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?