrifice the Dutch people had to endure as well.

What do you feel about the modern neo-right / neo-fascist movements in Europe that are starting to rise?

I think anyone who thinks like that should have a look at history and see how the world has responded in the past.

Did your parents know what you were doing? Would they have approved?

My father died of stomach cancer before the war and my mother suffered a stroke shortly after. She was in a vegitative state for the rest of her life, so i was essentially a orphan. I doubt my parents would have approved of what i was doing but we were doing the only things we knew how to do in order to survive.

You stated that you started in the militia when you were 13. Was it common for kids that young to help? Also were kids less likely to be searched and maybe thats why they had you run the guns?Exactly. Kids were easier to persuade and were often ignored by checkpoints as the Nazis knew they didn't have any money to steal.

Thanks for the reply. I've always been kind of history/ww2 buff so you just gave a cool new piece of info about kids in that era. Happy to help :)

Why did you move to Australia? What business did you start?

We wanted to move as far away from Europe as possible. I started an auto-electric business called HB (Herman Blommestein) Auto. We fix trucks. The business is now run by my son Joe.

Have you ever been honored for your service? You certainly deserve it!I have been honored, by the people i have aided in wartime. Their thanks was more than enough :)

Have you been back to Holland or Europe since you left? How was that experience if so?

I never returned. The pain is too much, unfortunately.

What happened to the militia after the war? How was it disbanded? How did membership play into the future of people's lives?

I left as soon as I could from Holland, but from what I hear, many of the members stayed in touch for years after. Many people stayed as friends, as brothers. My brother, Hank, who got me into the militia in the first place, stayed in Holland and died in 1987.

How did plausible deniablity work with the Nazis who didn't mind summary executions with or without evidence?

On the topic of plausible deniability, I mean nothing written down that could lead my to our families and put their lives in jeopardy.

Did anyone ever get captured and released by the nazis because they decided he probably actually was innocent?

Some, but most not.

Were people who fought in the resistance seen as "cool" by the local populace or was everything super secret?

We were, and I felt good to align myself with a cause I could believe in. They local populace understood the risks we were taking so they never treated us any different in public, so not to arouse suspicion.

Were the Nazis jerks?

Yes, they were. They treated us terribly and stole all our food and privacy. They treated us like animals.

What type of dutch person sided with the Nazi? What happened after the war?

People who wanted to survive. People who were to afraid to resist but would sell out their neighbor. Those who were found out, most disappeared in strange circumstances, others who got away are cowards.

What impact do you think your efforts had on the war?

They were probably minuscule, but to us, every person we helped felt monumental, and we are content knowing that we were a people that did not give the Nazis an easy ride.

I'm only 34, but in many ways I was raised by my father and my grandad (WWII sailor) to have the attitude that, "If you beat me, you'll earn it, and it won't be easy." Thank you so much for your service and not being defeated in the face of massive odds!

And the same to you sir!

On what aspects of your daily life did the war have the biggest impact?

Hunger. Fear.

What do you think of the world now?

I have seen my share of sadness and horror, but I have seen so much happiness birthed out of the most unlikely places. I have raised a family and have a great-grandson now. I am happy to be leaving the world soon, and am content with the impact (if any) i have made.

You have made an impact, and the world is a better place because people such as yourself are willing to risk everything for what is right.

You made Opa cry, but he says thank you. It really means a lot to him.

They are happy tears.

Canadian redditor here, and a serving member of the RCN. Can your grandfather describe the liberation?

The war didn't end for us until US soldiers entered Amsterdam and cleared out he remaining Nazis. When we did start hearing whispers that the war was over, we celebrated, mostly in cellars with a small bottle of wine if we could afford one. It was the first time we felt hope in a long time.

My question is regarding the organization of the Militia. Was it well organized? Was there a certain group of people who were in charge? Or was it more disorganized, everyone doing what the could to help despite no central leadership?

It was a bit disorganized, but only for this reason: The more organized we would become, we less safe we were. If we were more disorganized and lone operators, we became more elusive as a revolutionary force and safer.

What was the atmosphere like when you started to hear that Allied forces were advancing on Amsterdam? Was everyone still hush hush about it all?

Great question! We were very careful about celebrating too early, or too loud, as when we did celebrate too much, like on May 7th 1945, 20 dutchmen were killed and 119 injured. there were alot of false alarms so when the Canadian forces did arrive, we were obviously overjoyed.

Also, how did you overcome the language barrier when you first arrived in Australia?

I arrived in Australia not knowing a word of English. I had to work with my hands and make the connections I could using my engineering skills. Now, I speak good english and have lost much of my Dutch accent. My wife speaks even better English than me but still has her accent and hates it! haha.

How was the transition in everyday life once your country was invaded? Was it a gradual change or all at once?

Very quick change. People would disappear every day, and all we could do was adapt as quickly as we could.

Did you meet any "big wigs" any people of historical interest in your youth?

Everyone was very elusive back then, and alot of people looked out for themselves and their families. I'm sure I would have encountered important historical people without even knowing it! hope i helped.

A few years ago I talked to a man who was a kid in occupied Amsterdam. I remember a couple of really interesting things he said, that I had never heard of before. He said because no one was sure who might be an informer, people developed an unspoken language of gestures to tell you, for example, where you might find food that day. He also said that since kids didn't remember life before the occupation, it seemed to them that it had always been this way and always would be like this. For a kid, a summer can seem like forever, so time is different. I was interested talking to him about these things because my dad grew up in occupied Denmark, and it gave me some insight into his life. Do you remember any of these things?

Yes. Life changed very drastically when the Germans invaded in 1940. They had no appreciation for Dutch culture and only wished to steal. The resistance had to be very careful about who they talked to and various initiation processes had to be undergone by people who were not well connected. I was lucky because my brother Hank was already a member of the resistance.

When did you loose ur virginity? and how if possible.

The Dutch girls treat a revolutionary man well, I'll leave it at that haha.

Do you remember any instances of the Germans acting kindly towards the population, individually or otherwise?

My Opa can't remember any instances of kindness, but he does recall quite a few German soldiers falling in love with local women and eloping with them.

At the time did you realise how important your job was?

We just wanted to survive. To help who we could help.

What type of guns did you smuggle apart from pistols? Did you only run pistols or did you get to run other guns?

From what I've heard from Opa, only pistols, as a bulkier weapon like a machine gun would be too heavy for a young boy and would look suspicious.

Do you still speak Dutch?

Now, my Opa only speaks Dutch to his wife.

If you can understand Dutch, I recommend Zwartboek, one of the better Dutch movies on the Netherlands during Nazi occupation (directed by Paul Verhoeven).

I will definitely watch it, thank you! I was sure that there had been Dutch films made about the occupation, so thank you for the reference!

You are incredibly brave, I just want to thank you for helping those who needed it most. You are a true hero.I did what I could. All other members of the Militia have earned the respect that you give me today, alive or dead. but thank you :)

Blog Posted By: Samantha Cowan

Contact: samantha@connectiontours.ca

Source: http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/1md1u1/iama_83_year_old_dutch_man_living_in_australia/?limit=500


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