In the beginning of the year 1944 it became very clear that the German war was coming to an end. All the Americans got more involved and the B-24 liberator bombers started to hit the German industrial war cities day and night. It became very dangerous for us to live in the house. Waves of bombers would fly over our town. German fighter planes were trying to shoot them down. Every time a wave of allied bombers was spotted, the sirens would warn us ahead to get into the shelter which was in our basement. At night, the Germans would use large search lights and on a clear night they would hit several bombers. In clouded skies it was much safer for allied planes to fly. The clouds were good cover to stay away from the German heavy artillery.
The Germans kept the heavy artillery on railroad trailers, so they kept moving along with the planes. For many days and nights we watched the plane fights outside in the air. As a bomber was hit, most of the time the crew members were able to parachute out of the plane. If they were shot down during the day and the crew members parachuted, the Germans had a clear shot at capturing them. There were many prison camps in Germany where they were sent to. If they were shot down at night, the crew members had a better chance to escape the Germans. The Dutch underground freedom fighters would pick up those pilots, and with all their underground connections would see to it that those pilots were smuggled into Spain which was a neutral country. Many pilots got their freedom this way. From Spain it was easy for them to get back to England again where most of their bases were. Many Dutch people gave their lives for saving those pilots as some of them later were caught by the Germans. I have seen many planes when they were hit and before the crew would parachute, they would set the plane on automatic pilot. As the plane would circle around before it would crash, we kids would follow the plane to the crash site. We always tried to get there before the Germans did. Once the Germans got there, it would become an off-limit area. When the plane had crashed, we tried to get as many pieces of aluminum off the plane as we could carry. Aluminum at that time was very easy to sell at the black market. From the aluminum some jewelry stores made rings, crosses, etc. that's the only thing the jewelry stores had to work with as the Germans had stolen all the silver and gold out of Holland.
The B-24 liberator bombers were very powerful planes. One day, I saw one of those B-24 bombers get hit. The pilot had set the plane on automatic pilot. After the crew had all parachuted, the plane slowly came down. Once it hit the ground, it taxied through four small brick houses before it was blown to pieces. All the people in those houses were killed. Those B-24 bombers carried so much fuel and heavy bombs that their weight was tremendous.
The allied air raids into Germany became so heavy that most of the time we had to spend our day in the basement. Day and night those B-24 bombers were flying into Germany. Those plane fights in the air became so dangerous that we could not go out of the house anymore. The only shelter we had was our small basement and that wasn't safe anymore, as many planes were shot down and artillery shells were hitting the roofs. Many of those artillery shells were direct hits and would go straight through the roof into the bedroom. To live inside our house had become very dangerous. As this kept going on, many people started to build underground shelters in their backyard. It was much safer than inside the house. My uncle who lived across the street from us and some neighbors dug a shelter in our yard. We had a bench in there to sit on and straw on the floor to sleep on. Once you got inside the shelter you could not hear any noise from outside. At least you could sleep at night.
The Germans were very strict. If you used the light at night and your windows were not completely covered so that the light would shine through, the Germans who were patrolling the streets would really let you know. They would knock on your door and tell you to turn the lights off or cover the windows completely. This was a precaution by the Germans so that the allied bombers could not properly navigate in their night flying air raids.
When my father was taken away by the Germans to work in the south of France, my mother received a small check weekly from our country. It was hardly enough for all of us to live on. In the beginning when my father was gone, we would receive regular mail from France. He was even able to send me a pair of roller-skates from my birthday. I think at that time I was the only kid in town who had a pair of skates. As the war stared to progress in favor of the allied troops and the Germans slowly retreated from their occupied countries, my father's mail stopped also. I remember in one of his letters he wrote that many factories had become daily bombing targets. He wrote that he and so many other people had to sleep in underground bunkers on the concrete floors. That was the only safe place to stay.
It was very clear that the Germans were losing the war. The shelves in the grocery stores were empty. So many other things we needed were not there any more. Life was very tough for us. Since my father was not working in the coal mines, our rationing of coal was cut. My mother had to depend on some help of our friends who were still working at the coal mines. But that little bit was not enough for cooking and to keep our house warm. To supply enough coal for the house I had to go to a coal mountain and look between the stones which came out of the coal mines to find pieces of coal.
In the southern part of Holland the province of Limburg at that time had many coal mountains due to the mining industry. A coal mountain in Dutch was called "kolenberg". It was man-made from the stones which came out of the underground coal mines. Once the coal was brought to the surface, it was treated in the coal mine factory. First it was washed, then sorted for all kinds of sizes of coal, and then cleaned of all the stones. These stones were dumped not too far from the mine factory. After dumping all those stones day after day, it became a man-made mountain. Between those dumped stones there were always pieces of coal left. There were several coal mountains in our area, but it was not that close to our house. I had an old bicycle with no tires on the wheel rims. At that time there were no tires to get anywhere. Only the German foot soldiers had bicycles with tires and most of them had been taken away from the Dutch people.
At that time, I went with my old bicycle twice a week to the coal mountain to find about two bags of coal which were about 50 pounds each. Sometimes if they had just dumped a load of stones it wouldn't take me long to fill those bags. There were always people around the bottom of the mountain trying to find pieces of coal. after my bags were filled I would hang them over the bicycle frame and push my load home. To get firewood I had to do the same thing — go around and find pieces of wood wherever I could get it. There was a large government-owned forest about a half hour walk away from our house. At night I would cut some small trees and carry them home. I had to be very careful because it was against the law to cut those trees.
As the stores had no food to sell, the farmers in our town did very well by selling all of their produce on the black market. The Dutch people had to go to the farms for food. Many farmers took a lot of advantage because they knew the people were hungry. Many people traded their valuable jewelry for food as the farmers didn't accept money. In return, people would get grain or flour so they could bake their own bread. I worked many days on the farm cleaning stables or working with the farmers in the field. It was very dangerous to work in the field as there were always allied bombers flying into Germany. A day's work would pay me with a good meal and some rye bread with some pot cheese which I took home for my mother.